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Overlooked and Unseen

Today, 29 April 2022, DefendDefenders launched “Overlooked and Unseen: Human rights defenders living with disabilities in conflict areas,” – a report that highlights the grueling challenges that persons with disabilities (PWDs) including human rights defenders with disabilities face, and the numerous obstacles that stand between them and the full enjoyment of their inalienable human rights.

From Somalia, to Ethiopia, to South Sudan, the report notes that PWDs face a common set of attitudinal, environmental, and institutional challenges by virtue of their disability, which are compounded and magnified during conflict situations. Additionally, they must overcome challenges that arise from having a disability as well as deal with risks associated with their human rights work.

“The challenges identified must be addressed at various levels through policy development and programing, national and regional collaboration on disability and upholding of disability rights under the African regional system,” notes Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders. “It is important for us to support initiatives of governments, national human rights institutions, and other relevant stakeholders to adopt laws, policies and practices aiming to protect and empower PWDs,” he adds.

The report, a culmination of desk research and field interviews in Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia found that while the policy framework regarding the integration and accommodation of PWDs in all the three countries is predominantly progressive there remains deep-seated institutional biases, social stigma and discrimination against PWDs which continue to undermine the ability to realise their full potential as human beings.

“At the African Commission, it always concerned me that virtually all mainstream human rights organisations only made quite casual allusions to the human rights of persons with disabilities. My concern was that these organisations left advocacy on the rights of persons with disabilities to organisations of or for persons with disabilities which traditionally had extremely limited capacities to advocate for the human rights of persons with disabilities at the regional and indeed domestic levels,” says Lawrence M. Mute, Former Vice Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

This report gives voice to a regional African audience of the daily travails that persons with disabilities must navigate on account of their disabilities,” he adds.

Despite the challenges, all is not lost: the report illustrates important steps being taken by organised disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), tireless disability rights defenders and HRDs with disabilities who are pushing respective governments to uphold their commitments to protect and promote the rights of PWDs. To reinforce their voices, the report makes clear recommendations for intervention at national, regional, and international levels on how challenges currently facing PWDs including HRDs with Disabilities can be sustainably addressed.