by Giampiero Griffo, member of the world executive of Disabled Peoples' InternationalThe United Nations and the condition of persons with disabilities
In the world there are about 650.000.000 persons with disabilities (10% of the world’s population) and 82% of them live in developing countries. 98% of persons with disabilities that live in poor countries do not have access to rehabilitative services and appropriate basic services, more than 85% in the world are unemployed and only 20% of the minors with disabilities have access to a formal education.
The condition of disability is the cause and effect of poverty because persons with disabilities are subject to discrimination and to lack of equal opportunities that produce limitation of social participation and violate their human rights every day. The negative vision that society transfers on persons with disabilities produce a strong social stigma that has consequences in all fields of economic, cultural, political and social life. In case of war, of natural and human calamities persons with disabilities are the first ones to suffer the terrible consequences of emergencies, often death and the lack of attention to their condition. For this reason persons with disabilities represent the most excluded among the excluded, the most discriminated among the discriminated, the poorest among the poor. In quantitative terms about 550 million persons with disabilities that live in developing countries represent almost half of the poorest in the world.
The attention that the international has given to the condition of persons with disabilities has grown, first with the year 1981 dedicated by the United Nations to persons with disabilities, then with the decade (1982.1991)1 for persons with disabilities; then it was the turn of the Standard Rules for the equal opportunities of persons with disabilities (1993)2 and finally the approval of the International Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (2006)3.
In the same world summit of the Millennium Development Goals of New York (2005) particular attention was dedicated to this theme within the paragraph 129 of the final document that says: “We recognize the need of persons with disabilities to be guaranteed full enjoyment of their rights without discrimination. Reaffirming moreover the necessity to finalize the draft of a complete convention on the rights of persons with disabilities".
It is the UN Convention included in article 32 the theme on cooperation to development introducing innovations in the method and in the contents of the actions and of the projects.
Many problems have been created for many years on an international level regarding the use of international cooperation funds respective of the rights of persons with disabilities. In fact on one hand the activities of cooperation to development do not deal with persons with disabilities (a research brought forth that in European Community countries about 2-5% of the funds are destined to projects addressed specifically to persons with disabilities), on the other hand the projects financed by national and international agencies do not include mainstreaming of disability in the ordinary activities, guaranteeing accessibility and equal opportunities. The theme has become objective of the initiative of the organizations of persons with disabilities and was included on the agenda of the governments and the agencies and international donors.
Even the European Commission recognized this approach on twin tracks in the Guidelines4 on disability and cooperation to development. A Resolution of the European Parliament in January 2006 commits the European Commission to be more active on this theme and to take concrete measures to actuate the Guidelines in future thematic and geographic programmes5. The decision of EuropeAid to commit itself in the period between 2007-2013 20% of its resources for social projects is a first commitment. Moreover a project financed by the European Commission is being carried out, that involves 12 countries, and that promotes initiatives of mainstreaming of disability in cooperation to development6.
On the basis of this international debate and of initiatives of projects in various European countries7, some national governmental agencies have defined documents addressing the theme8.
The approval of the UN Convention has marked a turning point in the attention of the human rights of persons with disabilities even on policies of cooperation to development. Article 32 of the UN Convention for the rights of persons with disabilities introduce new principles in the activities linked to cooperation to development9. In particular, recognizing the role of the organizations of persons with disabilities in the activities of cooperation to development, on the basis of the principle “nothing about us without us”, foresees that international cooperation to development:
- Includes persons with disabilities and guarantees the accessibility of the intervention of the same persons with disabilities, including programmes of international development
- Help and support training of action capacity, even by means of exchange and sharing of information, experience, training programmes and best practices;
- Help cooperation in research and access to the scientific and technical knowledge;
- Offer, in appropriate measures, technical and economical assistance, also facilitating access and sharing of accessible technologies and assistance by means of the transfer of technologies.
The construction of new attention towards persons with disabilities in cooperation to development projects a series of initiatives are reserved that can contribute to transform the current situation in syntony with the international debate. Following we will list the priority points that we ask to be put on the government agenda, the agenda of the donor entities and of the NGOs that deal with cooperation to development:
- Inclusion of the principles of Art. 32 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities within the national legislation of cooperation to development
- Increase of the funds destined to projects addressed to persons with disabilities, financed by the national and decentralized cooperation to development
- Introduction in all projects pertaining mainstreaming of disability in all the areas that regard persons with disabilities (not only health therefore, but education, work, transport, etc.)
- Strengthen the ability of intervention of the safeguarding organization in developing countries, by means of empowerment of their ability and potentiality, in support of the ratification process of the UN Convention and the safeguarding of human rights
- Development of a camping on sensitization and training of operators of the sector to the new models of approach to disability.
The contribution of the DPOs in competencies an interventions
The Art. 32 of the Convention assigns an important role to the organizations of persons with disabilities affirming that the States “will undertake appropriate and effective measures (...), as appropriate, in partnership with relevant international and regional organizations and civil society, in particular organizations of persons with disabilities”. The recognition of the essential role of the DPOs is in various parts of the convention strongly recognized10, as is recognized by art. 18 of the Standard Rules. In fact the processes of social inclusion that are behind the promotion, the respect and the safeguarding of the human rights of persons with disabilities, are based on the direct participation of excluded and discriminated persons to construct a participative and inclusive society. The slogan of the International disability caucus, that unified in a single voice 70 organizations of persons with disabilities at the Ad Hoc Committee, nominated by the UN General Assembly to write the text of the Convention, was: “Nothing about us without us”.
The direct involvement of the Organizations of persons with disabilities in cooperation to development projects is essential to guarantee that interventions are based on human rights, actuate actions of empowerment and capacity building of the local organizations, favour the transferring of best practices in the framework of the human rights of the UN Convention. The DPOs have developed the ability and competence in policies on disability that are extremely useful to overcome the medical model of disability, still prevalent within the activities of the NGOs that operate in the area of cooperation to development. In fact the NGOs that have correct competences in the are of disability and inclusive planning are still few. Moreover the DPOs are the main experts in the promotion and realization of actions of social and individual empowerment of persons with disabilities.
The individual empowerment of persons with disabilities regard various aspects : emotional (reformulation of the emotions on building and transforming other than on limiting and destroying), perceptive (redefinition of life experiences on the basis of the social model of disability), intellectual (comprehension of the cultural instruments to be in possession of, understanding the language), behavioural (transformation of human and social relations on the basis of new awareness), qualificative (understand and do things in a different way), informative (recognize and know how to use laws and resources of one’s own territory).
Social empowerment on the other hand regards prevalently actions of advocacy of the associations of persons with disabilities and their families. In fact it is the recognition of the role of promotion and safeguarding of rights that the associations of persons with disabilities are not recognized and enhanced that produces lack of policies on disability and wrong policies in society. Social inclusion cannot be carried out without the direct involvement of the same excluded and discriminated persons. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen the ability of the organizations of persons with disabilities to confront themselves with society in its complexity. It is no longer the time to think about solely about the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, but to the rehabilitation of the whole society, on which the DPOs are experts.
Among the other international organizations the role that Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI)11 has carried out in these last years was decisive: all the most important battles of emancipation and cultural, political and social transformation on disability have found this DPO on the front line, with a contribution of battles and extraordinary ideas: from the CBR12 in rehabilitation to the ICF13, to the equalization of opportunities , to non-discrimination, from bioethics to the battle against poverty.Following we will list some actions that can be carried out by the organizations of persons with disabilities.
Empowerment of the associations of persons with disabilities
All the main processes of attention to rights and of change in national and local policies have occurred where there existed an independent voice of persons with disabilities capable of claiming respect of rights, proposing technical and political solutions to guarantee social inclusion, develop sensitization campaigns and lobby actions to carry out policies of mainstreaming. The strengthening of the ability of intervention of the associations of persons with disabilities and of their relatives in beneficiary countries is therefore a strategic objective of any project of cooperation to development.
In this direction it is essential to build an independent and competent voice that represent persons with disabilities within the policies that regard them. Among the other possible actions we suggest :
- training addressed to the formation of leaders in the field of policies based on human rights, of the fundamental concepts linked to disability, of the international instruments of safeguarding, of lobby actions, of links with foreign experience14
- projects of increase in the ability to work in a network, to diffuse information, to enhance internal resources, to strengthen the networks
- training addressed to the construction of specific legislations, policies of mainstreaming, the creation of services in specific areas (work, education, information, etc.)
National initiatives based on principles of respect of human rights
The Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities of the United Nations has transformed the vision of the condition of persons with disabilities, inserting it in a context of human rights. This requires a new approach to policies and a new ability of monitoring the results.
It is important to strengthen the awareness of the DPOs and of the governments and to offer new instruments to report the continuous violation of human rights, of discrimination and lack of equal opportunities. In this sense it is possible to organize :
- Training and technical support for the elaboration of national and local reports that evaluate the condition of respect of human rights of persons with disabilities and photograph the state of application of the UN Convention of the rights of persons with disabilities
- Support for the realization of national and local campaigns aimed, addressed to the growth of awareness of the entire society
- Training and technical support for the gathering of reports of violation of the human rights of persons with disabilities on the model of Amnesty International
Diffusion of best practices of support to independent living
Article 19 of the Convention recognizes the right to live in an independent form and participate in full to community living. It is an obvious right for all citizens, but substantially denied to persons with disabilities.
To better the awareness of one’s own condition and favour the bettering of the quality of life of persons with disabilities it is important to introduce best practices addressed to the support of independent living of persons with disabilities. The DPOs are competent in realizing actions for:
- The training of operators with disabilities that become experts in peer counselling and peer support activities
- The support of the construction of Centres for independent living, capable of promoting individual empowerment of persons with disabilities
The competences that the DPOs have developed in the field of promotion of human rights, of the actions of social inclusion and support for the full participation are often excellent. Disability is a life experience transferable with difficulty to whom does not have experience.
It is important to employ export persons with disabilities in projects, to concretely realize the participation within the same teams that manage the projects of cooperation to development. In this sense each project that is linked to rights recognized by the Convention of the United Nations should have the attentions to guarantee the respect of human rights of persons with disabilities. Equally important is to develop training towards persons with disabilities to involve them in activities of cooperation to development.
Emergency and disability
In case of emergency situations and natural and human disasters, persons with disabilities are more at risk that others. This derives on one hand from an humanitarian approach ( that tends to minimize the loss and intervene on aspects essential to survival) that should be reconverted in an approach based on human rights (that tries to safeguard the rights of persons in any situation); on the other hand we signal a great lack of knowledge and competence on the subject of the actors of emergency intervention. It is not by chance that article 11 of the Convention is dedicated to Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies15. Recently a “VERONA CHARTER on the rescue of persons with disabilities in case of disaster” was approved, as result of an European project16. Among the possible actions to be developed with the DPOs we signal:
- Research and studies on actions linked to emergency and humanitarian aids, identifying indicators of social inclusion and of strengthening of abilities, of safeguarding human rights, of accessibility, of answer to specific needs, etc
- Definition of the interventions to guarantee accessibility and the liveability in the emergency activities.
The principles at the basis of the projects of cooperation to development
The policy of safeguarding human rights is linked to the policy of social change. There is not safeguarding of human rights in the world that does not imply a policy of social change, of change in the political relationships of power, of change of relationships of national and world force. The overcoming of the debt of “poor” Countries compared to “rich” Countries is an example. Change of the world equilibrium means new relationships between “rich” countries and developing countries, also based on the respect of human rights. In this framework the change on a national level for persons with disabilities is that to guarantee that they can have a voice, that very often they do not have; the change on a local level goes in the direction of including and enhancing instead of excluding and discriminating. Why are human diversities negativity, but instead wealth. The human being is the only species that has built social negativity of some diversities of its own species (of race, religion, culture, psycho-physical, etc.). The globalization, standardization on which economic processes, processes of cooperation to development, processes of widening the market are built, tend to cancel diversities. The movement of persons with disabilities combat so that diversities are at the basis of the building of society in this millennium. Only societies based on diversities can build societies of inclusion, societies of universal design, societies of reciprocity. These values seem relegated to the restricted area of disability, because persons with disabilities are excluded and discriminated, because they do not have access to societies’ services, they do not fully live reciprocity; in reality these are values that regard each and everyone of us. If we read the Standard Rules without prejudice we can see that the principles that are at the basis of their writing up are valid to all. The same Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities is based on principles valid for any being belonging to human gender17. The reality of the human species is not reducible to a liberalistic type of individualism, but to the relationship among populations and persons. Human wealth is made of diversity, of the mixing of unique diversities, capable of producing different societies, different culture, different economies. These societies in this millennium need new rules, respective of the human rights of all populations and of the wealth of all persons. Societies in which everyone can live and count on equal conditions and opportunities.
In this direction cooperation to development is an important instrument to support the development of poor countries, by means of appropriate policies. It is important to remember that it is necessary to realize an inclusive development, capable of involving all populations, preventing the social weight of the excluded. It is a new theme on which it is still necessary to promote research and thought. The projects of cooperation to development moreover, are also ethical models of behaviour and intervention, that promote the uprooting of poverty and the construction of just and participative societies.
For this reason it is important that the principles must be at the basis of the projects of cooperation to development and the emergency and humanitarian interventions. The framework of disability can be synthesized in these eight principles:
Principle I : Cooperation to development safeguards the human rights of persons with disabilities (medical model and social model, violation of the human rights, non discrimination and equal opportunities, Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, Standard rules, etc.)
Principle II : Each intervention addressed to persons with disabilities must be based on social inclusion (overcoming discriminations, enhancing community resources, favouring the preservation of the community, CBR, etc.)
Principle III : Each intervention in any area must include interventions for persons with disabilities (identify inclusive solutions, mainstreaming of disability)
Principle IV :In each intervention persons with disabilities and their organizations as main experts must be involved (Knowledge of the problems, forms of involvement, participated planning, etc.)
Principle V : The abilities and capacities of persons with disabilities and their autonomous and self-determined and inter-independent life must be enhanced (processes of social and medical qualification and rehabilitation, processes of empowerment, peer counselling and peer support, etc.)
Principle VI : Adequate training of the personnel involved must be guaranteed (training/quality of intervention and respect of human rights, etc.)
Principle VII : The respect of human rights of persons with disabilities must be guaranteed from the very beginning in the humanitarian and emergency interventions (accessibility in emergency camps, food, location services, participation in the decision-making in the camps, etc.)
Principle VIII : The interventions must include qualitative standards and the evaluation of the results obtained and their sustainability (manuals, legislative proposals, rights charter, permanent instruments of empowerment of the community, etc.)Conclusion
The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities produce a deep transformation of the approach of disability in International cooperation. Art. 11 and 32 stress that International cooperation need to include disability issue in all activities, respecting human rights and promote social and economical inclusion. All the actors concerned need to work on a base of twin track approach: increase attention on person with disabilities in developing countries and mainstreaming disability in the development projects.
A particular attention in all the intervention, both in development than in emergency, must be dedicated to support the role of the organizations of persons with disabilities.
The recognition of the essential role of the DPOs is in various parts of the convention strongly recognized (art. 4 par. 3 and in the same art. 32), as well in the art. 18 of the Standard Rules.
The direct involvement of the Organizations of persons with disabilities in cooperation to development projects is essential to guarantee that interventions are based on human rights, actuate actions of empowerment and capacity building of the local organizations, favour the transferring of best practices in the framework of the human rights of the UN Convention. The goal of social inclusion need to be include in the model of development, that not exclude persons and support involvement of all society as actor and beneficiary of development. An inclusive development is the new challenge for the International cooperation.