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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviews the report of Vanuatu

GENEVA (22 March 2019) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its review of the initial report of Vanuatu on the measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Dorosday Kenneth Watson, Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs at the Ministry of Justice and Community Services of Vanuatu, in the introduction of the report said that her Government devoted significant efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities were able to enjoy fully, and on an equal basis with others, all human rights in accordance with the Convention.  The National Disability Inclusive Development Policy 2018-2025 had been prepared after a nationwide consultation and reflected the contributions of persons with disabilities; its implementation was coordinated by her Ministry, she said.  The National Community Based Rehabilitation Action Plan 2014-2024 was in place, while inclusion and equity were the broad aspirations of the National Sustainable Development Plan whose goals were organized around three main pillars of the society, environment, and economy.  The Government and its international partners were frequently working with the civil society organizations that actively supported disability-inclusive development, such as the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association, the Vanuatu Society for People with Disabilities, the Rainbow Theatre and the Sanma Frangipani Association.  Vanuatu would continue to resolutely pursue a human rights-based approach in protecting and upholding the rights of persons with disabilities, including in the areas of health, education, adequate food and housing, environmental preservation, and respect for culture, concluded the Director.

The Committee Experts praised the inclusion of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in the preparation and implementation of relevant policies in Vanuatu and the country’s commitment to improving the rights of persons with disabilities.  However, harmonization with the Convention was still required for a significant number of laws as was the repeal of discriminatory and derogatory terms from the legislation and policies.  It was of particular concern that discrimination on the grounds of disability was not specifically prohibited.  They inquired about the practical application of the human rights model of disability in laws and policies, including in the definition of disability and the disability assessment process.  Vanuatu consisted of 83 islands and most of the 65 inhabited ones were mountainous which not only magnified the challenge of ensuring the accessibility but also multiplied its critical importance for the realization of the right to freedom of movement for persons with disabilities.  This island nation was also extremely prone to natural disasters which put a premium on an inclusive emergency notification and response system that integrated the lessons learned and did not repeat mistakes made during past responses.  Finally, the Experts underlined that the systematic inclusion of persons with disabilities and their active participation, particularly in the political and public life, would serve as an impetus to meaningful change, the benefits of which would resonate at all levels and in all sectors, including education, labour, and the judiciary. 

Ms. Watson emphasized in her concluding observations that ensuring the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities required the participation of the entire country and acknowledged the continuous assistance of Vanuatu’s numerous regional partners in this endeavour.

Samuel Cabue and Robert Martin, Committee Co-Rapporteurs for Vanuatu, in their concluding remarks praised the efforts to improve the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in Vanuatu, particularly the implementation of the new policy of inclusion. 

Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, thanked the representative organizations of persons with disabilities for their contributions to the constructive dialogue.

The delegation of Vanuatu consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services and the Permanent Mission of Vanuatu to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Vanuatu at the end of its twenty-first session on 5 April.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday 25 March to begin the consideration of the initial report of Norway (CRPD/C/NOR/1).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Vanuatu (CRPD/C/VUT/1) and the replies to the list of issues (CRPD/C/VUT/Q/1/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

DOROSDAY KENNETH WATSON, Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs at the Ministry of Justice and Community Services of Vanuatu, in the introduction of the report reiterated her country’s strong belief that reporting to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities created an opportunity for the States to reflect and evaluate their commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities and examine the efforts of the Government and the stakeholders in that regard.  The Government of Vanuatu devoted significant efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities were able to enjoy fully, and on an equal basis with others, all human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Convention, she said.  Vanuatu’s Constitution provided the legal framework for governance and the rule of law and in its article 5, it promoted and protected various fundamental rights and duties of all individuals in Vanuatu.  The Constitution also provided for legal recourse to the Supreme Court in the event of an infringement of a protected right. 

The National Disability Inclusive Development Policy 2018-2025 built upon past efforts of the Government to provide a strategic plan of actions for national and provincial governments and non-government stakeholders; it had been prepared after a nationwide consultation and it reflected the contributions of persons with disabilities.  Vanuatu had also put in place the National Community Based Rehabilitation Action Plan 2014-2024.  The implementation plan for the National Disability Inclusive Development Policy was linked to the national inclusive policies of the Government implemented by line ministries, with the Ministry of Justice and Community Services providing coordination in order to ensure the incorporation of inclusion indicators in all the policies.  Also, the linkages were being built with all the registered representative organizations of persons with disabilities and civil society organizations.  The National Sustainable Development Plan collated, incorporated, and promoted several key priorities that aimed to empower and promote inclusion of persons with disabilities, said the Director.  Inclusion and equity were its broad aspirations, clearly expressed throughout many of the goals and objectives that were organized around three main pillars: society, environment, and economy. 

Civil society across Vanuatu was actively supporting disability-inclusive development and international non-governmental organization partners were frequently working together with local governments and non- government partners, including the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association, the Vanuatu Society for People with Disabilities, the Rainbow Theatre and the Sanma Frangipani Association.  There was a growing commitment to disability-inclusive development from regional development partners, including in disaster risk reduction sector; Australia was providing considerable resources for disability inclusion in Vanuatu since 2009, both bilaterally and through multilateral bodies, including for the support to representative organizations of persons with disabilities and the provision of assistive devices for persons with disabilities.  While the challenge of resource availability continued to limit the performance of national and local government institutional mechanisms, the Government would nevertheless continue to revisit and further improve laws, policies, programmes, and measures to render them ever more responsive and not restrictive, and attuned to prevailing differentiated needs and concerns of persons with disabilities. 

In conclusion, the Director reassured the Committee that Vanuatu would resolutely pursue a human rights-based approach in protecting and upholding the rights of persons with disabilities, including in the areas of health, education, adequate food and housing, environmental preservation, and respect for culture.  Finally, she welcomed the dialogue with the Committee, which would help both to learn much from each other and provide lessons that would better Vanuatu’s commitment not to leave anyone out.

Questions by the Committee Experts

SAMUEL CABUE, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Vanuatu, opened the dialogue with the delegation of Vanuatu and commended its commitment to improving the rights of persons with disabilities in line with the Convention and praised the inclusion of civil society organizations in the preparation and implementation of relevant policies. 

This said, he noted that over 100 still remained to be aligned with the Convention and that persons with disabilities did not seem to be effectively involved in decision-making processes on issues that concerned them.  The Committee remained concerned by the lack of specific protection from discrimination on the grounds of disability and urged the State party to strengthen the accessibility standards in building codes and improve access to justice, inclusive education, and habitation and rehabilitation.  In addition, there was no form of social protection that would enable persons with disabilities to live where and how they would like.

ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Vanuatu, wished the delegation a successful dialogue and a fruitful implementation of the recommendations by the Committee.

The Experts demanded the delegation to provide disaggregated data on persons with disabilities in institutions, both related to women and girls with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and to children with disabilities.  Also, they asked about the system in place that ensured that the living conditions in those institutions were monitored including in relation to the protection of their residents from violence and abuse.  How were women with disabilities participating in decision-making on issues that affected them?

On awareness-raising on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Experts asked about the activities in the rural areas and the participation of persons with disabilities in their conception and implementation and urged Vanuatu to adopt a national awareness-raising policy as it would improve linkages between all relevant stakeholders and enable a better addressing of the needs of persons with disabilities.

The delegation was asked to explain the extent to which the human rights model of disability was grounded the concept of disability that Vanuatu used, and in this sense, they asked detailed questions about the definition of disability, the disability assessment process and mechanism, and the repeal of all discriminatory and derogatory terms from the national legislation.  Were all types of disability included in the National Disability Inclusion Policy 2018-2025?

The Experts inquired about the action taken to ensure that foreign investments were in compliance with the Convention and how the international development assistance was being used to enhance the accessibility. 

Vanuatu consisted of 83 islands and most of the 65 inhabited ones were mountainous, which raised not only the challenge of ensuring the accessibility but also the critical importance of the accessibility for the realization of the right to freedom of movement for persons with disabilities.  The Experts asked about the use of the public procurement policy to improve the accessibility and about other concrete steps to increase the access to transport, emergency shelters, and emergency warning.  What recourse was available for lack of accessibility in public buildings?   Was there a state programme to train sign language interpreters and how many had been trained?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government was providing direct support to representative organizations of persons with disabilities, including technical assistance to strengthen their capacity.  The nomination of persons with disabilities was encouraged to different posts available in development programmes and most decisions in the programmes related to the rights of persons with disabilities were made by the representative organizations of persons with disabilities.  Furthermore, the country was working to expand the consultation mechanisms and involve persons with disabilities in the drafting of bills prior to their referral to Parliament.

The awareness-raising campaigns were taken throughout the provinces in cooperation with representative organizations of persons with disabilities and persons with disabilities themselves.  Awareness raising was seen as an important component in giving power to persons with disabilities in the society and battling stigmatization and Government had allocated a budget for raising awareness campaigns throughout Vanuatu.  The National Awareness Strategy would hopefully be developed after the on-going consultation between the Ministry of Justice and representative organizations of persons with disabilities was concluded.

When it came to domestic law, the delegation acknowledged that there was still a gap in addressing specific rights of persons with disabilities and said that Vanuatu remained committed to adopting standalone legislation on the issue, which would also help in amending all other laws.  The draft bill had been developed which aimed to introduce the Convention in national legislation; it was a human rights-based piece of legislation which would, inter alia, prohibit disability-based discrimination.  The consultations on the draft were ongoing.  In the meantime, and in the absence of a specific anti-discrimination law, the provisions of the criminal law were being used as an alternative by law enforcement and the judiciary to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination.

In all its policies, Vanuatu used the definition of disability in line with the Convention, the delegation confirmed.  The National Disability Inclusive Development Policy 2018-2025 had eight strategic areas, such as the mainstreaming of the rights of persons with disabilities and disability-specific services, as well as the strategic areas on leadership and representation, coordination and resourcing, accessibility awareness, and women and girls with disabilities.

The National Statistics Office had made some progress in the implementation of the Washington Group of questions in data collection, which were being regularly used and referred to by the National Disability Desk.  However, a gap remained in a systematic collection of quality data in relation to women and girls with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. 

As for the violence against women and girls with disabilities, a mechanism under the Family Protection Act was being used to provide the first line of protection.  The scope of this law was being currently expanded to also include a referral mechanism for victims of violence.  Women with disabilities victims of violence, including domestic violence, could seek shelter and access services through two centres that existed in the country.  In 2016 there had been 69 reported cases and 15 in both 2017 and 2018.  Specific measures were in place to empower women with disabilities by strengthening their access to means of income, including through the participation in the production and sale of handicrafts.

The delegation recognized a gap in persons with disabilities’ access to justice where further training of the officers of the court was needed.  There were no institutions that accommodated persons with disabilities. 

The Ministry of Education demanded that all school buildings constructed by 2015 to be retrofitted and accessible to children using wheelchairs and other assistive devices.  There were 3,332 students in primary and 581 students in secondary pilot inclusive schools, and some 500 teachers had been trained to work with students with disabilities.  There was currently no Vanuatu sign language in school; Braille was also not used, but measures had been adopted to make it available in schools until 2020.

In response to questions on the accessibility, the delegation said that, while little had been done on improving the enforcement of the Building Code on the existing structures, efforts were being made to ensure the accessibility of all new constructions.  A draft amendment to the Penal Code sought to introduce sanctions for the violations and non-compliance with the Building Code.  Vanuatu’s People Plan provided systematic monitoring checks to verify the compliance of all future construction projects with the accessibility requirements.  An initiative was in place to provide the accessibility in public bus transportation, while accessibility of air and maritime transport remained a considerable challenge.  There was no standardized sign language nor was training in sign language interpretation available at the moment.

Vanuatu had diplomatic relations with other countries that enabled assistance to persons with disabilities particularly with regards to technical assistance and accessibility devices.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Continuing the dialogue, the Experts asked Vanuatu about the timeline for the repeal of the legislation that restricted the full legal capacity of persons with disabilities and the putting in place of supportive decision-making, and the legislation that prohibited medical treatment without free, prior and informed consent. 

Turning to the access to justice for persons with disabilities, the delegation was asked about training on disability issues provided to judicial and police officers and whether guidelines were available to persons with disabilities in accessible formats on the judiciary process and how they can access justice and seek remedies.  Was free legal aid available to persons with disabilities?

What measures were taken to effectively combat violence against women and girls with disabilities and involve the women themselves and their representative organizations in the planning and implementation of those measures?  How were children with disabilities protected from any form of physical abuse and when would be the Family Protection Act be brought in line with the Convention?

The Experts asked for more detail on how the National Community Based Rehabilitation Plan ensured that persons with disabilities in remote areas could access assistive devices and also inquired about the availability of community-based services to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and with whom they wanted within the community.  Who was playing the role of the Disability Committee in the three provinces that did not have them?

Vanuatu was among the countries most prone to natural disasters, the Experts remarked and asked about the inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risks prevention, preparedness, and response at all levels of authority and how the emergency notification and response system integrated the specific needs and vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities.  How were the lessons from previous disaster responses integrated into the existing system to ensure that important mistakes of the past in terms of the notification and rescue of persons with disabilities were not repeated?

Vanuatu was a multilingual country, the Experts remarked and asked what the official sign language could then be.  What were the intentions concerning the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled?

Replies by the Delegation

The right of persons with disabilities to live independently and to choose with whom and how they wished to live was subject of awareness-raising campaigns, particularly those aimed at families that had persons with disabilities as their members.  Access to assistive devices was coordinated by the National Disability Desk at the national level and persons with disabilities participated in provincial and local structures.  Vanuatu was working on setting up the fully operational Provincial Disability Committees, which would integrate persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making on the issues that directly addressed them, and which would be in charge of the implementation of disability-related policies, including the national disability policy, the provisions of the Convention, as well as the provision of assistive devices. 

The Constitution guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms for all, including persons with disabilities, the delegation reiterated and explained that the Government was currently developing a standalone law to address the discrimination against persons with disabilities.  A steering committee had been set up that worked with the key partners on the standardization of the sign language and the use of Braille in schools.

In response to questions related to the physical integrity of persons with disabilities, the delegation said that, in terms of sterilization, there were no guidelines or regulations that were specifically for persons with disabilities but patient’s consent was required for all surgical procedures.  The Child Protection Bill prohibited corporal punishment in the education facilities, while further restrictions of corporal punishment within the family, currently under the discussion, would have to take into account culture, customs and religion of the people.

The involvement of persons with disabilities in decision-making was one of the main points in the current justice sector reform which aimed, inter alia, improve the access to justice for persons with disabilities.  Mechanisms for dispute resolution within customary services were not the only available remedy mechanisms available, and people were informed that they had the right to take cases to courts.  A family protection unit within the police forces had the capacity and skills to assist persons with disabilities seeking remedy for rights violations.  Systematic training for the police and judicial staff in sign language continued to present a challenge; all training activities in this domain were organized upon request and on a case-by-case basis. 

Persons with disabilities were actively involved in data collection and information sharing in the area of emergency preparedness and response said the delegation.  The current emergency notification system sent out free SMS messages and there was information sharing in evacuation centres on the applicable procedure; that said, the system at the moment did not adequately cater to all forms of disabilities and the Government was working on its improvement.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final cluster of questions, the delegation was asked about the intentions to revoke legal provisions that discriminated against persons with disabilities in marriage and family and to include persons with disabilities in the revision of the Family Protection Act in order to make it more supportive and protective of the life in a family setting.  In a similar vein, what support was in place to prevent institutionalization of children with disabilities and enable them to live with their families and to assist both their parents and parents with disabilities themselves?

The Experts asked about the implementation of the inclusive education policy and advised the delegation that they could obtain books in accessible formats from other States parties to the Marrakesh Treaty.  Taking note of the partnership with the universities from Australia that had aimed to establish two model inclusive schools by 2016, the Experts asked whether its strategies and methodologies could be used to underpin the delivery of inclusive education throughout the country. 

The Experts were interested in the impact of the inclusive labour officer since he came into place, the progress made in reviewing the Labour Act to include persons with disabilities in employment, and the measures taken to promote their self-employment.  How were persons with disabilities protected from labour exploitation?  Vanuatu was doing quite well when it came to health services according to the official data from the World Health Organization, the Experts remarked and asked about the training provided to medical staff to enable them to deliver healthcare to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with other citizens. 

There was a strong correlation between disability and poverty, noted the Experts and asked about the specific actions in the National Disability Policy that targeted high levels of poverty among persons with disabilities, particularly those who needed higher levels of support.  How was the international cooperation streamlined to overcome poverty, violence and the lack of access to social rights of persons with disabilities and to guarantee their full social inclusion?  

The Experts underlined that the systematic inclusion of persons with disabilities and their active participation, particularly in the political and public life, would serve as an impetus to meaningful change, the benefits of which would resonate at all levels and in all sectors, including education, labour, and the judiciary.  What concrete steps was Vanuatu taking to facilitate the active political participation of persons with disabilities?  Could persons with disabilities vote independently and what was the proxy vote system, they asked.  Was the information from the Government provided in accessible formats, e.g. Braille and easy read?  Sports could empower people and improve inclusion, said the Experts and asked about the measures taken to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in the field of sports.

Replies by the Delegation

Most schools in Vanuatu were becoming inclusive due to the continuous awareness-raising on the inclusive education policy.  The pilot school in the capital was still in operation and it served as an example and a model to other schools that were in the process of becoming inclusive.  The monitoring and inspection of inclusiveness of schools was a regular activity and it focused on the issues of school accessibility and the provisions to assist students with disabilities.  Teachers were trained in adapting curriculum to assist students with disabilities; to date, 500 teachers had received inclusive education training.  All schools had been provided with audio books, while the use of Braille in schools was in priority focus for the Ministry of Education.  Vanuatu was studying the Marrakesh Treaty in order to understand the related obligations and decide whether to ratify the instrument.  At the moment, four students with disabilities were students at the University of South Pacific, while as per the 2012 census, there were 2,252 students with disabilities in primary schools.

The Government was working to provide avenues for persons with disabilities when it came to their access to the labour market based on the skills they had and their contribution to the work sphere.  There were no standalone guidelines when it came to HIV/AIDS for persons with disabilities.  The social protection system was not based on the provision of direct subsidies to persons with disabilities but on direct cash transfers to the families.  The Government was working on making social protection policies more inclusive of persons with disabilities.

The participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life was a slow process; the same was true for their participation in the labour market, education, and the judiciary.  So far, two persons with disabilities worked as deputy mayors, there were two teachers with disabilities and three persons with disabilities worked in the judicial sphere.

Vanuatu had an umbrella organization for sports and separate bodies that dealt with Paralympics and Special Olympic sports; the Paralympic committee conducted outreach to raise awareness of the Para sports and carried out talent identification in provinces as a part of its strategic plans in 2019.  Vanuatu persons with disabilities would participate in the African Para Games, the Pacific Games, and the World Para Athletics Championship in 2019. 

Concluding Remarks

DOROSDAY KENNETH WATSON, Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs at the Ministry of Justice and Community Services of Vanuatu, in her concluding observations thanked the Committee, civil society and non-governmental organizations for their participation throughout the constructive dialogue and valuable comments that would help the Government improve efforts in leaving no one behind.  Ensuring the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities required the participation of the entire country, she said and acknowledged the continuous assistance of Vanuatu’s numerous regional partners in this endeavour.

SAMUEL CABUE and ROBERT MARTIN, Committee Co-Rapporteurs for Vanuatu, in their concluding remarks thanked the delegation for their honest and open answers and praised the efforts to improve the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities and especially to implement the new policy of inclusion. 

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their responses and explanations provided and also thanked the representative organizations of persons with disabilities and civil society organizations for their contributions to the constructive dialogue.

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