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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Holds General Discussion on Persons with Disabilities in Situations of Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies

08 March 2023

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday, 7 March, and on Wednesday, 8 March, held a day and a half of general discussion on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, focusing on situations in the following regional segments: the Asia Pacific, Central Asia and Eastern Europe; Western Europe and the Americas; and Africa and the Middle East.

Rosemary Kayess, Committee Vice-Chair and Chair of the Working Group on Article 11 of the Convention, said the overwhelming response to the day of General Discussion on article 11 reflected how critical this area of work was.  Contemporary experience had shown the ableist assumptions entrenched in States’ planning and response efforts had failed people with disabilities.  The effects of climate change, acts of aggression and armed conflicts did not differentiate between people, but the responses to such issues could.  The Committee’s role was to clarify the obligations of State parties.

Ms. Kayess explained that the purpose of the general discussion was to prepare the elaboration by the Committee of a General Comment on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.  The aim of the General Comment would be to clarify State parties’ obligations pursuant to article 11 of the Convention and provide recommendations to State parties on measures they should adopt to ensure full compliance with their obligations to respect, protect and implement the human rights of persons with disabilities.

Representatives of national, regional and international organizations and members of civil society participated in the discussion.

During the session, it was announced that on Monday, the Committee had elected the following offices for the period of 2023 to 2024: Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame (Ghana) as Chair; Amalia Gamio Rios (Mexico), Odelia Fitoussi (Israel) and Rosemary Kayess (Australia) as Vice-Chairs; and Vivian Fernández De Torrijos (Panama) as Rapporteur of the Committee.

Committee Experts also commemorated International Women’s Day on 8 March, saying that it was an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable women with disabilities who had led action and made significant contributions in the disability rights field.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  Webcasts of the meetings of the session can be found here, and meetings summaries can be found here.  
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Wednesday 8 March to begin its consideration of the initial report of Angola (CRPD/C/AGO/1).

Opening Statements

ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Vice-Chair and Chair of the Working Group on article 11 of the Convention, congratulated Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame on her election to Chair, a reflection of the extensive work she had done in the Committee, especially regarding article 27 and in development of General Comment Eight.  Her election reflected her strong leadership of women with disabilities both within the Committee and at the international level.

Ms. Kayess said the overwhelming response to this day of General Discussion on article 11 reflected how critical this area of work was.  Contemporary experience had shown the ableist assumptions entrenched in States’ planning and response efforts had failed people with disabilities.  The effects of climate change, acts of aggression and armed conflicts did not differentiate between people, but the responses to such issues could.  The work of the Committee was to clarify the obligations of State parties.  It was a challenge to ensure that this complex area of law and the declaratory programmatic work in this area promoted the rights of persons with disabilities and protected them in situations of risk and emergency.  The input of organizations of persons with disabilities was critical, including to better understand the impact on persons with disabilities and the way in which States could be better structured and prepared to protect their rights.

Ms. Kayess explained that the purpose of the general discussion was to prepare the elaboration by the Committee of a General Comment on persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.  The aim of the General Comment would be to clarify the State party’s obligations pursuant to article 11 of the Convention and provide recommendations to State parties on measures they should adopt to ensure full compliance with their obligations to respect, protect and implement the human rights of persons with disabilities.

General Discussion on the Asia-Pacific, Central Asia and Eastern Europe

Part 1: Impacts and Challenges Faced by Persons with Disabilities in Situations of Risk and the Role of State and Non-State Actors in Addressing Them

Sened said its field experience had showed some groups bore disproportionate risk during disasters: women and children, people in institutions, refugees and internally displaced people with disabilities; people with invisible and rare disabilities; and finally people who had a recent disability during risk situations. Based on its preliminary assessment during the recent earthquakes in Türkiye, it recommended State Parties to the Convention should take necessary measures to implement policies that centralised people disproportionately affected in situations of risk. Governments should ensure meaningful participation of people with disabilities to achieve article 11 of the Convention and the Sendai Framework, including by engaging organizations of people with disabilities, other disaster experts and civil society representatives.  The Committee should sustain close monitoring of State parties’ short, middle and long-term policies to implement article 11 on a regular basis.  The Committee should take note of the intersectionality of armed conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters and create a multi-dimensional set of responses.

Ohana Indonesia said that the absence of national disaggregated data on persons with disabilities in disaster and conflict prone areas was a major challenge.  It recommended accelerating efforts to increase effective and meaningful participation of all persons with disabilities in all decision-making processes related to policies, protocols, mechanisms for disaster prevention, response and recovery.  It also recommended ensuring the development of disaggregated data based on disability barriers in disaster and conflict-prone areas, and designing accessible and inclusive early warning systems to ensure priority efforts on evacuation for persons with disabilities.  Further, it recommended reviewing and implementing regulations regarding the design of policies, programmes and budgets to support persons with disabilities in disaster management and recovery; mainstreaming the rights of people with disabilities; and increasing collaboration and partnership between State parties and non-State actors with organisations of persons with disabilities.

Japan Disability Forum cited the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March, 2011, in which more than 15,000 people had died, noting the fatality rate of persons with disabilities in the affected areas was more than twice that of overall residents.  State parties should let persons with disabilities and their families participate in discussions on disaster prevention and reduction as members of national and local governments and regional councils.  Personal information held by governments needed to be used effectively to confirm the safety of persons with disabilities immediately following a disaster.  Also, all local governments should establish individual evacuation plans.  The provision of information at the time of a disaster by local governments and the media and at disaster sites should be conducted in all forms of accessible communication.  State parties should make public shelters inclusive and ensure privacy, and make general temporary housing accessible. State parties should discuss how persons with disabilities living near nuclear power plants could safely evacuate in the case of a nuclear disaster.  Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the system of medical care, testing, and vaccination should ensure that persons with disabilities were not given lower priority.

Nuanua O Le Alofa noted the vulnerability of children and youth with disabilities in the Pacific region to climate change.  The lack of opportunities for engagement of youth and children with disabilities in national climate actions remained a concern. Poor hygiene, water contaminated by soil erosion and the destruction of seedlings threatened the ecosystem, nutrition and livelihood of communities.  This was a major concern for Pacific youth with disabilities, especially those who were blind and visually impaired.  Nuanua O Le Alofa recommended that the Committee include a paragraph on children and youth with disabilities in the General Comment and recognise the barriers to participation for youth with disabilities in climate actions.  The international community needed to carry out child rights impact assessments on climate change, environmental and disaster risk policies, plans and protocols; ensure disability-inclusive climate mitigation and adaptation efforts; consider the challenges, priorities and needs of youth and children with diverse disabilities; commit to the mobilisation of national resources to promote education of children and young people with disabilities as future leaders.

Sri Lanka Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled said Sri Lanka had experience with situations of risk, humanitarian evacuations and natural disasters. Some States were sometimes reluctant to promote the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities. However, in recent years, positive signs of increased engagement to expand participation and inclusion were noted, especially with regards to article 11 of the Convention.  The Foundation noted the Sri Lankan Government’s actions to increase participation of persons with disabilities and expressed hope that the Committee could further broaden article 11.

Deaf Aotearoa said full access to information was particularly important for deaf people in emergency situations.  Without full access, deaf people were at risk of making wrong decisions, such as failing to evacuate in time, or deciding to travel on dangerous roads. Full access to information saved lives.  Governments needed to ensure that full access to comprehensive information was provided in emergency situations.  There needed to be a commitment to the provision of local and regional emergency information in formats that deaf people could access quickly.  New Zealand and its Pacific island neighbours were increasingly at risk of environmental disasters exacerbated by climate change.  It was therefore vital that the rights of deaf people to full access to information were upheld in all situations of risk.  Deaf Aotearoa recommended that State and non-State parties committed to this cause.  A clear directive in article 11 reflecting this should be produced.

Women’s Network Japan said in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, the mortality rate of women with disabilities had been higher than that of men with disabilities.  Women with disabilities were more likely to be placed in dangerous situations.  Existing disaster risk prevention plans and schemes for persons with disabilities and the elderly did not have a decisive gender perspective.  The Network had created leaflets and sent them to evacuation shelters to deliver useful information for women with disabilities in crisis.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, women's help desks and domestic violence shelters were inaccessible for women with disabilities and their situations became more serious.  The perspective of women with disabilities should be included in general policies for women.

Disability Rights International called on the Committee to recognize that article 11 included any person with a disability placed in an institution and any child with a disability separated from family.  When emergencies occurred, these individuals, including the broad population of individuals with disabilities living in the community, were at increased risk over the population at-large.  The organization asked the Committee to call on States to prioritise this population and take preventative action before crises occur.  The United Nations Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization described proactive measures, which needed to be applied before and during situations of emergency.  Most emergencies had been largely predictable or long and protracted, so advanced planning could prevent much of the observed discrimination, abuse and dangers.  State parties should plan for responses that ensured family-based solutions for children, regardless of the type of risk and emergency.  Human rights monitoring needed to continue during times of emergency.  International assistance should not perpetuate segregation, discrimination and abuse.  It was not justifiable to support institutions that segregated people with disabilities from society.

ELIF CELIK, disability rights scholar from Türkiye, said the most recent earthquake had demonstrated the importance of professional assistance and technical tools. Field reports showed persons with hearing impairments were among the most disadvantaged in rescue operations due to a lack to technical equipment and professional staff.  International cooperation was even more crucial in overcoming these challenges.  The draft articles adopted by the International Law Commission on the protection of persons in the event of disasters and article 32 of the Convention could be of help in achieving States’ responsibilities and international cooperation.  The forthcoming General Comment could consider emphasizing States’ duties as outlined in the International Law Commission’s draft articles.
The availability of reasonable accommodation in acute and post-disaster phases could become an issue of right to life.  Evidence proved that natural disasters were also manmade.  The General Comment could stress that State Parties should take all appropriate measures of accessibility in reconstructing affected areas and that persons with disabilities should be included in developing reconstruction policies.

REVA University said that numerous challenges were faced by persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic in India.  They had difficulty in accessing daily medication, health facilities, caregivers and support groups to due to the imposition of a prolonged lockdown; doorstep delivery of rations and food were stopped; and the Government had failed to make available information on COVID-19 in accessible formats catering to all types of disabilities, provide well-functioning helplines equipped to attend to the concerns of persons with disabilities, and to implement the National Disaster Management Guidelines on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction.  REVA University invited the Committee to take note of such challenges exacerbating existing health inequities, as well as other socioeconomic disparities that adversely affected persons with disabilities.

Australia said that persons with disabilities were more likely to be left behind, injured or killed in disasters.  Humanitarian emergencies created additional barriers in accessing assistance and led to an increase in the prevalence of disability.  During humanitarian crises, persons with disabilities were among the most marginalised.  Humanitarian actors often did not consider disability in coordinating and planning emergency response and lacked technical expertise.  Australia encouraged the Committee to ensure that disability inclusion was adequately resourced; ensure the establishment of dedicated disability focal points for each agency and programme; require humanitarian partners to identify and address risks faced by persons with disabilities as part of funding requirements; support the establishment of self-help groups during humanitarian emergencies to represent the interests of persons with disabilities; and ensure data collection and reporting included persons with disabilities.

Part 2: Best Practices to Protect Persons with Disabilities and Ensure Their Safety in Situations of Risk

Validity Foundation shared testimonies about the experiences of persons with disabilities, including in psychiatric institutions, gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece, India, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Moldova and New Zealand. The Foundation proposed that State parties take concrete measures to protect the rights to life, health, freedom from all forms of abuse, inclusion in the community and education in ongoing recovery and response efforts; and enact emergency plans for deinstitutionalisation.  States should also guarantee non-discriminatory access to healthcare and prevent discriminatory triage procedures; involve persons with disabilities in response and recovery plans on a systematic basis; prevent significant or fatal breakdown of community support; and make sure that information was available and accessible.

International Disability Alliance said the situation faced by many countries in the Pacific region, especially small islands States, was dramatic.  Their existence was at risk due to rising sea levels.  The Committee should address climate change and call for inclusion of persons with disabilities in response measures by States parties. The Committee should address key legal issues including migration law, State responsibility and the rights of children with disabilities.  The proposed General Comment was an opportunity to provide guidance around derogations and restrictions to civil and political rights in times of emergency from a disability perspective.  In the context of the armed conflict in Ukraine, there was a need to provide guidance to States on the interaction between the Convention and both international humanitarian law and refugee law.  The Alliance stressed the need to adopt a disability perspective to reinterpret international humanitarian law.  It also stressed the need for refugee law, both international and national, to ensure the provision of procedural accommodation, and consider factoring in disability in the concept of persecution regarding refugee status determination.

Disability Rights Fund (on behalf of 11 Pacific organizations of persons with disabilities) said it had conducted consultations with children and young persons with disabilities across seven Pacific island countries.  These countries were at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels.  Children and young people with disabilities in the Pacific were concerned that climate change and humanitarian emergencies would have serious impacts on health and food security.  Climate change posed numerous challenges, including contamination of clean water sources, loss of livelihood and income, increased risks of gender-based violence and abuse, and the non-availability of climate change information inaccessible formats.

Children and young persons with disabilities called on States to engage and consult with them on national, local and community level initiatives relating to humanitarian emergencies; provide information on climate change in child friendly, easy read formats, including visual formats, and alternative languages including native and sign language; foster meaningful participation; and track how many people were affected by climate related risks.

Center for Independent Living asked the Committee to include obligation for State parties to develop and adopt detailed plans, protocols and guidelines for immediate emergency situations. States should have adequate long-term visions, strategies and guidelines on how to ensure the safety of persons with disabilities after their evacuation from risk situations.  States should have very clear protocols on how to accommodate disabled people for an extended period and provide all information in accessible formats.  The General Comment should also include an obligation of States parties to participate in international cooperation.  All stakeholders involved in risk situations, evacuation plans, and risk reduction protocols should be trained, including airport staff.  The Committee needed to also ensure that evacuation plans for persons with disabilities from airplanes were in line with human rights standards and that State parties accommodated the needs of internally displaced persons with disabilities.  First aids, shelters, information, all infrastructure and services should be designed in line with the Convention.

Advocates for Human Rights said it had conducted interviews with Ukrainians since the war began.  These had highlighted human rights violations as well as potential remedies.  The war had disrupted the delivery of essential medications.  Access to essential medications could become a life and death matter in any State where there was war, social disruption or natural disasters.  In States like the United States, limits on the quantity of certain types of medications a person might obtain exacerbated this problem.  All States should examine their policies to assess whether they unnecessarily limited the quantity of lifesaving drugs persons could obtain at one time.  Such restrictions could endanger the lives and well-being of persons with disabilities in the event of an unexpected humanitarian or natural disaster.  Advocates for Human Rights mentioned reports that Russians were removing ill people and persons with disabilities from hospitals and orphanages and transporting them to “filtration camps.”  Appropriate tribunals should investigate these forcible transfers as violations of humanitarian law and human rights.  They should identify, investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, as well as provide reparations to victims.  States needed to examine their laws to ensure the process to obtain military exemption for persons with disabilities was manageable and did not place an undue burden on families.

Rainbow Pride Foundation said that most countries in the Pacific region had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Children.  It was important that these norms were implemented.  A great challenge was the dissemination of information to remote areas.  Political pressure needed to be exercised to foster action. Persons with multiple disabilities continued to experience barriers.  The Foundation called on the Fiji Government to ensure that disability be recognised, and to incorporate affirmative actions in their policies, including involving persons with disabilities and providing reasonable accommodation to ensure the effective participation in action plans and dialogues.

WADHIKAAR India said persons with disabilities were adversely affected by climate change.  The Committee could consider amending article 11 to address climate change, or address climate change in the General Comment.  It needed to call on State parties to address persons with disabilities in climate change mitigation policies.  New employment opportunities were opening in the renewable energy sector.  The Committee should consider how to encourage persons with disabilities to enter the renewables sector.  People who were institutionalised could not access public facilities in disaster situations.  States needed to stop institutionalising persons with disabilities.  The Committee also needed to consider climate change-related health risks faced by persons with disabilities.  Research into the effects of climate change on persons with disabilities needed to focus on the impacts of climate change on different regions.  Persons with disabilities needed to be included in decentralised planning strategies and appointed to planning roles.

National Federation of Deaf Nepal said persons with disabilities often faced various forms of discrimination and marginalization in Nepal and throughout Asia, leaving them at risk.  There were many forms of risks such as natural disasters, conflicts, violence, abuse and neglect.  At highest risk in such situations were children with disabilities, women, indigenous people, children working in hazardous conditions, and underrepresented and marginalized groups.  Nepal’s central Government, local governments and media did not have legal provisions, accessible mechanisms, information, communication, services and safety measures specific to persons with disabilities, as provisioned in article 11.  There was a need for a comprehensive and inclusive approach that recognised the rights of persons with disabilities and empowered them to participate actively in decision-making.  Laws and policies should fully ensure the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, and be effectively implemented to prevent discrimination.  Awareness and understanding of disability issues among all stakeholders should be promoted.  Adequate support and services should be provided to persons with disabilities to help them cope with risks and emergencies and ensure their access to healthcare and psychosocial support. Best practices should be shared.

National Indigenous Disabled Women’s Association Nepal requested that the Committee ensure people-centred, preventive and inclusive approaches to disaster risk production and humanitarian risks and emergencies by engaging people with disabilities and organization of persons with disabilities.  The Committee needed to call on States to conduct a risk and vulnerability assessment with systematic disaggregated data.  It also needed to address the impact of loss and damage from climate change and disasters and armed conflict by all governments and non-governmental actors, including development partners; enable safe and cohesive intercultural spaces for engaging and contributing to rescue, relief response, recovery and rehabilitation and reconstruction; conduct qualitative and ethnographic research on the impact of climate change, conflict, humanitarian emergencies and other disasters and support research analysis by governments and civil society organisations; build the capacity of people with disabilities; emphasise focus on the intersectional barriers faced by women with disabilities, indigenous people and other marginalised groups through disaggregated data.

General Discussion on Western Europe and the Americas

Part 1: Impacts and Challenges Faced by Persons with Disabilities in Situations of Risk and the Role of State and Non-State Actors in Addressing Them

European Disability Forum said organisations of persons with disabilities should be supported to increase their influence in humanitarian action, including through linkages with disaster risk reduction and climate actions.  Humanitarian organisations and agencies such as the European Union and the United Nations needed to meaningfully engage and partner with organisations of persons with disabilities at all stages of the humanitarian protocol cycle.  Such equitable partnerships would require dedicated funding, which should be seen as an investment, not as a cost.  States, parties and donors needed to follow processes to ensure that organisations of persons with disabilities had equal access to funds by making application procedures accessible.  The General Comment should address the importance of humanitarian principles, including the principle of impartiality in relation to discrimination against persons with disabilities.  The component of risk in article 11 should be expanded using all aspects of disability.  In particular, the explicit mentions of disability included in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction should be referenced.  It should reference participation, disability-inclusive policies; data disaggregation by disability; empowerment and leadership, including of women with disabilities; general inclusiveness; universal design and accessibility of information.  Additionally, Sendai focal persons and Government agencies responsible for disaster risk management should be seen as key interlocutors.  Basic principles around non-discrimination, inclusive policy, inclusive response and services, and cooperation and coordination should be adopted. 

International Disability Alliance said the armed conflict in Ukraine had pushed its inhabitants to flee the conflict zone and seek asylum in other countries, including Western European countries.  Asylum seekers with disabilities and their relatives faced the risks and harms that all people fleeing faced and specific barriers related to disability.  The Committee had elaborated on States’ obligations to tackle this situation in its special dialogue on the situation on Ukraine held in the Committee’s 27th session.  In developing this General Comment, the Committee had the chance to consolidate previous work and provide guidance related to refugee law.  The Committee should make clear that persons with disabilities should be provided with “procedural accommodation” that was not conditioned by any proportionality test.  Careful consideration should be given to consider disability issues within the concept of “persecution” in refugee law.  Regarding the Americas, migration remained an important issue.  Many people were going north towards the United States of America and moving away from Venezuela towards other Latin-American countries, sometimes spurred to move by humanitarian emergencies as had been the case in Venezuela.  The Committee needed to criticise legal provisions that discriminated against persons with disabilities in migration, such as so-called “health requirements” and procedural accommodation requirements in migration procedures.

Disability Rights International urged the Committee to address the situation of children and people with disabilities who were migrants, refugees, asylum seekers or had been internally displaced because of humanitarian crises.  In Mexico, unaccompanied minors and adults with disabilities who were migrants, refugees or asylum seekers faced detention in migration and other centres, where they were at risk of abuse.  As stated in the United Nations Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization, refugees with disabilities should be protected from return to institutions in their home countries.  If there were not family-based placements available or promised in the country of origin, children should be recognised as having a right to asylum abroad.  For any child or adult with a disability, placement in an institution where they were likely to be subject to ill-treatment or torture should be explicitly recognised as grounds for asylum.  Children were also being left behind at unprecedented rates as parents were forced to migrate without their children.  One in five Venezuelan migrants left a child behind.  Close to one million children in Venezuela had become orphaned due to the migratory crisis.  The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action called for children to be included in family tracing and reunification only when it was considered in the child’s “best interest.”  This left open the possibility of excluding children with disabilities from family tracing efforts and for their continued institutionalisation when doing so was considered in their “best interest.”  Explicit correction of the language of such guidelines would help to address this concern.

Amnesty International said over the past five years, it had documented numerous violations of the rights of persons with disabilities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Its work had taken it to Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ukraine and Yemen.  People with disabilities faced elevated risks to their safety.  They were unable to seek shelter during attacks because of physically inaccessible infrastructure and evacuation routes.  Information about evacuations was rarely distributed in accessible ways. Many had lost their assistive devices in the chaos of displacement.  Around the globe, people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities were at high risk of being targeted by violence.  In Myanmar, for example, Amnesty International documented how soldiers had subjected people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities to executions or arbitrary detention and torture because of their perceived “failure” to comply with a soldier’s order.  Once displaced, people with disabilities were routinely left behind in humanitarian responses.  People with disabilities in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Yemen often could not access latrines.  In other places, such as Ukraine, people with disabilities had been unable to access accommodation on an equal basis with others.  It was extremely rare that data was disaggregated by age, gender and type of disability, which hampered governments and humanitarian actors’ ability to respond. The Committee’s work should ensure that people with disabilities were made truly visible in situations of armed conflict and emergencies.

Belgian Disability Forum said Belgium did not provide adequate assistance to people with disabilities in emergency situations, and the Forum had so far received no information to conclude that people with disabilities were explicitly considered by the authorities when putting emergency plans in place.  This was evident during the COVID-19 crisis and the severe flooding in 2021.  Even though the Federal Disability Plan 2021-2024 provided two measures specifically aimed at including the needs of people with disabilities in emergency plans and emergency communication, neither of them had been implemented.  This was even more urgent as climate issues and globalisation evolved rapidly.  An underlying problem in assessing the needs of people with disabilities was the lack of data.  Each of the three communities in Belgium had their own definition of disability and if available, data was not shared between different administrations.  People with disabilities were not included in the development of emergency plans.  Communication barely reached persons with disabilities.  Belgium should take urgent action to resolve this real discrimination, which could cost lives, and involve persons with disabilities in the development of emergency plans.

Redesfera Latinoamericana de la Diversidad Psicosocial stressed that Latin American countries were exposed to different types of emergencies, disaster risks and humanitarian crises, in which a series of barriers were noted.  These included stigma and a lack of visibility; a lack of protocols and information on how to assist people with psychosocial disabilities from a rights-based approach; a lack of training for emergency personnel; a lack of universal accessibility requirements in shelters or rescue areas; cultural barriers; and the widespread lack of respect for persons with disabilities’ rights.  There was a need for coordination to address emergencies through an inclusive, human rights-based approach to psychosocial diversity.  It was necessary to include people with psychosocial disabilities in the delivery of information; educate and train responders and the general population; generate inclusive and participatory mechanisms in disaster risk management, including binding mechanisms; prioritise people with psychosocial disabilities in humanitarian assistance, particularly those deprived of liberty or institutionalised; urgently advance deinstitutionalisation and the prohibition of involuntary institutionalisation; promote the inclusion in the community of people with psychosocial disabilities; and collect better statistical data on the situation of persons with psychosocial disabilities.

Ville de Grenoble (City of Grenoble, France) said that ableism was a major concern.  Article 11 should be translated into something very concrete.  A budget line was needed.  Action plans for emergencies were set up specifically to help people with disability in exile. The population and local authorities should be informed of such. When the war began in Ukraine, persons with disabilities were abandoned, with supervisors fleeing the conflict, support centres bombed and equipment damaged. Persons with disabilities lacked sufficient budgetary means to survive.  Since no budget line had been established, many people were left without solutions. Significant resources to support persons with disabilities were needed.

Advocates for Human Rights requested the Committee to consider the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of mass shootings in the United States.

People with disabilities were victimized by mass shootings at a rate at least four times that of the general population.  Advocates for Human Rights urged the Committee to consider the needs of persons with disabilities regarding the prevention and reduction of death, injury and trauma due to mass shootings.  States should provide active and appropriate education on personal safety to people with disabilities, their parents in the case of children with disabilities, and any caregivers, teachers and emergency response personnel who might interact with persons with disabilities.  Public safety plans needed to be put in place to protect, evacuate and care for individuals with disabilities who survived mass shootings. States should also consider the unique psychosocial and physical needs of persons with disabilities after a mass shooting.  While the public and media often wrongfully attributed mass shootings to psychosocial disabilities, the reality was that fewer than 5 per cent of mass shootings could be attributed to serious psychosocial disabilities.  Incorrectly associating the cause of mass shootings perpetuated stigma and failed to address the root causes.  All persons who experienced a mass shooting should be recognized as victims, receive adequate reparations and access to healthcare.

World Blind Union Canada said one of the key issues regarding article 11 was the importance of meaningful engagement with organizations of persons with disabilities.  This involvement needed to extend beyond mere consultation to include active participation in all aspects of the decision-making process.  In many cases, an investment into building capacity of organizations of persons with disabilities would be required before meaningful engagement was possible.  Women and girls with disabilities often faced intersecting forms of discrimination that could increase their vulnerability to violence, abuse, and exploitation.  World Blind Union Canada urged the Committee to emphasise a gender-responsive approach in the General Comment and ensure that the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities were adequately addressed.  It further highlighted the importance of accessibility when it came to implementing article 11.  Persons with disabilities should have equal access to information, communication, and support services in all situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.

Kipu Llaxta said despite progress made, the response of the Peruvian State regarding the application of article 11 had been insufficient. The Committee should recommend to States parties, including Peru, to collect segregated or focused data related to the intersection between risk or disaster situations and disability, as well as disaggregated data; consider universal accessibility; raise awareness about risks and risk management in local communities; consider the risk factors that might be generated for people with disabilities in the execution of any public policy; have a differential approach towards girls, adolescents and women with disabilities in disaster or emergency situations; produce more research on how climate change and disasters affected the lives of people with disabilities; ensure the inclusion and full and effective participation of persons with disabilities at all stages of disaster risk management.

Columbia University said the aim of the Disability Advocacy in Humanitarian Action movement was to transform the humanitarian, development and peace nexus to be disability-inclusive and actioned in a way that was universal.  Central to this movement was a focus on rights, equity and inclusion, particularly concerning persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees and displaced populations, who were at an increased risk of experiencing further harm and marginalisation due to discriminatory and exclusionary emergency response mechanisms, protection systems and humanitarian action.  The Committee needed to ensure governments’ legal frameworks were non-discriminatory and in line with the Convention,  international human rights and humanitarian laws, the 2030 Agenda, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.  It was also necessary to advocate for increased awareness and capacity; inclusive data collection and research; a twin-track approach to ensure access to funded mainstream and specialised services; the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities and older persons in decision making and monitoring; and the adoption of all necessary measures outlined in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines.

Part 2: Best Practices to Protect Persons with Disabilities and Ensure Their Safety in Situations of Risk

International Organization for Migration said the past year had been a key year for organisations working in the humanitarian sector.  It had become of increased importance to look at people who were at high risk of vulnerability such as persons with disabilities who were migrants, including internally displace people and refugees.  Many crises had resulted in mass displacement, including the floods in Pakistan, the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, the drought in Somalia, the conflict in Ukraine as well as many others.  These crises put the lives and dignity of persons with disabilities even more at risk.  Several violations to their rights, such as institutionalisation of children and persons with disabilities, had been noted.  The United Nations migration agency had increased its attention to migrant persons with disabilities in transit and in destination countries, increasing its resources devoted to disability inclusion in different countries as well as at a global level.  It had also worked to develop and test technical resources on data collection for migrants with disabilities.  In Fiji, Bangladesh, Mozambique and Ethiopia for instance, the Organization had been implementing a project focused on participation, training more than 800 staff and partners and conducting accessibility audits.  Further, it had secured specific funding for disability inclusion in countries like Nigeria, South Sudan, Mozambique, Fiji, Bangladesh, Turkey, Venezuela, Iraq and Ethiopia.  It was participating in and chairing a variety of working groups and task teams to ensure that persons with disabilities were being taken into account in different global initiatives.

Unisourds Switzerland, noted that often migrants and asylum seeking families remained in very vulnerable situations as they did not receive any care in the new sign language in their places of residence.  Unisourds Switzerland suggested didactic adaptation in education.  With regards to article 23, subparagraph 3 of the Convention, Unisourds Switzerland said that most families and family members of persons with deafness did not know sign language, which made the situation worse.

Unión Latinoamericana de Ciegos Peru took the floor (sound did not allow for interpretation).

United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi-Partner Trust Fund , which to date had worked in over 80 countries, said they had an explicit focus on assessing how the rights of persons with disabilities were included in national development, humanitarian and climate change policies.  They were launching a multi-country climate change and intersectionality programme to develop and pilot tools that promoted the rights of persons with disabilities in national climate change policies.  They were working with 19 organisations of persons with disabilities in Ukraine and other actors to provide inclusive information, services and improve accessibility.  This programme had built the capacity of persons with disabilities to engage in humanitarian response planning, undertake needs assessments to improve service delivery and increase access to shelters and inclusive healthcare, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services.  Further, they were coordinating with partners in Georgia and Moldova to ensure the humanitarian response was inclusive.  The Fund’s work in these two initiatives had been vital for upholding the rights of persons with disabilities in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries.  Realising the rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies was a critical issue requiring both immediate and long-term support.

Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (Sightsavers), making a statement as a member of the International Disability and Development Consortium, strongly encouraged the Committee to consider the full breadth of situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies in preparing the General Comment, as well as State parties’ duties, including under article 11.  The Society expressed hope that the Committee, in preparing its General Comment, would consider the 2020 Joint Statement on Persons with Disabilities and COVID-19 made by the then Chair of the Committee and the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility.  The Joint Statement set out State parties’ obligations under article 11.

Observatoire des politiques du handicap said that discrimination was systemic within societies.  In cases of emergencies or at-risk situations, it was very difficult for authorities to persons with disabilities, who were considered unfit.  In cases of conflict or crisis, eugenics was a real risk.  Concerns were raised over legislation requiring screening tests for Down syndrome during pregnancies.  Legislation allowing for forced sterilization was also present in Europe.  Such legislation need be countered swiftly.  France was reinterpreting articles 15 and 29 of the Convention, calling into question the notion of consent and approving medical treatment of disabilities.  A human rights-based approach, including a system for personal assistance, was essential in cases of humanitarian crisis.  States that were signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should publicise the financing of institutions that segregated persons with disabilities.  There needed to be both annual classification of countries that engaged in this sort of segregation and maps listing the institutions involved.  Countries should follow the Swedish model, in which institutions were run by users.  The support of peers with disabilities was essential.  Such institutions should not be managed by the State.  In France, persons with disabilities faced multiple barriers in school and in their private life, and these were exacerbated by State policies.  The Observatory was concerned about the worsening conditions of persons with disabilities in cases of humanitarian emergencies.

World Institute on Disability honoured the global contribution made by one of its founders, disability rights activist Judith Heumann, who had passed away on 4 March.  The Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration had been established in 2020 to address the ongoing failure of humanitarian resources to reach disability-led organizations in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.  The Alliance connected organizations of persons with disabilities with humanitarian resources to serve disaster impacted communities.  Humanitarian relief via government and the various United Nations entities was not reaching local leaders or persons with disabilities.  The impact on their ability to serve their communities was devastating. The Alliance had been assisting organizations of persons with disabilities in Haiti, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, and now Türkiye and Syria, in the absence of other humanitarian aid.  Article 11 called for all countries to take all necessary measures for the protection and safety of people with disabilities.  This was clearly not happening.  Important resources to strengthen community capacity were not being delivered in North America.  Geography and politics should never be used to deny the basic opportunities for protection and safety embedded in article 11.

Irish Centre for Human Rights, University of Galway said there was a critical need for targeted attention to be placed on persons with disabilities who were internally displaced, stateless, asylum seekers and refugees.  Forced migration journeys should be considered in the context of article 11, including by State parties.  Attention should also be focused on those persons with disabilities crossing particularly precarious parts of the world.  State parties were required to ensure that a disability lens was applied to all national asylum and international protection processes.  This included reception conditions.  Whether on the sea, passing through transit countries’ reception centres or crossing a border, all immigration, border and marine authorities were required to ensure the inclusion of disability appropriate accommodations and policies in all operational processes to meet the specific needs of asylum seekers with disabilities.

CBM Global said that since the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, CBM Global had observed a significant shift regarding consideration of the centrality of inclusion in humanitarian action.  CBM Global was proud of co-chairing, together with the International Disability Alliance and the United Nations Children's Fund, the Disability Reference Group.  It was also fully committed to the localisation of aid and supporting the role of organizations of persons with disabilities in locally-led responses, including in Fiji, Nigeria and Bangladesh.  Despite all ongoing efforts, CBM Global was conscious that there was still a big gap between theory and practice.  The climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine were examples of high profile crises that showed that protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk was still a pending task.  CBM Global called on the whole humanitarian community, donors, governments and humanitarian organizations to keep disability inclusion at the centre of their priorities and scale up collaboration to ensure that no one was left behind.

National Organization of Persons with Disabilities of Serbia said that new Serbian law explicitly recognised persons with disabilities as a group that might face increased risk in emergencies and natural disasters.  After its adoption, several conferences had been organized and the need for training of emergency relief staff had been underscored.  A handbook with guidance for persons with different types of disabilities on how to react in different situations of risk had been published. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organization had prepared a study on the effects of the pandemic on persons with disabilities, which was published in 2021.  Reconstruction after situations of risk should be seen as an opportunity to remove the barriers that had existed before a natural disaster, earthquake or armed conflict.

Children with Hearing Disabilities said there were gaps in information provided in disaster situations in Switzerland.  Information had not been adapted to persons with auditive disabilities.  Warnings during disasters were only offered through mobile phone messaging to those who had registered with their cantons. The organisation called for increased visual and geo-localisable resources to assist persons with auditive disabilities in situations of risk.

General Discussion on Africa and the Middle East

Part 1: Impacts and Challenges Faced by Persons with Disabilities in Situations of Risk and the Role of State and Non-State Actors in Addressing Them

International Disability Alliance said climate change disproportionately affected persons with disabilities.  For more than a decade now, several countries in Africa had experienced inconsistent rain seasons, resulting in widespread livestock gaps, dried-up water sources and food shortages.  In Kenya, 3.5 million people, including persons with disabilities, were in urgent need of food assistance.  Many, especially indigenous persons with disabilities, had lost their livelihoods.  Access to basic services remained a significant challenge, aggravated by the lack of inclusive social protection systems.  National disasters were a concern.  In April 2022, the president of South Africa declared a national state of disaster.  The correlation between socio-economic status and those affected by floods was noted.  Persons with disabilities were overrepresented among the poor, affecting the affordability of land and housing. Persons with disabilities faced a heightened risk of vulnerability in armed conflicts.  The Committee should stress the relationship between article 11 and article 28 on social protection.  The General Comment should recognise multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and stress the importance of humanitarian cooperation during humanitarian crises.

National Federation of People with Disabilities in Namibia said as the world continued to face crises including natural disasters, hunger, floods, war and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, more persons with disabilities were threatened.  Many member States were struggling, especially developing countries such as Namibia, to provide necessary needs such as food, proper sanitisation, proper health services and decent houses.  During humanitarian crises, people with disabilities were overlooked and neglected.  They were likely to face sexual assault and physical and emotional abuse.  Children with disabilities in Namibia suffered as their education was affected due to closure of schools caused by the current floods.  Some of them suffered hunger and starvation, stress and trauma and some were orphaned during the floods.  Older persons with disabilities were forced to relocate especially during the flooding. The Federation recommended that a recovery stimulus package be provided to persons with disabilities.  Sanitation was the most crucial need in the life of a person with disabilities.  Blind persons and wheelchair users needed accessible toilets.  This became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic and the floods.  The Federation called on State parties to honour their obligations toward the total wellbeing of persons with disabilities.

Organisation Internationale pour le Développement Economique Social et Humanitaire, Côte d’Ivoire said States had a responsibility to take all necessary measures to protect their population, including persons with disabilities, in situations of risk, including armed conflicts, humanitarian crises and natural disasters.  It was the time to move from words to action.  States needed to commit concretely to the implementation of the Convention; increase awareness of risk reduction, humanitarian crisis management and the human rights of persons with disabilities; strengthen collaboration between organizations working in the field of disability; train persons with disabilities to deal with crisis situations; and strengthen international cooperation to increase the limited capacity of some States to respond to humanitarian risk and crisis situations.  States also needed to develop the capacities of its decision-makers and other stakeholders; encourage non-State actors to observe the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact; establish a criminal law mechanism to protect persons with disabilities who were victims of violations of their rights; collect data, including disaggregated data, on boys and girls with disabilities in emergency situations and armed conflict; and disseminate information in accessible formats.

South Sudan Association of the Visually Impaired said that during armed conflict and disaster, persons with disabilities faced myriad challenges.  Disabling people could also be used as a tactic of war.  Families were often forced to make difficult choices for survival.  Access to medication remained an issue.  Despite education being a human right, accessibility and disinformation often prevailed, due to inaccessibility and lack of awareness.  Despite efforts to create awareness on disability, some families continued to hide persons with disabilities for fear of public opinion and stigma.  This had the potential to hinder rescue efforts and transitional justice processes.  Perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse also took advantage of women with disabilities, which was hardly reported because it was considered as a social taboo.  These challenges were just the tip of the iceberg. Rigorous research should explore the experiences of persons with disabilities in disasters.

National Youth Council of Namibia said persons with disabilities faced many challenges, especially in risk situations. These included communication barriers, violent crimes and social exclusion.  States had a responsibility to ensure the domestication of the Convention in their local laws.  Ground work should be done in ensuring the protection of human rights for people with disabilities.  There should be revamping of policies or even establishment of new policies to ensure inclusivity. There should also be checks and balances to ensure that all States were adhering to polices and legal frameworks that promoted disability inclusiveness.  Non-State actors had a duty to require governments to protect the human rights of persons with disabilities and raise awareness through advocacy programs and activities.

U-Link and Down Syndrome Mauritius and Commonwealth Disabled People Forum said that as a small island developing State, Mauritius was vulnerable to severe weather events and related damages. Based on the 1960 to 2018 data compiled by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre, 814,330 persons had been directly impacted by severe weather events, 98 per cent due to cyclones.  A total of 490 disaster-related fatalities were recorded.  The Mauritius Government needed to consider whether a cross-Government disaster risk reduction platform would provide an effective mechanism to ensure identified risks were being addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.  This platform approach could be extended to the private sector and international stakeholders to ensure that actions associated with the National Strategic Framework were implemented over the decade ahead.  Mauritius had invested in an extensive system for preparedness, response and recovery.  A clear structure of disaster response had been developed.  The disaster response team which existed within the Special Mobile Force should be trained to cater for situation of emergencies that involved persons with disabilities.  States should collaborate on an international preparedness plan.  Capabilities should prevail over disabilities.

Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi said the inclusion of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies was a serious challenge in the country.  Around 2016 to 2017, there had been some efforts towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Malawi’s disaster-related programmes, but currently persons with disabilities were not taking part in disaster-prone districts’ initiatives, except in the Nsanje district.  Laws, policies and strategies on emergency situations and on the rights of persons with disabilities, should be revised in line with the Convention and Sendai Framework.  The Federation further recommended that States ensure preparedness measures included access to services by persons with disabilities during emergencies; include the provision of assistive devices in humanitarian actions; and ensure the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations in all disaster-related programmes.  This included mapping evacuation routes and assembly points, and conducting drills. Access to housing in crises remained a concern.

MIYEON KIM, Committee Expert, said that today was a remarkable day especially for women with disabilities.  On Monday, Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame had been elected as the Chair of the Committee.  Ana Peláez Narvaez had also this year been elected as Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  In 1995, this group of women had imagined they would become leaders of the women’s movement and the disability movement.  Today, that long expected day had come.  This International Women’s Day was an opportunity to also celebrate the remarkable women with disabilities who had led action and made significant contributions in the disability rights field.

Part 2: Best Practices to Protect Persons with Disabilities and Ensure Their Safety in Situations of Risk

Democratic Republic of Congo said that persons with disabilities were particularly vulnerable in times of crisis and conflict. They were often subjected to specific forms of discrimination and violence. They were also more likely to experience physical and psychological violence, maltreatment, sexual abuse, discrimination and exclusion as well as lack of access to essential services, such as education and health. Persons with disabilities were also exposed to specific risks and dangers, including landmine risks, physical barriers and a lack of adequate support systems.

The challenges faced by persons with disabilities in times of crisis and conflict required considerable response efforts.  State and non-State actors despite their multiple competing priorities in emergencies, needed to ensure that the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities were taken into account by humanitarian efforts.

Burundi said the State had ratified the Convention and the Protocols to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and on the Rights of Older Persons, thus recognising the rights and duties set out therein and committing to adopting legislative measures to implement them. Despite a series of initiatives to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, the Government was aware that some persons lived in extreme poverty and others faced difficulties accessing employment or dealing with climate change.  Burundi called on States to protect the environment to reduce disaster risk; resolve conflicts peacefully to avoid humanitarian emergencies; enhance the labour capacities of people with disabilities; allocate substantial budget lines for the social protection of persons with disabilities; call upon all international and national organizations to take into account the needs of persons with disabilities in all their development programmes; develop a strategy to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk; and to show, through periodic report submitted to the Committee, measures taken to ensure such protection and safety. 

Kenya Network of Women and Girls with Disabilities said climate change remained a challenge that was negatively impacting the lives of persons with disabilities both at community level and at individual levels.  Kenya had faced food shortages resulting in a crisis that the Government was trying to mitigate.  This was even more difficult for indigenous women and girls with disabilities considering that there was still prevalent stigma and discrimination.  There was a need to strengthen organizations of women and girls with disabilities, more so within indigenous communities, and support them to develop their own capacities to be active participants in humanitarian programmes.  Creating a disability inclusion service unit within local disaster and emergency offices and units was also necessary.  There was a need to invest in community programs that de-stigmatized not only disability but also gender.  Practices around removal of barriers to participation by women and girls with disabilities, more so from the indigenous communities, should also be considered in discussions on situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.

National Organization for People with Intellectual Disabilities and Their Families of Rwanda, said that refugees with disabilities could not always access their rights as others citizens of the country could, due to a lack of information.  The organisation highlighted the need to put in place enough staff and resources to address the gaps and barriers faced by persons with disabilities; assess programmes regularly and ensure they were inclusive; establish monitoring mechanisms for all key steps; and establish national partnerships to ensure that government services and other national partners were fully engaged.  This was essential if programmes and support for persons with disabilities were to be sustainable.  Actions should be pursued in the context of a right-based model for refugees, not in the charity model of disability which was appearing in most refugee camps.

Namibia Association of Differently Abled Women Organizations said that persons with disabilities should form part of all local, regional and national committees responsible for disaster risk management.  There should be disaggregated data on disability, for example the number of persons with disabilities affected by natural disasters and support offered.  Social protection systems should be revisited to include persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should be supported in acquiring lands that were less prone to disaster.  There was a great need to educate and build the capacity of persons with disabilities so they could advocate for themselves.  Natural disasters affected all people, hence appropriate responses should prioritise all segments of the population to ensure that no one was left behind in building a sustainable future.

National Association for the Rights of Disabled People in Lebanon said persons with disabilities in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa region had never been allocated their proper social placement.  Most disability laws dealt with the health care of people with disabilities, their rehabilitation, education and employment, but did not consider them as rightsholders.  Most disability laws in Arab States dealt with such matters as needs and services.  The COVID-19 pandemic had revealed that health care was not efficiently accessible. The region was rife with armed conflicts.  Persons with disabilities were not taken into consideration by fighting factions.  Females with disabilities were victims of negligence and rape in cases of factional fighting.  When a tragically destructive earthquake struck Türkiye and Syria last month, little attention was paid to persons with disabilities, and no instructions had been given on how to help them or how they might help themselves.  The General Comment had to make clear that laws should be extremely strict regarding the provision of care to persons with disabilities in normal times as well as in situations of risk.  There was a need to detail ways of caring for persons with disabilities.

Ethiopian Women with Disability Association said article 11 was the most important article for people with disability because it safeguarded their lives during situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.  Most people with disabilities could not escape from hazardous conditions because of their disabilities.  Persons with disabilities needed training regarding disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.  State needed to plan how to protect and safeguard persons with disabilities, and carry out plans properly.  States needed to develop strategies on delivering information to persons with disabilities in crises.  There was a need to enhance awareness of obligations and rights under article 11 in relation to disaster risk reduction and to encourage States that had not acceded yet to the Convention and its Optional Protocol to do so.

FLOYD MORRIS, Committee Expert, in an intervention on behalf of all men in the Committee, said he wished to join the celebration of women across the world that was International Women’s Day.  He said he and his colleagues were prepared to work together with the Chair to remove barriers and promote a better world for both men and women.






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