This issue of our Newsletter focuses on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) as the new international development framework. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will in many ways facilitate the attainment of the rights provided by the SDG’s to persons with disabilities. In this editorial piece, I explore ways in which the CRPD can be used as an advocacy tool to ensure implementation and monitoring of the SDGs inclusive. The Sustainable Development Goals commonly referred to as Agenda 2030 comes at a time when the International Community has been in the process of influencing the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The convention which came into place midway the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals marked a departure from ethos of Charity to rights based approach to disability work. The Post-MDG development framework needs to adopt this human-rights based approach, to contribute effectively to the implementation of the internationally agreed human rights treaties in international cooperation, including the CRPD The SDG’s are primarily addressing poverty as was the case with its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals which guided development between 2000 and 2015. Although the term poverty is not explicitly used in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, poverty is one of the recurring themes in the Covenant and has always been one of the central concerns of the Committee on economic, social and cultural rights. The rights to work, an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health and education, which lie at the heart of the Covenant, have a direct and immediate bearing upon the eradication of poverty. However, Disability as a sector had rarely featured in the poverty agenda until the promulgation of the Convention on the Rights of persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
It is only after its adoption in 2006 that disability has become a specific human right concern. CRPD is principally a human right instrument to enhance the already existing rights as should be enjoyed by persons with disabilities. One of the human rights themes in all other instruments that is specifically emphasized by CRPD is that of elimination of all forms of social exclusion. The understanding of poverty as the lack of basic capabilities to live in dignity corresponds with numerous provisions of the CRPD. The CRPD which was negotiated through the widest consultative process with individuals and organizations of persons with disabilities is basically an enabling convention and provides a firm ground for equalization of opportunities to persons with disabilities as all other people. As was the case with the Convention, the process of developing the SDG’s which is now the new framework has been consultative and people with Disabilities through their organisations had the opportunity to make input into it. The slogan used through the process of their negotiation was that of “Leave no one behind”. This spirit will need to be followed all through the stages of planning, monitoring and evaluation with specific consideration of people with disabilities. The Framework has come up with 17 goals. These sustainable Development Goals are accompanied by targets and will be further elaborated through indicators focused on measurable outcomes.
They build on the foundation laid by the MDGs, seek to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs, and respond to new challenges. Each government will set its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances but most important to the disability sector, it should be guided by the Convention on the rights of persons with Disabilities. It is acknowledged that the development of strong disability lobby organizations prior to the adoption of the Convention had made some strides in influencing development partners towards integration and active participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of the social life. The European Union and the United States agency for Development (USAID) had already due to these efforts introduced clauses in their policies to the effects that their aid recipients should not discriminate against persons with disabilities. This had only taken place through persuasion and good will with no legal basis. The convention which came thereafter enforces this by providing that under article 32, countries are to support international cooperation and development assistance in efforts by developing countries to put into practice the Convention.
This will be done through among other things ensuring that international cooperation, including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities and facilitating and supporting capacity-building, including through the exchange and sharing of information, experiences, training programmes and best practices. Planning and implementation of the SDG’s will need to take advantage of this provision It is a fact that even where development agents have introduced inclusive clauses in their policy documents, many of the people with disabilities do not know about such clauses and are therefore not able to claim their rights. Even where they are aware of these provisions, the implementers of these policies give these clauses the interpretations, which fit their understanding and ease of work.
In most cases, these clauses are ignored all together. Without reference to the Convention, the planning, implementation and monitoring of SDG’s may suffer the same pitfalls. The convention provides that Countries are to promote access to information by providing information intended for the general public in accessible formats and technologies, by facilitating the use of Braille, sign language and other forms of communication, and by encouraging the media and Internet providers to make online information available in accessible formats (article 21). The major difficulty in affording Persons with Disabilities opportunity to be gainfully engaged in the past had to do with perception about their productivity. In this connection, the convention provides that as a change of perceptions is essential to improve the situation of persons with disabilities; ratifying countries are to combat stereotypes and prejudices and promote awareness of the capabilities of persons with disabilities and their contribution to society (article 8). Countries are, to ensure the equal right of persons with Disabilities to own and inherit property, to control financial affairs and to have equal access to bank loans, credit and mortgages (article 12).
Under article 27, persons with disabilities have equal rights to work and gain a living as now provided in the SDG’s. Countries are to prohibit discrimination in job-related matters, promote self-employment, entrepreneurship and starting one’s own business, employ persons with disabilities in the public sector, promote their employment in the private sector, and ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided in the workplace. Self-reliance on the part of the developing countries will be another step in ensuring that development goals are not set externally with conditions that are profit motivated rather than the consideration of the worth of all human beings irrespective of their real or perceived ability to contribute to development. Their economies will need to create room to care for their vulnerable groups. In this connection, the convention provides that Countries are to promote the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, including public housing, services and assistance for disability-related needs, and assistance with disability-related expenses in case of poverty (article 28).
The main solution to the problem of marginalization lies in stronger and widespread policies, which are clear and not subject to different interpretations. Such policies will need to be formulated in line with the letter and spirit of the convention and will need to emphasize the departure from the ethos of charity to full and active participation. Capacity building in terms of rehabilitation, education, training and skills development on the part of individual persons with disabilities is inevitable in both changing attitudes and as prerequisite to full participation. Access to the physical environment and to information has been provided in the SDG’s as a means to participation in development.
The Convention in this respect provides in article 9 that on the fundamental issue of accessibility, countries should identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers, and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications. The specific mention of Disability in the SDG’s targets did not just come. They were introduced through a spirited campaign and advocacy by both National and International Disability players. This is an indication that there is need for a strong disability movement capable of influencing policies and programmes at International and local levels. Such a movement should also have the capacity to play the role of a watchdog to the planning, implementation and monitoring of the policies and programmes to be put into place in the process of planning, monitoring and evaluating the impact of the SDG’s.
Dr. Samuel Kabue