By Olukorede Yishau
The rights of persons with disabilities took the centre stage at the 15th session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP15) in New York. Sara Minkara, the Special Advisor to the United States government on International Disability Rights, who led a U.S. delegation to the conference, briefed journalists on the role of persons with disabilities in achieving peace and security, among others, reports United States Bureau Chief OLUKOREDE YISHAU
Sara Minkara, the Special Advisor to the United States government on International Disability Rights, was in New York between June 13 and 17. She led the U.S. Observer Delegation to the 15th session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP15). The delegation included members from the Department of State, the U.S. Mission to the UN (USUN), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The theme of the meeting is “Building disability-inclusive and participatory societies in the COVID context and beyond.”
During her visit, Minkara hosted a virtual event entitled “Disability Inclusive Democracy: Building Participatory Societies” on June 13. It was organised by the U.S. Department of State, USAID, USUN, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. The interactive dialogue identified challenges, best practices, and resources that promote equitable principles and practices for over one billion persons with disabilities across the world. Special Advisor Minkara also met with government and civil society leaders and attended side events, and co-chaired the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network meeting on Friday, June 17.
Speaking at the interactive session with journalists hosted by the New York Foreign Press Centre, Ms Minkara said for a country and the world to have peace, persons with disabilities must not be relegated. “From accessing voting rights to political participation to development of policies, let’s make sure persons with disabilities are part of the conversation, but not just from a rights-based perspective. It’s from a value-based perspective: How do we really get our systems to believe that the inclusion of persons with disabilities into our democratic process is a value for everyone? And when we really put forward that value-based narrative, we tend to find ways and solutions and address challenges to really include persons with disabilities into our democratic process,” she said.
Ms Minkara added that persons with disabilities are forgotten during most moments of crisis and seen from a pity lens, adding that it was time the focus must be on how to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities were addressed and “also seen as a source of solution and value when we’re talking about response and negotiations in peace and rebuilding.”
He said the American government was priotising how to see persons with disabilities from a value-based lens. “Ultimately, you can have all the policies and all the legislations right, but who implements the policies? It’s the people. And how do we really make sure people see the value in the inclusion of persons with disabilities, don’t see it as a favour, as an add-on, as a charity, or as just the right thing to do, but truly believe it’s the – it brings value to society at large,” she explained.
Also speaking at the briefing, Vladimir Cuk, the executive director of International Disability Alliance, said it was time to promote disability-inclusive development and humanitarian action. “And why is that? Because we noticed that we did receive a lot of political commitments over time, and in many cases, in many moments of time, global leaders, world leaders, were really strongly committing to, like, promoting disability rights. But never these particular commitments were followed up with concrete financial and human resources commitments. So this part was never there enough, at least, or when it was happening, it was happening in such a small way and a slow progress way.
“So we wanted to create this network, and it was first made with the UK Government and then leadership was to cover from – with DFAT Australia, and then back to UK, and then Norway, and now U.S. will take this leadership together with us forward.
“This is incredibly important because without financial commitments and the human resources commitments to development, we cannot advance and we cannot include 1 billion persons with disabilities in sustainable development, and without those, we cannot have sustainable development. So it is incredibly important. And what we notice is that really this network is one of or maybe the most impactful tool the disability rights movement globally have today. And that is – so, Sara, you are coming into very instrumental role, and we can do a lot, and especially now, coming out of – hopefully coming out of COVID crisis – let’s say like that – and faced with the Ukraine war, faced with the financial crisis that is looming every day more and more,” Cuk said.
He said it was important to get leaders to priotise disabilities. “So now it’s more than ever when typically world leader says disabilities maybe not so important right now, let’s deal with that next week – and we should remind them that, no, we have to talk about that right now,” he explained.
Explaining how disability rights intersect with other global issues like climate crisis or gender inequality, Ms Minkara said persons with disabilities were not part of the response to crisis management, adding that it was important to get countries to take into consideration the perspective of persons with disability into crisis response.
“How do we make sure, also, persons with disabilities are part of the long-term solution in addressing climate change? Because people with disabilities are like any other community – there’s value to be brought forward. So, disability in general intersects with all aspects within our society, in our system,” she said.
Ms Minkara said though her mandate is global she wished there was the capacity to do every country. “I mean, that would be the dream. But we are going to be visiting Africa, a couple of countries in Africa in the fall,” she said.
On Africa, Cuk said International Disability Alliance, a global network of organisations representing persons with disabilities, includes the African Disability Forum. He added that there is a significant increase in the financial investment in the disability rights on the continent, especially Sub-Sahara Africa, especially Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana.
“Things are starting to shape, starting to move, and what we are seeing over the last couple of years is very promising developments. Simply, it is focus of international community is finally having some smaller results but still, like, visible results. There are many donors that are prioritizing disability in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we are documenting this and seeing that, like, things are changing,” he explained.
U.S. and persons with disabilities in conflict areas
On what the United States is doing to support people with disabilities who are impacted by conflict, Ms Minkara said when the war started in Ukraine, the Department of State organised a session with the civilians, leaders and organisations in Ukraine to hear their experiences and challenges. It then shared those experiences and challenges with its implementing partners, international agencies and organisations.
“And then we institutionalise a weekly and biweekly international NGO working group so we can keep on sharing what’s happening and sharing that back into our internal work,” she said.
She added: “When a crisis hits, and imagine you are in your building and you’re not able to leave because of your disability, you’re not able to evacuate, leave your building, or access evacuation. Or when you access evacuation, you get to a bomb shelter and it’s not accessible. Let’s say information is not accessible. Let’s say when you get to the border you’re denied crossing the border because of certain criteria. This is what persons with disabilities are facing. We face access barriers across the board. We need to be addressing these. We need to be explicitly mentioning them. We need to be hearing what’s happening on the ground, and we need to make sure that agencies and international organizations that are doing crisis response, disability organisations and individuals with disabilities are part of the process in that development of those crisis response.”