Curtain of Hope Raised as Uganda Ratified CRPD

By Edson Ngirabakunzi

It was in the month of May 2008 that I trekked between Uganda and Nairobi; Kenya to apply for Visa that would finally enable me land in Helsinki the capital of Finland. Here I was in a country (Kenya) that had been engulfed post election in human rights violations where so many had been denied the right to life a precursor to enjoyment of other rights and fundamental freedoms. I had to travel because in Uganda we do not have a consulate or an Embassy of Finland. I had fundamental choice to make either to take 50 minutes fright by airbus to Nairobi or several hundreds of miles by road. I chose the former with support because of partly my sponsor for the conference (NUDIPU) as an advocacy organization championing the rights of PWDs had ardent interest and as human rights activist had serious attachment I had put on the conference grounded in its value added theme. But more importantly human rights of the vulnerable people; persons with disabilities to be precise.

Finally I am at the Finnish Embassy where I take few minutes and the officer at the front desk asks for my relevant documents. In few minutes am done only to wait briefly for next officer who inquires about a few of clarity and purpose of travel which I ably do. Again as a contrast, here I saw human rights tenets of respect and dignity being practiced. Theme was as sharp and capturing in outlook as it also turned out during presentations by eminent scholars and academicians. Throughout the conference here, I benefited a lot from the wealth of knowledge and experiences shared during all the days of the conference. But at the same time kept wondering how soon Uganda would ratify the CRPD. Indeed from the onset there was value addition in having the CRPD especially in the lives of PWDs globally especially then that other conventions had not recognised disability among discrimination grounds.

Finally the CRPD has been ratified by Government of Uganda exactly five months after my Finnish CRPD Value Added Conference. By the time of this conference, Finland had not yet ratified the CRPD but strong commitment could be seen from the Minister of foreign Affairs remarks at the Conference. In Uganda, the ratification has been received with enthusiasm and applause from the disability fraternity and PWDs in general and government officials. Already calls for domestication of the CRPD are high among DPOs and among the disability politicians. It is hoped that the Convention is going to have value addition in the lives PWDs rural and urban.
PWDs feel that the CRPD will supplement the existing legislations to deliver the enjoyment of their rights. This was self evident in the joyous mood and speeches made on 24th October 2008 to mark and celebrate the ratification of the convention. Indeed, as the State Minister for Elderly and Disability Affairs amplified that Uganda undertakes to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. He expounded further that this was another important historical achievement as we address the rights of PWDs in the country. He concluded that the convention is a promise to people with disabilities, their families and for a society that seeks equality for all (New vision 30th October 2008). It is clear from the onset that the CRPD has political will an ingredient that will make it add value among the 2.5 million PWDs in Uganda. Internationally, the former UN Secretary had earlier called it “a historic achievement for the 650 million people with disabilities around the world”. It is in this light that I have made mild analysis on the CRPD role in guaranteeing full enjoyment of PWDs rights.

From the onset, Individual PWDs have added their voice on the usefulness of the CRPD. One PWD who has been looking for jobs to no avail had this to say “if you go to look for a job people think you are mad because you don’t walk like them; am lame but I can work. We now have hope that we shall be treated equally. I am sure the government will force many offices to employ us”. This is a clear testimony of how individuals PWDs have understood CRPD to deliver and give them respect and dignity.

Where as it is construed as historical achievement for over 650 million persons with disabilities, the implementation of CRPD will require a lot of measures and both legislative and administrative depending on the level of countries commitment and resources as it has highlighted. I have strong conviction that disability needs and concerns are and have been at the periphery of development due to numerous reasons not absence of policies and laws. Evidently, in Uganda, there are a number of existing laws and policies but the problem has been non implementation to the letter. Similarly, the CRPD will sharply need strategies to ensure it is implemented to the letter. Non implementation of such laws and policies in Uganda has been partly due to lack of commitment on the part of planners and implementers, the laws have had inherent gaps like not providing for sanctions. PWDs themselves have been ignorant of their rights in the grass root communities and coupled with inadequate funding from government.
Therefore to ensure that CRPD is domesticated and implemented, in addition to available pieces of legislations, it will require popularization of CRPD among the members of general public like judges, magistrates and officers of the courts who are part of the duty holders. I have deliberately targeted the judicial officers among others because in my experience working with DPOs, it has been found that these judicial officers have not been aware of disability issues and needs and this had denied part of 2.5 million Ugandans enjoyment of their rights. This is because where rights violation cases have featured it was abundantly clear that they were not at par with disability issues and laws. Planners and implementers too are also key ingredients of ensuring that CRPD is translated into practical outcomes towards PWDs. It is also important that several approaches are used to ensure that disability rights are respected and implemented in Uganda as provided for in the CRPD. Mainstreaming of disability needs and rights in all sectors of government is very fundamental at the design stage and not to consider disability needs as ‘fit in’ issues. Therefore, this will require innovative tactic of doing it. This will require use of disability activists at various levels of planning and budgeting with requisite capacity. This is suggested because at grass root where planning and budgeting process start, PWDs lack the necessary skill, knowledge to plan and budget judiciously for their basic rights. It is because of this that there have been instances where disability issues have not sailed through up to the level of budget allocation across the sectors. Therefore, reasonable accommodation in budgeting for disability is very critical here.

Monitoring and reporting about the progress should be strengthened. It is not uncommon that reporting on progress of the various human instruments takes several years. This specific CRPD may not be an exception. Enforcement mechanism of such instruments in individual states is at times weak. The implication of this is that it becomes extremely difficult to establish how PWDs rights are being respected and fulfilled. Therefore, PWDs both in the south and in the North should have home grown innovations of training PWDs on how to monitor and report about the Convention. Best practices can be learnt from each other. Such innovative approaches should empower even the un educated those unable to read and write to be able to know their rights and report about them in user friendly manner.

Otherwise the momentum gained at the ratification of the Convention may get lost. The hope and enthusiasm generated must be seen in practical terms with proper plan of action of how the government intends to domesticate and implement its provisions. Therefore all stakeholders, government, international cooperation and partners, civil society and DPOS must work hand in hand and even harder to ensure that the curtains of hoped raised do not close before our own eyes and those of over 650 million PWDs on the globe. Indeed and in the meantime it is a historic achievement in the eyes of Ugandans.

Thank you for the mails!

By Hisayo Katsui

I have received many e-mails from my Ugandan friends after my travel report was uploaded to this site. Many encouraged me and my work, and some said they are also encouraged by my work. I'm very happy to learn to know that!


Barrier-free Seminar at Helsinki University

By Hisayo Katsui

Yesterday, I attended a seminar on barrier-free environment that was targeted to lecturers and teachers at Helsinki University, Finland. The aim of the seminar was to provide them with practical information and working models to support different needs of students with disabilities studying in the University. Around 50 persons attended the seminar. Some presenters were persons with disabilities themselves, while others were those staffs of the University who are promoting barrier-free environment. Different needs of persons with hearing impairment, dyslexia, autism and Asperger syndrome, visual impairment among others were introduced.

Lecturers here are said not to know the challenges of students with disabilities and also possibilities available in the University that they can provide. It was emphasised that the followings are important: 1) individually tailored attention and solution, 2) prevention and 3) interaction. The last one means that when lecturers do not know how to support some students with disabilities, then they should ask the students. However, flexibility and adjustment are advised to be made only on the basis of medical diagnose documents, as otherwise lecturers cannot handle different individual needs. Once again, resources are the practical challenges for human rights of students with disabilities.

Challenges of students with disabilities are similar both in Finland and Uganda in many senses. (Of course, I do not mean to totally undermine the differences in social policy, accessibility to medical services, economic power, negative attitude etc.) I mean, good will without resources is not enough. That's why we want to focus on practical implications to operationalise human rights of persons with disabilities.

After the seminar, I asked one of the presenters about the situation of foreign students with disabilities in the University. Every year, several foreign students with disabilities from EU countries come to our University as exchange students. The services available to Finnish students are not available to foreign students, especially to those who come from outside of EU countries. They have to pay their services, such as sign language interpreters or assistants, by themselves or arrange their sending institutions or countries to pay for them. That is, foreign students with disabilities are not encouraged to come to our University. Resources, resources and resources! Why resources are not available to realise human rights of persons with disabilities?


Hisayo in Uganda

By Hisayo Katsui

In December 2008, I had the chance to visit Uganda for the second time with the travel scholarship of Nordic Africa Institute.

This time, my main aims were to participate in the event for the International Day of Persons with Disability (IDD) on 3.12, the general assembly of Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD), the general assembly of National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU), and to interview women with disabilities including deaf women in villages and DPO staffs dealing with gender project. In this short travel report, I shall present different dimensions of human rights realisation in practice.

IDD event is held annually, while general assemblies in every five years. Both events were realised in the name of human rights, and yet looked very different in practice. IDD events are held in different regions every year, and this year was in the West at Mbarara which is the hometown of the current President. We first marched through the downtown with banners. Then, we gathered in a field to celebrate the Day with performances of different groups of persons and children with disabilities with the presence of the honourable guests such as the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Protection. Various representatives of persons with disabilities made speeches. Other than deaf people who needed to be near the sign language interpreters, people sat according to the regions where they were from. The differences of impairments were not visible. Harmony dominated for promoting the same cause of human rights.

In the general assembly of NUDIPU, the umbrella organisation of DPOs in Uganda, different issues specifically related to different impairments, sex and age were all raised and negotiated particularly in the form of election of various positions in the board of the organisation. Different groups of people constructed alliances to strategise their election campaign activities. Lots of money was also involved during this campaign. Many undemocratic actions took place both inside and outside of the official venue. (I am not yet clear how I can write about these sensitive and yet important operationalisation practices of human rights in this case of the general assembly. I will figure out the way later and articulate these actions more in other writings.) Operationalising human rights of persons with disabilities is not simple.

After participating in the aforementioned official events for the representatives of persons with disabilities from all over the country of Uganda, I decided to visit villages to meet deaf women on the ground. I visited three deaf women at their homes. They were not informed about those international and national events. They were just busy taking care of daily household chores and digging their gardens. They had never been to school and acquired any mother tongue. One of the deaf women’s mothers called her “kasiru (stupid)” all the time. (My assistant/interpreter, Benson, spontaneously intervened and explained to the mother, “It is not right to call her ‘kasiru’ because it is our problem that we do not know her language. If we know, we can understand each other.”). This extremely limited opportunity of deaf women on the ground explained one exercise of election during the general assembly of UNAD, the deaf association. Unlike the general assembly of NUDIPU where voters wrote candidates’ names to the ballot papers, elections of UNAD were held in another way: Each candidate was put a piece of paper with “I”, “II” or “III” on her/his back so that voters can draw those strokes instead of full names. This was due to high illiteracy rate of the delegates who represent different regions of the country. This speaks the profound discrimination against deaf people, especially deaf women. (Deaf women decided to establish their own association in 2009.)

Right to vote and to decide own representatives is important. But preliminary findings of this trip left me with many operational challenges for exercising the right.

Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to many people who made this trip come true. First of all, I would like to thank Prossy, woman with physical impairment, who once again accommodated me to her house. We talked, talked and talked about so many things everyday. I am very happy to have learned to know her. I would also like to thank UNAD and NUDIPU that invited me to their general assemblies. The project team mate, Edson, and our project partners in Makerere University, Rukooko and Wamala, were also very supportive. I appreciate sign language interpreters’ and drivers’ works who wake up earlier than others and work longer hours than anybody else. I spent so many days and nights with many persons with disabilities due to the nature of those events. I am happy to have had the opportunity. I miss them very much. NUWODU and DPOD also helped me to collect important information on the gender project. Lastly, my family back in Finland, Jerri and Io, with my parents-in-law helped me and literally suffered from my absence, once again. I am still struggling with finding a good enough balance between this career and my role in the family. I stop this travel report by mentioning my sincere love to my family.

One more article in 2008

Katsui, H. & Koistinen, M. (2008) "The participatory research approach in non-Western countries: practical experiences from Central Asia and Zambia" Disability & Society Volume 23 Issue 7. pages 747 - 757.