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.