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Human Rights Can’t Leave People With Disabilities Behind

Rights Need to be Truly Universal

Gathering on Grand Place in Brussels on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018. © 2018 Roksana Nowak/Human Right Watch
As night fell on December 10, people gathered in Brussels’ Grand-Place to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Around the Christmas tree in the center, the square had been illuminated blue in support of human rights.

The declaration was read out loud, and the audience occasionally burst into applause.

In the middle of the crowd there was a child looking up toward the City Hall tower from his wheelchair. I wondered what was going on in his mind as the declaration was read out.

The Universal Declaration enshrines rights that many of us take for granted: the right to education, to liberty, to be recognized as a person before the law, to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. But too often around the world, people with disabilities continue to be denied the chance to go to school, or are confined to institutions, secluded, and restrained.

Although often adopted under the false belief they are needed for protection or care, some laws and policies of countries which have otherwise made strides in human rights, still discriminate against people with disabilities.

For example, the Council of Europe has developed a draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention. While recognizing that the rights of people with disabilities are often violated through detention and forced treatment, rather than seek to end such practices, the treaty proposes a framework for them that will perpetuate discrimination against people with disabilities.

Around the world, people with disabilities are stripped of their rights and their dignity.

In Brazil, thousands of people with disabilities are confined to institutions for decades, denied the chance to live in the community. In one facility, Human Rights Watch met a 70-year-old man with an intellectual disability who had been living there since he was 5 years old.

In Lebanon, young Radwan recounted how school after school told him, “We don’t take children in wheelchairs.”

Human Rights Watch’s newest report details how European Schools, which cater mainly for children of EU employees, are failing students with disabilities. Louise, a 15-year-old who has dyslexia said: “Those who are a little defective, [the schools] do everything they can to reject them.”

How long will Louise, that boy in the crowd, and millions more, have to wait for human rights to become truly universal?

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