Congo’s first minister for people with disabilities, Irène Esambo, herself a woman with a disability, is currently working on a bill expected to go through Parliament this year. After years of groundwork and advocacy with civil society groups she is determined to see a disability rights law become reality.
Last week, Esambo gathered government officials, members of parliament, civil society activists, United Nations officials, and international partners – including Human Rights Watch – to discuss the contents of the bill. It addresses the rights to education, employment, and health care for people with disabilities, as well as protection from abuse and discrimination.
“Every person with a disability and civil society groups working on disability issues should be reassured because the ministry sees them as allies in this struggle,” Esambo said during the meeting.
The bill was first introduced in Parliament by an opposition member of parliament, Eve Bazaiba, several years ago, but was never adopted. She returned it for consideration last year. Congo’s Constitution states that people with disabilities are “entitled to specific protective measures” and calls for the adoption of a disability rights law. In 2015, Congo ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Congo is home to millions of people with disabilities. Many of them face human rights abuses and discrimination, often limiting their access to education and employment. Some, mostly children, face accusations of witchcraft, as disability can be considered a curse by certain beliefs.
Multiple humanitarian crises in Congo, with more than five million internally displaced people according to the UN, compound the challenges and risks for people with disabilities. Quite often they are abandoned or face neglect in the aid response.
With Esambo taking the lead in bringing the disability rights bill forward, there is now real hope that the rights of Congolese people with disabilities will finally be recognized and protected.