“What are you going to do for us people with disabilities?”
This was the question Raja Abdullah Almasabi, a disability rights defender from Yemen, posed to the United Nations Security Council last week. While all council members who spoke committed to protecting people with disabilities, Raja, whom I’ve come to know over the past few months, highlighted a recurring problem with governments around the world: they make promises they never keep.
Raja gave a wrenching account of how the five-year war in her country is disproportionately affecting people with disabilities. She described the difficulties they face fleeing violence and barriers in displacements camps. She described how many people with disabilities, including herself, acquired new, secondary disabilities as result of the war.
She demanded governments do more to protect people with disabilities in Yemen and advocated for their full participation in humanitarian response planning. People with disabilities “must have a seat at the table,” she said.
One ambassador responded: “We can do more. We can do better.”
But for Raja, who has heard empty promises her entire life, government pledges are not enough. She took the floor again to ask what exactly the Security Council will do next.
Governments around the world have made many commitments in recent years at the UN to do more to help people with disabilities in their humanitarian responses. When Nujeen Mustafa, a disability rights activist from Syria, briefed the Security Council in April 2019 – the first person with a disability to do so – there was a cascade of promises. But, as Raja testified, people with disabilities in conflict zones continue to struggle more than others to flee attacks and access protection and assistance.
Both Raja and Nujeen shared their hopes on what the Security Council should do to better to protect people with disabilities. Raja left them with three main pleas: stop the war in Yemen, include us in your work, and allocate resources and targeted funding to reach people with disabilities. It is now up to the UN and governments to follow through on their promises and make their commitments a reality. Millions of people with disabilities affected by conflict are counting on them.