Sri Lanka is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since gaining independencein 1948. Sri Lanka made a declaration ofinsolvency in early April 2022, after it could not service its foreign debt. Recently the United Nations renewed an humanitarian appeal, stating that 28 percent of the population faces food insecurity and that the poverty rate this year has doubled.The dramatic fuel shortages caused by a steep drop in agricultural output are accompanied by mass protests. Additionally, the country is also experiencing a rapid deterioration of the health system. In Sri Lanka, health challenges are interwoven with a deteriorating socioeconomic landscape, lack of essential medicines, and human rights violations. Student activists have been detained under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by President Ranil Wickremasinghe.He has even threatened to declare a state of emergency in the event of major protests. People in Sri Lanka have no recourse to hold politicians accountable for mismanagement or corruption.
After years of accruing foreign debt, the current economic downfall has been looming in the shadows for a while. Mainly investing inlarge-scale infrastructure projects, the government projects provided no real economic benefits for ordinary Sri Lankans. Therefore, it resulted in a failed investment; one which Sri Lanka is still attempting to pay back. The government’s economic policies have only exacerbated the human right crisis.The economic downturn has had an unequal impact on the country with lower–class, marginalized communities feeling the effects in a detrimental way. Instead of addressing this issue, the government has decidedto provide fuel and electricityfor the middle–class and above. They are doing so in order to promote a false sense of hope by making it seem like all iswell, when in fact over a third of the population is without food.
These realities have not been addressed by legal reforms.Employee rights to fair wages, decent working conditions, the right to organize, and secure social protection are often violated by employers, with no consequences. Legislation to resolve land disputes, housing issues, access to basic livelihoods, and ensure a sustainable environment is inadequate. Moreover, investments in education, health, and equitable development have been put on hold since the late 1970s. Sri Lanka’s lack of constitutional recognition of socio-economic rights leaves people without a legal framework to protect themselves from the many abuses they face every day. The economic crisis has revealed the benefits the system is designed to provide – those of capital and the political elite. Popular protests are challenging the existing economic order, authoritarian rule, and even constitutional shortcomings.
Here are some ways to take action and support the people of Sri Lanka. Write a letter or follow this sample letterdemanding the release of the student activist that is being arbitrarily imprisoned due to anti-government protests. This Urgent Action expires on January 3, 2023, so please enact the change as soon as possible. You can also donate to UNICEF’sAppeal for Sri Lanka and help them meet their goal of providing food for children who are disproportionately affected by the rapidly unfolding economic crisis. The right to food, the right to protest, and the right to equality are universal human rights that everyone should have access to. By supporting these initiatives, you can take an active step in ensuring this as a reality rather than an illusion.
The United Nations held its 12th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, CRPD, between 11th to 13th June 2019. I recently got a graduate assistantship position with the Institute of Human Rights UAB and I was selected as one of the rapporteurs from the institute to attend this prestigious event. Despite being new to the institute, I could not have asked for a better start than going to the United Nations Headquarters, not as a visitor, but a note taker in one of the round table discussions of member states. Although on several occasions, I have always dreamed of visiting the UN Headquarters, yet, I never imagined I would be graced with such an opportunity to experience the spectacle and majesty of the UN as a rapporteur. This has made me realize there is never a dream too big to achieve as all we need to make it a reality lies in our will.
The United Nations serves as an international framework where the world comes together to identify various challenges, share resolutive ideas, discuss developmental strategies and initiatives, and form stronger alliances. The Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability serves as one of the platforms that ensure the needs of Persons with Disability (PWD) are adequately met and catered for. This year’s theme focused on improving and increasing accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities into all spheres of the society by ensuring utmost respect to the rights of PWD at all levels. Recent evidence suggests that by developing new and improving existing technological, digitized and ICT oriented innovations, it will better aid and assist PWD and increase their accessibility. Another fundamental area involves promoting social inclusion for PWD, by ensuring their access to the highest level of healthcare services and extensive participation in the cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sporting activities within the society.
Coming from a third-world region, Africa remains in constant need of evidence-based initiatives and mechanisms that will aid her in achieving sustainable growth and development at all levels. Over the years, the continent has continuously experienced several cases of inefficiencies at all levels, with little or no evidence of improvement being recorded. One issue that constitutes a major area of concern is the rights of Persons with Disability. PWD are faced with the worst situations you can ever imagine in most African communities. Despite the strong traditional and cultural heritage Africa possesses which constitutes part of the continent’s beauty and charm, it also serves as a curse especially to PWD. There exist different myths, beliefs, customs and misconceptions that negatively affect PWD till date because some traditions and beliefs cannot be abolished. In some cultures, families with PWD (blind, deaf, dumb and cripple most especially) often use their disability as an avenue to beg for alms, while in other cultures, families with PWD are believed to be cursed by the gods or unfortunate which often leads to the entire family being discriminated and treated as outcasts in the community. Other cultures consider specific disabilities such as cripples and hunchbacks, as items for rituals and sacrifices of all sorts.
Although several steps have been taken by various African governments to eradicate these ridiculous myths and beliefs, more needs to be done in ensuring PWD live normal and meaningful lives like others. One major area of concern that limits PWD in Africa is the poor social and political accessibility and inclusion. During the 3rd round table discussion, several member states discussed anticipated and already existing initiatives and programs that will/already include PWDs, and how they plan to sustain such developments. A few that caught my attention was the discussion by the representative of Zambia, Honorable Olipa Makiloni Phiri Mwansa, who spoke about new legislation known as the Zambia Disability Act which assists the nation to develop in-depth demographic characteristics of PWD. The Sri Lanka representative, His Excellence, Dr. Rohan Perera, spoke about the level the nation has gone in ensuring the successful implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan for PWD by embedding the “Foundation for Inclusion of PWD” into the nation’s constitution. Morocco’s representative, Ambassador Omar Hilale on the other hand, discussed a framework already being implemented, which strictly focuses on providing vocational training for PWD in vulnerable communities to increase their social inclusion. One nation that has fundamentally developed its accessibility and inclusion rate in Mexico. Her representative discussed the 2018 general elections which were considered the most inclusive election in the country’s history as it ensured PWD had easy access to polling units and were also among the electoral officials during the entire election process.
In terms of challenges faced by some member states, the Republic of Ireland representative gave an extensive remark about how several nation-states government and public sector is not adequately and structurally designed to meet the needs and demands of PWD and such inefficiency issues need to be addressed by the UN. Also, the first panelist, Ms. Tytti Matsinen (Disability Inclusion Adviser, Finland), spoke about how several communities presently have poor access to standard technologies which further increases the marginalization of PWD. She advocates that individuals, agencies, and organizations who are outside the job market be integrated into making assistive technological innovations for PWD more available and accessible. Finally, the Association for Deaf People (NGO) elaborated the need for parties and agencies to collaborate with PWD when developing technological and ICT programs and products because they possess a good degree of knowledge of their condition.
This Conference made me understand how much effort the United Nation renders in ensuring member states achieve their desired growth at all levels, but more needs to be done in ensuring certain developmental policies, initiatives, and action plans are efficiently carried out by her members. The CRPD Committee representative spoke about how several member states failed to adopt the Public Procurement Policy which was structured at all levels to achieve greater accessibility standard for PWD. Although he condemned the attitudes of such states, he advised the UN to put in biding sanctions to member states that fail in this regard. At the close of the session, there was a resounding echo of relief by representatives of all member states, each having given meaningful insights and recommendations to various challenges faced at national and international levels.
I am fortunate to have been selected to attend the conference, especially as a rapporteur in one of the round table sessions alongside several other side events which I may write about in subsequent blogs. Based on my love for policy and advocacy, it truly was a learning process and a developmental experience for me and I would like to appreciate the wonderful Dr. Tina Reuter and the Institute of Human Rights, UAB, for giving me this opportunity to see the world at large. I really had a wonderful experience and I am looking forward to many more field trips as this, and I will always be open in assisting and representing the institute at all levels.
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