As we mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 03rd December, it is time to reflect on the plight of disabled persons in Sri Lanka in light of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to the Department of Census and Statistics (2012), Sri Lanka has approximately 1.7 million persons with disabilities. This number is estimated to be more, taking into account persons affected by war reporting a disability and those disabled due to road accidents and non-communicable diseases.
Sri Lanka has taken several steps in relation to disability inclusion in policy making. It has a fairly comprehensive National Policy on Disability (2003), as well as a National Action Plan for Disability (2013). Both of these documents were formulated through a fairly consultative and participatory process. Both contain provisions relating to the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities noted that although Sri Lanka has many policy frameworks in place, the key issue is a notable lack of implementation of many of the policies and actions. Reasons for this include the absence of an institutional mechanism to oversee the implementation of disability policies. Considerable gaps in implementation and the absence of an institutional monitoring mechanism have in turn affected the further development of policies and laws.
One of the suggestions that came from the Special Rapporteur was to facilitate and support civil society entities that are working to address issues relating to persons with disabilities. Significant amounts of bureaucratic red-tape generally deter such organizations from being able to effectively carry out their day-to-day work. Thus an entity to support such organizations will create a conducive environment to facilitate their work.
The SDGs launched in September this year marked the beginning of an ambitious development agenda of‘leaving no one behind’, signifying that progress towards development goals must be achieved with the full participation of people with all abilities. As such, translating these commitments to action is the responsibility of all concerned parties.
Ensuring and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities cannot be carried out by a single entity. It requires a multi-sectoral and multipronged approach that can address the gaps in policy and their implementation.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities highlighted the importance of the ‘need to strengthen development policies and practices to ensure that accessibility is part of inclusive and sustainable development. This requires improving our knowledge of the challenges facing all persons with disabilities – including through more robust, disaggregated data — and ensuring that they are empowered to create and use opportunities.’
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) entered into force in May 2008 facilitated paradigmatic changes to the global disability rights discourse. Sri Lanka signed the UNCRPD in March 2007. However, she is yet to ratify the Convention subscribing to its binding provisions.
The prevailing legislation in Sri Lanka, the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act No. 28 of 1996, is limited in its scope having entered into force a decade prior to the adoption of the UNCRPD. While the National Council & National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities was established to oversee the implementation of this Act, the legislation itself fundamentally lacks a codified statement of rights as well as a philosophical framework to support interpretation and development of political and law reforms.
Ratifying the UNCRPD will be instrumental in influencing social, political and legal reforms on disability, and upholding human rights as the core value in Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law.
Opinion Editorial marking the
International Day of Persons with Disabilities
by Subinay Nandy
UN Resident Coordinator andUNDP Resident Representativein Sri Lanka