United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Rights Specialist Joella Marron has challenged government to establish a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in order to up its game to improve the Human Rights situation, especially for People with Disabilities whose rights remain neglected in most instances.
She made the call on Monday during United Nations Human Rights 70th Anniversary and giving a current overview on the human rights situation in Botswana. She said although government has made efforts in respect for human rights, a lot still needs to be done with regards to people living with disabilities. “We applaud government efforts of ratifying some of the conventions such as Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and while acknowledging this significant strides a lot needs to be done in the active participation and inclusion of the disabled in the political, social and economic decisions making process as well,” she stressed.
Marron noted that similar to the UN Specialist on Minorities who visited the country in August and compiled a report on minorities’ issues, a UN Special Rapporteur on disability will also visit the country next year to assess the PWDs situation and compile report that will send a strong message or recommendations to government which is yet to ratify and form party to the Convention on the Rights of People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) treaty.
“There is some gap that exists in the protection of human rights in Botswana particularly towards people living with disabilities and therefore a National Disability Policy is what needs to developed and implemented through the establishment of National Human Rights Institution,” she proposed.
Council for Disabled
The Executive Director of Botswana Council for Disabled Sekgabo Ramsay in an interview on Tuesday said the disabled remain sidelined and condemned the government for not adopting the UN Convention of People with Disabilities, adding that this halts the efforts of civil society groups such as BCD for holding the government accountable for its negligence on people with disabilities.
Ramsay said the disabled are still facing challenges with regard to equal right to education and health as the system does little to appreciate and recognize them. She however noted that the government in some instances involves them as a body that advocates for human rights protection although the consultation and engagement is not enough.
Weak Civil Society
Lack of strong partnership or consulatation by the government to human rights civil organizations has been cited as a hindrance to easy formulation of disability- specific legislations as contemplated by the sidelined and willingly human rights organizations by the government.
Marron pointed that out a strong partnership between government and the civil society groups is very vital and necessary as this will enhance constitutional provisions and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
She opined that the human rights groups should be collective and speak with one voice to the government to push for the review of outdated legislations and policies which has been adopted and implemented many years back such as the Mental Health Act which forms part of the PWDs aspect and was last reviewed and adopted in 1971.
Pundits to rectify this situation have suggested that its high the government adopt and domesticate the UN Convention on People with Disabilities for the improvement of the rights and living conditions of PWDS. A call for the review of the distorted 1996 National Policy on Care for People with Disabilities and make it conform to the existing current international standard guidelines on the UN Charters of human rights such as the UN Convention on PWDs.
UNDP Human Rights Specialist underscored that Botswana should also establish the National Human Rights Institution which she contended it plays an essential role in a country towards the advancement of the human rights, good governance and providing amplified voice for the human rights mandated civil society organizations.
Botswana Council for Disabled (BCD) Executive Director, Sekgabo Ramsay recommends that all civil society and NGOs should come together and form one voice to lobby against policy changes or implementation as a collective when another organization advocates for adjustment and set aside their differences with regards to specialization of particular group’s human rights advocacy mandate. “If we as BCD advocates for certain change in our area of people with disabilities, it is important for other civil society organizations to support us and also do the same to as well. This can result in a vibrant and vocal civic society which will influence effective change and policies,” opined Ramsay.