The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The theme for 2015 is: Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities. Since its proclamation in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3, observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of Persons with Disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The theme for 2015 reiterates the need for inclusion to ensure equal access to resources, services and opportunities. The ZHRC therefore calls upon the Government and all stakeholders to ensure the respect and enjoyment of rights by Persons with Disabilities as provided for in Section 83 of the Constitution, the Disabled Persons Act of 1992 as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD). Section 56 (3) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on several grounds including disability while Section 83 of the Constitution and Section 5(1) of the Disabled Persons Act spell out that the State through the National Disability Board should take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities:
- become self- reliant,
- live with their families and participate in social, creative and recreational activities
- are protected from all forms of exploitation and abuse
- are given access to medical, psychological and functional treatment
- are provided with special facilities for their education;
- are provided with state funded education and training where they need it.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission notes with concern that people with disabilities in Zimbabwe continue to face challenges which negatively impact on the enjoyment of their rights as revealed in the National Report of a Baseline Survey on Perception, Attitudes and Understanding of Human Rights in Zimbabwe which was conducted by the ZHRC in 2014. For example, the findings revealed thatthere was a common perception, clearly wrong, within Zimbabwe that Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) were passive and economically unproductive, and therefore constitute a “burden” on society. Such negative perceptions concerning Persons with Disabilities can only be effectively addressed through inclusion; access and empowerment of people of all abilities.
The findings of the Commission National Baseline Survey Report, also revealed that People with Disabilities continue to face discrimination and barriers that restrict their participation in society on an equal basis. For example, according to the findings, their right to access justice is impaired since their credibility as witnesses in legal proceedings is questioned. There are also inadequate specialised education facilities for children with disabilities. People with Disabilities also face difficulties in accessing, public buildings, schools andpolling stations; and non-recognition of sign language as a formal qualification. The rights and freedoms of people with albinism continue to be violated based oncultural myths such as justification of rape to cure HIV as well as stigma, discrimination and rejection as a result of their genetic condition of deficient skin pigmentation.
The ZHRC commits itself to work more actively with government as duty bearers and other stakeholders towards elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities and mainstreaming of disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies for sustainable development. In this regard, the Commission is in the process of operationalizing Thematic Working Groups (TWGs) as provided for in the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act [Chapter 10:30], Paragraph 7 of the First Schedule, one of them being the Special Interest Groups TWG. TWGs will enable the Commissionto have specialized attention to promotion and protection of specific groups of rights. It is therefore envisaged that the operationalization of the TWG on Special Interest Groups will unlock new specialized avenues, platforms, opportunities and new focus areas on the protection, promotion and enforcement of rights of People with Disabilities, among other groups. The Commission wishes on this occasion, all People with Disabilities, a blessed day.