Baghdad – Walid Abdul Ameer Alwan
Under the slogan “Rights For People with Disabilities is a National and Humanitarian Objective”, the Ministry for Human Rights held a foundation conference for the “Network for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Disabled People and Victims of Terrorism”. The conference, which took place at the Bar Association hall in Al Mansour district on Thursday, 31st March 2011, was presided over by the Minister for Human Rights, Engineer Muhammad Shiyaa Al-Sudani. It was attended by representatives and general managers from the Ministry, as well as a large group of CSOs that deal with disability-related issues, including Shakiry’s Charity for Social Solidarity. The event received good media coverage from sky channels and other outlets.
The conference opened with the national anthem and a reading from the Qur’an, followed by a minute’s silence in honour of those who have been killed in Iraq.
The first speaker was the Minister for Human Rights who praised the Ministry for setting up such a network. Disabled people are among the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society, due to the lack of services they need, shortage of specialised sanitation facilities, lack of appropriate housing, and failure to allocate professional grades to appoint them for jobs. This is despite the fact that Article 32 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates the provision of welfare for those with disabilities. The United Nations has also stressed the need to protect disabled people in line with the Disabilities Act that was brought out in 1975 and that clearly states that disabled people are entitled to all the same rights as able-bodied people and should be free from any discrimination. He also pointed out that Iraq is ranked number one in the world in terms of the number of people with disabilities, caused by the senseless wars launched by the previous regime and the repercussions following the regime’s fall, along with the blind terrorism that has left nothing unscathed. This is on top of the minefields and unexploded bombs that still plague the inhabitants of southern Iraq. At the end of his speech he made it clear that every effort was being made, both by the state’s institutions and CSOs, to improve conditions for disabled people, and that the Ministry is also working to support disability welfare organisations.
After this, Kamil Amir Hashim, director of the Department for Performance Monitoring and Protection of Rights at the Ministry of Human Rights, announced that his department has been supporting the Network because of the genuine services it is going to offer to disabled people, including equipping them to regain their proper role in society. He spoke of “integrating disabled people into society”, and said the Network represents the first step in establishing a national body responsible for disability welfare.
This was followed by Faris Mahdi Husain, one of the founders of the Network, who presented the Articles of Association, and outlined the main reasons behind its inception, which are to equip disabled people and integrate them into society. The Network was established on 13th January 2010 by a group of NGOs working in the field of human rights protection and promotion.
Engineer Moaffak Alkhafaji, head of the Iraqi Alliance for Disability (IADO) and who is himself disabled, then gave a speech in which he stressed the need to bring justice to disabled people, who have suffered greatly over the past years. Everyone used to feel sorry for disabled people and view them with pity, he said, without actually making any effort to help them or pull them free from the harsh lives they were living. He also pointed out that Iraq has still not signed the international UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which is seen as the roadmap for improving conditions for disabled people. Articles 33 and 34 of the Convention, which are both obligatory, are seen as particularly important. These require governments to work towards the welfare of disabled people, and stress the need to put in place procedures and laws that allow them to carry out this obligation.
Mr Alkhafaji also spoke of the importance of setting up a national body for disabled people, which should be as far removed as possible from any government ministry. He said that one of the aims of the Network is to enforce Article 32 of the Iraqi Constitution which, which calls for the establishment of a national body for disabled people’s welfare. He drew attention to clear discrimination present in Iraq, since disabled people in Kurdistan enjoy many rights that are not accessible to their counterparts in Maysan.
Mr Alkhafaji was followed by Salim Al-Sudani, another of the Network’s founders, who praised the ministry’s support in helping set up the Network. He reiterated the need to support disabled people, especially given that 2011 is designated the Year of Disabled People. He stressed the need to be open to the latest regional and international developments, to foster capacity building of activists in the field, and to build a database for the Network. Finally, he urged the government to approve the UN Convention.
The disabled persons’ coat-of-arms was then presented to the Minister for Human Rights, representatives of the Ministry and the general managers. The event concluded with some artistic pieces including music and patriotic songs produced by a group from the Iraqi Alliance for Disability
After the Rules of Procedure were given out to the directors of the organisations present, it was agreed that the Network’s first meeting will be held on Wednesday 13th April 2011 at the headquarters of the Department for Performance Monitoring and Protection of Rights.