The Centre for Human Rights hosted the 7th Annual Disability Rights Conference from 11 to 12 November 2019 at the Southern Sun Hotel, OR Tambo International Airport. This year’s conference theme was ‘Fulfilling the right of persons with disabilities to live in the community: Promoting choice, inclusion, and participation.’
Persons with disabilities, particularly intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, are often denied the right to choose their own living arrangements. Many are forced to live in institutions where they face various forms of violence and abuse including neglect, physical, sexual and emotional violence. In response to the widespread institutionalisation of persons with disabilities across the world, global and regional frameworks providing for a discrete human right to live in the community have been enacted. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides for the right to live independently and to be included in the community. Similarly, article 14 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides for the right to live in the community.
These two provisions place deinstitutionalisation on the agenda of all states parties. There is a need, however, to develop appropriate and comprehensive deinstitutionalisation strategies as demonstrated in the South African Life Esidimeni tragedy. The tragedy arose from a decision by a provincial Department of Health to discharge over a thousand patients with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities from a private care health facility. The decision to transfer was taken in order to cut the cost of care to the state rather than to benefit the patients. The transfers were implemented hurriedly, without adequate planning for the support the patients would need. As a result, about 91 people died. The causes of death ranged from malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of appropriate care.
Against this backdrop, the conference brought together more than 250 scholars, activists, lawyers and policymakers from across the African continent to develop responses for realising the human right of persons with disabilities to live in the community in the African region. This year, participants came from a number of African countries including Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, and Kenya. Participants exchanged knowledge gained from years of study, practice, and experience. Some of the conference participants accurately described the conference as “inspirational” and an “eye-opener.” The next conference will be held in November 2020.
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