The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, welcomes the adoption by the African Union Heads of State of a treaty on the rights of person with disabilities, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (African Disability Rights Protocol), on 30 January 2018.  Africa now has a continental binding legal document protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities. The adoption of the African Disability Rights Protocol marks an important step towards recognising the equal dignity of persons with disabilities on the continent.


It should be noted that the African Disability Rights Protocol will only become effective once it has been formally accepted (‘ratified’) by 15 of the 54 AU member states that have accepted to be bound by the African Charter. So far, no state has taken this step. 
We encourage all these states to put processes in place to formally accept the African Disability Rights Protocol. In particular, we call on South Africa to take the lead by becoming the first African state to signal its commitment to provide the best possible form of protection to persons with disabilities. 
The Disability Rights Protocol complements the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), which does not deal with the rights of persons with disabilities in any detail.  Although the African Charter provides for the rights of all individuals, the particular vulnerabilities associated with disability require that a treaty dealing with these specific issues be adopted. 
The Disability Rights Protocol also complements the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Disability Rights Protocol seeks to provide for the rights of persons with disabilities from an African perspective, taking into account the lived realities of persons with disabilities in the continent while maintaining the core values and principles as set out in the CRPD. The African Disability Rights Protocol differs from the CRPD by highlighting issues of particular relevance to Africa, such as the rights of persons with albinism and older persons with disabilities. In addition, the African Disability Rights Protocol extends rights to family and caregivers of persons with disabilities who might otherwise be subject to discrimination resulting from their association. 
So far, 47 African states have become a party to the CRPD. Under the CRPD, these states have to report regularly to an independent expert body, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This Committee examines the progress made by states towards the implementation of the rights set out in the CRPD. A number of African states, including South Africa, have already submitted these reports. South Africa’s first report will be examined on 28 and 29 August 2018. An Optional Protocol to the CRDP, allowing individuals to bring cases against state parties, was also adopted. However, much fewer states have accepted this option to allow for scrutiny of specific alleged violations by the Committee. 
Different to the CRPD, individual cases are automatically allowed as soon as a state accepts the African Disability Rights Protocol. These cases will be considered by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right, the independent expert body that has for long been in place to supervise states’ implementation of the African Charter.  Acceptance by states of the African Disability Rights Protocol will therefore provide for effective scrutiny by allowing persons with disability with an avenue to seek redress when domestic law fails to guarantee their rights. 
The adoption comes as a result of and culmination of series of engagements that began two decades ago in 1999 with the declaration of the African Union’s African Decade for Persons with Disabilities, which saw the creation of a Working Group tasked with the drafting of a protocol on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Centre was fortunate to be part of the drafting process, which involved a wide array of engagements and consultations from the potential rights holders (persons with disabilities) to government officials and academics, who all together as a collective contributed to what was to become this significant treaty.
The Centre, through its Disability Rights Unit, has for the past few years been organising an annual continental Conference on disability rights. This year, the Conference, which is scheduled to take place on 6 and 7 November 2018, will be devoted to article 16 the right to education, of the newly adopted African Disability Rights Protocol. Both the CRPD in article 24 and the African Disability Rights Protocol in article 16 call for a transformative paradigm at the domestic level in the provision of education for persons with disabilities. In addition to discussions centred around the right to education the Conference will also raise broader awareness of the provisions and objectives of the African Disability Rights Protocol, cultivate a better understanding of the various rights guaranteed in the Protocol, examine the implications for states of ratifying the Protocol, and consider the benefits it holds for persons with disabilities. See Centre website for call for papers for the Conference.

Download the Disability Rights Protocol


For more information on the 2018 Disability Rights in Africa Conference, please contact:
Maria Nantege
Intern, Disability Rights Unit
Tel +27 (0)12 420 4638


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