The 5th Annual African Disability Rights Conference will be held from the 7th to the 8th of November 2017 at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria in South Africa. This year’s conference will focus on the following themes:

  • a) the implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for the African region with particular reference to article 13, the right to access to justice and article 12, the right to equal recognition before the law;
  • b) the development of mechanisms/strategies for the effective domestication and implementation of articles 12 and 13 of the CRPD and
  • c) the interplay between article 13 and article 12 of the CRPD.

It is anticipated that papers presented at this conference will be reworked by authors and submitted for consideration for publication in the 2018 volume of the African Disability Rights Yearbook.


Persons with disabilities have historically been denied their human rights in many ways including through  domestic laws which require one to reach a certain threshold of mental capacity as a prerequisite for exercising  one’s right to decide. This requirement discriminates against and excludes persons with disabilities from exercising their fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Legally prescribed thresholds of mental capacity have been used in domestic laws, including constitutions, to deny persons with disabilities rights on a wide scale, including rights to: enter into a contract; inherit property; vote; marry; found a family; decide about sexual intimacy and medical treatment; access justice; and liberty. Such categorical denial is manifestly incompatible with the rights affirmed by the CRPD.

The CRPD affirms that persons with disabilities enjoy all human rights on an equal basis with others. More pertinently, CRPD Article 12 affirms unequivocally that all persons with disabilities have full legal capacity. This affirmation is echoed in Article 8 of the Draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (Draft Protocol). In its clarification of the state obligations arising from CRPD Article 12, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee), in General Comment No 1, explained that mental capacity and legal capacity are two distinct concepts and should not be treated as one, as has historically been the case. The CRPD Committee highlighted that legal capacity is a universal attribute inherent to all persons and that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all areas of life. Moreover, the CRPD Committee clarified that in respect of adults, the ‘will and preference’ paradigm must replace the historical ‘best interests’ and ‘substituted decision-making’ paradigm to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the right to legal capacity on an equal basis with others. To ensure that persons with disabilities are holders of rights as well as actors under the law, Article 12 requires states to take all appropriate and effective measures, including provisions of appropriate support, to ensure the realisation of the right to legal capacity. The implications of the right to legal capacity under the CRPD are far-reaching. Complying with Article 12 requires nothing short of fundamental reform of domestic legal systems.

Access to justice is another area where persons with disabilities particularly those subject to guardianship provisions, in institutions, labelled with psychosocial disabilities or intellectual disabilities, with communication difficulties, and children have historically been subjected to marginalising and exclusion. The CRPD Committee noted in General Comment No 1 that the right to equal recognition before the law is indispensable to the exercise of the right to access to justice guaranteed by Article 13 (Article 9 of the Draft Protocol to the African Charter echoes CRPD Article 13 in guaranteeing access to justice for persons with disabilities). The recognition of the right to equal recognition before the law is essential for access to justice in many respects. In order to seek enforcement of their rights and obligations on an equal basis with others, persons with disabilities must be recognized as persons before the law with equal standing in courts and tribunals.

The denial of legal capacity has oftentimes led to both victims and accused persons particularly those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in many criminal justice systems on the continent, being denied access to justice. Discriminatory laws, policies, practices, and attitudes, and the lack of accommodations at every stage of the criminal justice process prohibit persons with disabilities from accessing justice on an equal basis with others. In order to realise the promise of the CRPD it is important for African domestic systems to ensure respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of the right to legal capacity as well as complementary and intersecting rights, including access to justice.


The conference seeks to bring together scholars, researchers, practitioners, human rights activists, advocates for law reform, persons with disabilities, civil society groups, lawyers, policymakers, and analysts from across Africa and beyond with a view to:

  1. examining the implications of the CRPD for the African region with particular focus on the areas of legal capacity and access to justice;
  2. exploring approaches for developing and implementing mechanisms for effective domestication of the CRPD in these two areas in the African region and the interplay of Articles 13, the right to access to justice, and 12, the right to legal capacity.

Possible topics to consider

Human rights violations related to legal capacity and access to justice open a wide range of topics that the conference could address. These include but are not limited to the following topics (explored individually or in combination):

  • reform of substantive laws, procedural laws and practices to recognise legal capacity
  • the future of guardianship laws
  • provision of support (formal and informal) to exercise legal capacity
  • safeguarding legal capacity
  • reform of substantive laws, procedural laws and practices to guarantee access to justice on an equal basis with others
  • necessary accommodations to procedures, practices and rules of the administration of justice system
  • training of personnel in the administration of justice system
  • role of non-state actors and international cooperation
  • role of regional and sub-regional systems and institutions

As part of underscoring the importance of multi-sectoral responses and partnerships in the production of knowledge, we particularly encourage abstracts developed jointly and through collaboration between scholars, policy makers and persons with disabilities and their representative organisations.

Submission specifications

A committee will review abstracts that are in English, are 300–350 words in length and in MS Word format (not PDF).

Abstracts must be submitted in a single document and include:

  1. Title of abstract
  2. Author(s) name
  3. Affiliation(s)
  4. Qualifications
  5. E-mail address(es)

Abstracts must be sent by email to Innocentia.Mgijima@up.ac.za on or before 16 June 2017.


Limited funding for travel and accommodation is available to support authors whose abstracts have been accepted and who have also submitted written papers.

Applicants seeking financial support should indicate in a separate letter, accompanying the abstract, the reason(s) for the application for financial support and the nature of support they are seeking. Applicants will be notified by 30 September 2017 whether their application for funding has been accepted.

Submission Deadline: (Abstracts):

16 June 2017
Authors will be notified by 26 June 2017 whether their abstract has been accepted.

Submission Deadline (Papers):

8 September 2017
Authors whose abstracts are accepted will be required to submit their full papers by 8 September 2017.

Images courtesy of the Exhibition ‘I DECIDE = I AM’ by Nadezhda Georgieva (Nad) and the Next Step Program at the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law. This exhibition will be on display during the Conference.


 Subscribe to our newsletter