Rights experts and institutions demand political empowerment for the disabled
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights on Thursday, 13 March 2014, hosted a roundtable discussion of a paper prepared by Houqouqi for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities about political rights for the disabled in the amendments to the political rights law being drafted by the presidency. Several associations, rights groups and experts active in disability issues attended the discussion; they agreed to address interim president Adly Mansour immediately to explain their demands.
Participants noted that elections in Egypt exclude more than seven million eligible disabled voters, which also has a negative impact on their relatives’ voter participation. Though officials in Egypt have long given lip service to the voting rights of disabled persons, the disabled continue to face impediments to active participation, including environmental barriers and the lack of facilities to accommodate various disabilities.
Participants added that since March 2011, the disabled movement has been demanding political empowerment, explaining to officials the obstacles that must be lifted, whether legal, environmental or material, but no progress has been made on this front despite repeated elections over the last three years, most recently the referendum on the new constitution, which saw disabled people attempt to vote despite lack of accommodation.
Participants also agreed that the state must comply with its commitments under the new constitution, which explicitly upholds the rights of the persons with disabilities in its recognition of the right to equality (Article 4) and the right to equal opportunity (Article 9), and by barring discrimination on the basis of disability (Article 53). The state is also obligated to empower disabled persons to exercise their rights, among them the right to political participation (Article 81).
In addition, the constitution recognizes international rights conventions and gives them the force of Egyptian law (Article 93), meaning that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is part of Egyptian domestic legislation and the state must comply with its principles and provisions. The right of political participation is enshrined in Article 29 of that convention, ratified by Egypt in 2008, which obligates state parties:
To ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others…including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected, inter alia, by:
i. Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use;
ii. Protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation, and to stand for elections, to effectively hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government, facilitating the use of assistive devices and new technologies where appropriate;
iii. Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors and to this end, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice.
Participants in the roundtable thus agreed on the following demands:
1. Provide sign-language interpreters to aid those with aural disabilities during voting, in addition to posters in sign language.
2. Permit persons with mobility disabilities to vote on the ground floor of polling stations, while providing ramps.
3. Permit persons with visual disabilities to use the aid of an escort when voting, while providing posters and directions in Braille at polling stations.
Participants in the discussion included the EIPR, Houqouqi for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Seven Million Disabled Association and movement, Coalition for the Rights of the Child, Dr. Heba Hagras, a consultant and disabilities activist, and the disability unit of the National Council for Human Rights.