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You can and should do more to include people with disabilities young advocate tells Security Council
by International Disability Alliance, agencies
Apr. 2019
‘You can and should do more’ to include people with disabilities, young Syrian disability advocate tells UN Security Council.
The Council was told that people with disabilities “can’t wait any longer” for more of a say in how their needs are recognised in its work.
The passionate appeal from 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, who briefed the Council on the acute vulnerabilities of people with disabilities in conflict and disaster situations, describing how once war began in her home city of Aleppo, she lived with the intense fear that she would be responsible for her own family dying in an airstrike.
“Every day, buildings in our neighbourhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds late. My brother called us the walking dead”, she said to the hushed chamber.
Even fleeing the country, she had to be carried out of the country by her siblings, as she had no wheelchair at the time.
“The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on, is broken down during conflict, leaving us at higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance – especially for women”, said the cerebral palsy sufferer.
She said she had three key insights to deliver. Firstly, the crisis in Syria has a “disproportionately high impact” on people like her. Secondly, she said that people with disabilities “like women and girls, seem to be an afterthought”. Finally, she noted that people with disabilities should always be treated as “a resource, not a burden”.
“Count us, because we count too”, said Ms. Mustafa, urging better data collection on how they cope in conflict. “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on...You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – we can’t wait any longer”, she told Council members.
Briefing members on the latest humanitarian situation across Syria, deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, said that over eight years, civilians had endured a “litany of horrors” with those in the northeast and northwest, living in fear “of yet another humanitarian catastrophe unfolding”. More than eight in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line and nearly 12 million Syrians depend on assistance.
Apr. 2019
Disability Rights Activist urges stronger, Inclusive Humanitarian Action by UN Security Council
The Syrian disability rights activist Nujeen Mustafa will brief the United Nations Security Council on April 24, 2019, on the situation for people with disabilities in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. It will be the Security Council’s first formal consideration of the rights of people with disabilities who are caught up in armed conflict.
Mustafa, 20, will be the first person with a disability to formally brief the Security Council, and one of very few Syrians given such an invitation since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. She fled Syria when she was 16 and has since travelled the world to advocate for governments and UN agencies to include people with disabilities in the humanitarian response. The Security Council should urgently act to improve the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
“The UN Security Council has a duty to protect all civilians in armed conflict, including people with disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“Nujeen Mustafa’s briefing to the Security Council should prompt council members, the UN leadership, and all UN member states to ensure that their humanitarian commitment to ‘Leave no one behind’ is not just rhetoric.”
Mustafa has cerebral palsy and cannot walk independently. Mustafa is the recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2019 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, has been characterized by widespread and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate attacks, the use of prohibited weapons, and restrictions on humanitarian aid. Nearly six million people have fled the hostilities, often taking arduous and life-threatening journeys to reach safety.
People with disabilities are among the most at-risk in humanitarian emergencies. As shelling, airstrikes, or raids threaten their lives, people with disabilities may not be able to run for safety.
Those with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) may not understand danger. In the chaos of rushed evacuations, they also risk being separated from family members, or losing assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or hearing aids.
The situation is further complicated by countries’ refusal to accept more refugees or facilitate their ability to flee. People with disabilities have been disproportionately harmed by these violations and restrictions on the ability to seek refuge in other countries.
People with disabilities often struggle to access humanitarian aid, particularly in places like Syria, where aid providers have been attacked and where the government and anti-government armed groups have unlawfully restricted aid deliveries and the movement of civilians.
The humanitarian response in Syria and neighboring countries should include disability-inclusive protection programming and access for people with disabilities to basic services, including shelter, sanitation, health, psychosocial support, and education. Resources need to be dedicated toward evacuating civilians with disabilities from areas of hostilities.
The Security Council and member states should also ensure that neighboring and host countries facilitate the ability of civilians most at risk to escape violence, and dismantle policies that create additional risk for people with disabilities who attempt to flee.
The council should also ensure that UN data collection, monitoring, and reporting on all conflicts includes the specific situation of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said. Otherwise, their needs and equal rights will continue to be overlooked.
The International Disability Alliance, a network of 14 global and regional organizations of persons with disabilities working to advance the rights of persons with disabilities with governments and the UN system, emphasized the need to consult people with disabilities about their situation.
“The Security Council briefing is an important step in recognizing the unique and disproportionate impact of conflict on persons with disabilities,” said Vladimir Cuk, executive director of the International Disability Alliance.
“Close consultation with and active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in humanitarian response is critical to address their situation on the ground.”
# People with disabilities, when compared to the general population, face higher risks in conflict situations and natural disasters. Research shows that the mortality rate among persons with disabilities tends to be up to four times higher than among the general population.
Moreover, for every person who dies during a disaster, it is estimated that three people sustain an injury, many causing long-term disabilities.
To compound matters, persons with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be left behind in emergency responses and to fail to benefit from humanitarian services due to a range of barriers.
A recent study has confirmed that three-quarters of persons with disabilities do not have adequate access to basic assistance, such as water, shelter or food, in a crisis situation.
Half of the persons with disabilities surveyed also reported no access to disability-specific services, such as rehabilitation or assistive devices.
People with disabilities are a unique resource of knowledge and experience, who are too often overlooked in policies and actions to address their challenges and to build more resilient societies and communities.

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International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
by United Nations News, agencies
Mar. 2019
“Racial discrimination still has not been banished to the history books. This vicious form of exclusion and intolerance continues to manifest itself on the sports field, in the media, on the streets, in the workplace and even in the corridors of power,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“Unfortunately, once again, we are seeing the ugly face of racial discrimination presented in public discourse,” explaining that that is why this year’s theme for the International Day is ‘Mitigating and countering national populism and extreme supremacist ideology’.
Linking the day with the massacre of worshippers in New Zealand, that left 50 dead and dozens injured, two independent UN human rights experts said in statement that the tragedy “reminds us that racism, xenophobia and religious hatred are deadly and that the result of ethno-nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies is racial violence, exclusion and discrimination.”
The experts, Tendayi Achiume and Michal Balcerzak, added that States should “act immediately to stem the tide of hate and discrimination, to protect vulnerable populations and to ensure racial equality,” the experts stressed, explaining their dismay over the “role that public authorities continue to play in stoking racial discrimination and intolerance by acts of commission and omission.”
For over 50 years since the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which entered into force in 1969, the UN has been tackling the issue, calling upon States to act immediately to end racism and to ensure equality and dignity for everyone.
"Hate speech is entering the mainstream, spreading like wildfire through social media and radio. It is spreading in liberal democracies and authoritarian States alike," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. "These dark forces menace democratic values, social stability and peace. When people are attacked, physically, verbally or on social media because of their race, religion or ethnicity, all of society is diminished. It is crucial for us all to join hands, stand up and defend the principles of equality and human dignity," he explained.
Ms. Achiume and Mr. Balcerzak noted that “States’ politics and legislation seldom reflect the urgency of this obligation” and that “instead, some States and leaders have deployed political rhetoric that demonises racialised groups and emboldens supremacist ideologues.”
“Some States even deny the existence of racial discrimination or minorities within their borders,” insisted Ms. Achiume and Mr. Balcerzak, adding that “the work of fighting intolerance and discrimination is not for States and public authorities alone” and that “every single person, especially those who enjoy racial privilege on a daily basis, must play their part to put an end to the racism, xenophobia and related intolerance that prevail today.”
The sentiment was echoed by UNESCO chief Azoulay who explained that “the fight against discrimination is one we must all lead”.
She noted that “the internet can be fertile ground for the spread of racial discrimination, xenophobia and supremacist ideologies, often targeting migrants and refugees, as well as people of African descent”.
In addition, Ms. Azoulay noted that “on a daily basis, racial discrimination continues to silently deprive people of their basic rights to employment, housing and a social life embodied through iniquitous laws”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that “racism and ideas of racial, religious, ethnic or national supremacy have no basis whatsoever in reality”.
Nov. 2018
Discrimination against one is discrimination against all
“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, marking International Day for Tolerance.
“Discrimination against one is discrimination against all”, she said.
Ms. Azoulay highlighted that as globalization is accelerating across the world, societies are undergoing deep transformations, which open vast opportunities for dialogue and exchange as well as raise new challenges – sharpened by inequality and poverty, enduring conflicts and movements of people.
“Tolerance must be seen as an act of liberation, whereby the differences of others are accepted as the same as our own”.
She said that meant respecting the diversity of humanity on the basis of human rights; reaching out to others with dialogue; and standing up to all forms of racism, hatred and discrimination.
Noting that all cultures are different, she emphasized that “humanity is a single community, sharing values, a past and future.”
“There are seven billion ways of ‘being human,’ but we stand together as members of the same family, all different, all equally seeking respect for our rights and dignity”.
Ms. Azoulay said tolerance “is a struggle for peace” that calls for policies that respect diversity and pluralism on the basis of human rights.
“Most of all this calls on each of us, young and old , women and men across the world, to act for tolerance in our own lives, in seeking to understand others, in rejecting all racism and hatred.”

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