UN envoy calls for increased recognition of persons with disabilities in Somalia

Somali disabled woman. | Photo Credit: TOBIN JONES/AFP/Getty Images.

MOGADISHU (SomaliAffairs)  The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan, has called for increased recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Swan spoke on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities of all age groups have been identified as a particularly marginalized and at-risk group within the Somali society. The number of people with disabilities in Somalia is likely to be higher than the global estimate of 15 per cent of the population due to the long period of conflict, humanitarian emergencies and limited access to health care,” said Special Representative Swan.

Impact of Covid-19

The theme for this year’s commemoration is “leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”

The theme is relevant in Somalia as it underlines the need for full participation of persons with disabilities in the ongoing electoral process and in efforts to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than two decades of conflict, inadequate health services and discrimination have left people with disabilities in Somalia at risk. A 2015 study by Amnesty International revealed how lack of protection, underpinned by discrimination by families, the public and the state, renders people with disabilities vulnerable to further attack and exploitation.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has added additional challenges to the existing vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities,” added Special Representative Swan.

The UN envoy says the necessitates increased and concerted efforts by Somalia to address both the immediate and long-term needs of persons with disabilities, including ensuring their participation in all spheres of society and in leadership.

Somalia enacted the National Disability Agency Bill in December 2018, ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in August 2019, and launched the National Disability Agency in July 2021. However, the local disability rights groups have decried the government’s lack of inclusion of the disability rights representatives into this agency which failed to promote co-existence.

People with disabilities are calling on the Somali Federal Government to accept they are active members of civil society, ensure their rights including the right to participate in the political processes are recognised and realised and ensure they have access to assistance and services to prevent further abuses.

“The UN in Somalia remains committed to supporting Somalia in the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and looks forward to the finalization of the National Disability Rights Bill, to be put into law in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Mr. Swan noted.

Abdalle Ahmed Mumin is a freelance journalist who covers human rights, press freedom and conflict in Somalia. He’s also the secretary general to the Somali Journalists Syndicate. Follow him @Cabdalleaxmed