FEEDBACK – Protection of Civilians Week: HI shares data and testimonies on persons with disabilities living in conflict | June 2, 2020
On 28 May, HI contributed to an event on « Persons with disabilities in armed conflict : inclusive protection perspectives ». The event was co-organized by the Permanent Missions to the UN of Poland, the UK and the EU and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the context of the UN Security Council week on Protection […]
On 28 May, HI contributed to an event on « Persons with disabilities in armed conflict : inclusive protection perspectives ». The event was co-organized by the Permanent Missions to the UN of Poland, the UK and the EU and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the context of the UN Security Council week on Protection of Civilians.
By presenting the situation in Syria, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Manager for HI Syria response Bahia Zrikem highlighted the fundamental role Council Members should play in ensuring that all civilians, including persons with disabilities, are fully protected during hostilities, in line with International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the UNSC Resolution 2475 on protecting persons with disabilities in armed conflict.
Data on persons with disabilities living in Syria and the indiscriminate impact of explosive weapons
The ongoing conflict in Syria has been identified as the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. To date, the conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 12 million persons, over half of the country’s population. The conflict has been characterized by extreme violence, and attacks on healthcare services and other public infrastructures have been widely documented, including in HI latest report « The Waiting List » (click here to read more). Bahia explained how the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas and high levels of contamination with unexploded ordnance creates a pattern of harm and new impairments:
“War impairs bodies, but it also impairs infrastructures. In fact, more Syrians are estimated to have died from the breakdown of the health system than directly from the fighting.”
As of today, at least 30% of Syria’s population older than 12 has a disability, and an estimated 37% of the internally displaced population are persons with disabilities, according to the latest data published by UN Humanitarian Needs Assessment Programme (HNAP). The number of households with at least one person with a disability reaches 67% in some areas. Among these households, the most vulnerable are female-headed households led by a widow with a disability.
In the context of COVID-19 related restrictions and a potential outbreak persons with disabilities face disproportionate risks and barriers, for instance when it comes to access to information. Messaging and means of communication are often not adapted. There is also a heightened risk of stigma and discrimination on the basis of disability which affects access to health and other services. Moreover, persons with disabilities face barriers accessing sanitation infrastructure and f protection and social support mechanisms.
Bahia shared HI recommendations to ensure inclusive access to health care as a priority in Syria, including access to rehabilitation services, assistive devices and technologies, as well as mental health and psychosocial support; and to ensure that livelihood programs are inclusive of persons with disabilities and gender and age sensitive. She also called on States and governments to loudly and publicly condemn the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, especially those with wide area effects, and recognize their long-term devastating impacts, by committing to signing a strong political declaration to end the harm caused by explosive weapons.
Introduced by Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the UK James Roscoe and Director of UNMAS Agnès Marcaillou, the event was moderated by Ms Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Other panelists included Elham Youssefian, Inclusive Humanitarian Action and Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor at the International Disability Alliance (IDA); Moaffak Alkhafaji, Deputy President of the Arab Organization of Persons with Disabilities and Founder of Iraqi Alliance for Disability (IADO), and Mokhtar Ali Hussein, UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Yemen. The events was closed by Andreas Papaconstantinou, Director for Middle East in the European Commission Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO).