Before the Convention, persons with disabilities were largely overlooked, stigmatized, some of them institutionalized, and the majority were denied most of the human rights that we take for granted: participation in political and public life, right to vote, right to home and family, legal capacity [equal recognition before the law]. They received poor education, if any, and had only limited employment opportunities.
Before the Convention, let’s say that people with disabilities were discriminated against, they weren’t so visible. There were no news on TV translated in sign language for deaf people, there always needed to be someone to explain them what was happening. In the legal text setting up the conditions for the recruitment of public agents, for example teachers, there was even a clear mention of a discriminatory principle. It stated that “the candidate must suffer no sensory disability”. As a result, persons with visual and hearing impairment were excluded”.
In Mali, charity was really promoted as part of the prevailing religious understanding, which values the importance of mercy for fostering mutual aid. There was no law relating to persons with disabilities. People were begging outside the mosques, lying on the ground with dirty clothes, especially women. I was shocked, and thought I should do something to take them away from the street. With my organization, we built a project to improve the image of women with disabilities through the raising of awareness.
Djikiné Hatouma Gakou (Mali)
Before the CRPD, human rights did not prevent people from being sent to institutions, and instructions describing procedures for locking people up could even come from international organizations. Especially in Europe and the US, the so-called developed countries, there did not seem to be any contradiction between human rights and involuntary placements and treatments. Decisions were made on behalf of people on the grounds of so-called “best interest”. This principle has been promoted so widely that countering the perceptions of professionals and States in this regard it is still a big challenge.
In Latin America, which is the context that I know best, the situation was that the rights-based approach was still limited. […] The governmental and INGO programs had a strong medical focus, based on a vision focused upon rehabilitation, physiotherapy, special education and segregated services. In the 1990s/early 2000s, there were few efforts inspired by a rights-based approach in the region.
Before the Convention, Handicap International was working on rehabilitation, raising of awareness and livelihood. However, many issues related to principles of independent living, inclusion and connecting with a rights-based or equal rights approach remained foreign to the Franco-French approach. Although there were the UN Standard Rules, this text remained quite technical.
Prior to the ratification of the Convention, the commitments made in the Constitution and in the law No. 97034 had no binding value. Players from the private sector and from the public administration were not forced to implement it. As a result, there was no constitutional or legal framework taking into account concrete issues relating to disability in Madagascar. Disabled people could not enjoy their rights in the same way as other citizens could. This was all the more so, as the Malagasy tradition sometimes tends to stigmatize people with disabilities and to exclude them from social and economic system. Moreover, only few stakeholders of members of disabled people organizations had a real knowledge about the rights of people with disabilities.
Hugues Rakoto Ramambason
Before the Convention, in terms of the situation of persons with disabilities, there was a lack of access to services. No real comparable statistics were available. The Standard Rules had no enforceable value and disability as a subject was more invisible. In many countries, the movement had been weak. The organizations that were part of the disability movement did not understand the language of human rights. But, if there is no pressure from civil society things do not happen.
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