December 10, 2023

NPRD Message on World Disability Day

THE National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) extends its greetings on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on December 1. While many issues concerning disabled persons will form part of the observance, in the current global context, we feel that it is necessary to draw attention to the plight of the disabled people of Palestine.

Since 1992, December 3 is observed as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, for promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. The objective being to highlight the importance of their existence, inclusion, acceptance and participation. The theme for this year is "United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities".

At the commemorative event on December 1 at the UN this year, one of the five pillars around which the discussion focused was “Peace”. It should need no underlining that peace is the essential prerequisite for any progress towards achieving any of the Sustainable Development Goals. One amongst the various conflicts that have lingered for long and is an impediment to peace is the continued occupation of Palestine and the expansionist policies of Israel.

It needs recall that in 1919, immediately after the end of the First World War, the  British acquired a mandate from the League of Nations to rule over Palestine, which was part of the then Ottoman Empire. At that time there were only 60,000 Jews in Palestine as against 7,50,000 Muslims, mostly Arabs (AG Noorani: Islam and Jihad, 2002). But the British Foreign Secretary AJ Balfour declared that the “four great powers are committed to Zionism”, thus proclaiming the foundation of the future Israel.

Having displaced lakhs of original inhabitants in 1948 to create Israel, the occupiers have gone on not only to ruthlessly occupy major parts of Palestinian land but also to heap untold miseries, depriving the Palestinians of basic human needs, dignity, rights and freedoms. Another form of apartheid has been put in place. This view has also been endorsed by Tamir Pardo, former head of Mossad.

Viewing the current events, divorced from the context of 1948 and later would be a travesty of history. The long-drawn struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation, for reclaiming their homeland, even while committing to an imposed two-State solution had received worldwide support including that of India. It is another matter that a shift in geopolitics has seen the abandonment of the Palestinian cause of late by many including the Arab regimes under mounting pressure from the US and its  Western allies.

The loss of lives and debilitating injuries in Palestine consequent to the Israeli attacks is horrendous. The savagery is laid bare in the unprecedented scale of the Israeli genocidal assaults, almost flattening large parts of Gaza, backed to the hilt by the US and its allies. Even if it were to be considered to be in response to the Hamas attacks of October 7, 2023, it is totally disproportionate. It is estimated that it has, since then, ruthlessly killed at least 15,000 people till date.

The gruesome barbarity hasn’t spared women, children, the disabled and the ill. The dead include 6,150 children, some of whom are infants. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the Gaza Strip was becoming "a graveyard for children”. Another 242 (including 57 children) have been killed in the Occupied West Bank. In Gaza around 36,000 people (75 per cent of them children and women) and 2,750 people in the Occupied West Bank have been inflicted with debilitating injuries, which may ultimately lead to disabilities.

These figures coming out of Palestine, however, do not record the casualties inflicted on persons with disabilities or the numbers who may have become disabled consequent to these attacks aimed at annihilating an entire populace.

Palestine already had a huge population of persons with disabilities, with the constant Israeli attacks and war crimes maiming countless people, contributing in no small measure. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS, 2020) estimated that 15 per cent of primary school-aged children (5-17 years) have disabilities: 17 per cent in the West Bank and about 13 per cent in the Gaza Strip. It needs to be noted that these figures do not account for psychosocial disabilities, which it would be safe to assume is a rampant problem impacting large sections of the population.

It goes without saying that the conflict impacts disabled people more adversely as compared to others. Conflict is both the cause and effect factor. It can impede ability to escape for survival, further deteriorate the impairment or lead to new impairments, cause disability and overall affects marginalisation and neglect. The impact of conflict on the disabled population has multifold ramifications, as compared to the non-disabled population, due to various infrastructural, environmental and attitudinal barriers experienced by people with disabilities in their fight for survival.

The oppression experienced by people with disabilities in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank is multifold including discrimination on the grounds of disability and targeting of disabled people by armed forces flouting international laws governing human rights of people with disabilities. The consequences of the 16 years of blockade of Gaza has meant heaping of untold miseries on its people, especially the disabled population. The latest deliberate and targeted killing of disabled people is also aimed at instilling fear in the non-disabled population.

People with Disabilities get disproportionately impacted by the inaccessible infrastructure, lack of access to aids and appliances and disruption of services for essential needs, repairs and maintenance. They are also in persistent fear for life and face hurdles in navigating to safe spaces (such as shelter homes, rescue/relief camps etc), which generally are not accessible and inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities. For people with visual, hearing and intellectual impairments, access to crucial information including advance warning systems pose additional impediments.

Reports also draw attention to a substantial increase in the numbers of those with psychosocial disorders due to various factors associated with the relentless attacks. Available videos of trembling children from continuous bombing and personal losses is a testament to the life-long mental trauma such actions cause.

Recognising the risks experienced by people with disabilities and calling upon State Parties to take all necessary steps for their safety and wellbeing, the United Nations General Assembly on November 8, 2023, approved the draft resolution on “Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto: situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies”.

It is imperative that obligations under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, including the CRPD as well as the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2475 on persons with disabilities during armed conflict are respected and adhered to.

Article 11 of the CRPD lays down that: “States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters”.

UN Security Council Resolution 2475 had among other things also underlined “the benefit of providing sustainable, timely, appropriate, inclusive and accessible assistance to civilians with disabilities affected by armed conflict, including reintegration, rehabilitation and psychosocial support, to ensure that their specific needs are effectively addressed, in particular those of women and children with disabilities”.

While it is heartening to see thousands upon thousands, including disabled, in various cities and towns across the world rallying in support of the Palestinian demand for an independent and free homeland, it is unfortunate that many influential regimes across the world, are seen to be in overt or covert support of the genocide of the Palestinians. The awful ineffectiveness and abject failure of bodies like the UN also stands exposed. Its mandates even with regard to human rights conventions as also the rights of persons with disabilities are being flouted with impunity.

It is in this light that the NPRD calls for the adherence to UN resolutions and for providing all appropriate and requisite support to people with disabilities caught in the conflict and those who have been rendered disabled as a result of it.

The situation demands that Israel immediately halt its attacks on the Palestinian people and their properties; withdraw from occupied territories, respect the pre-1967 borders and pave the way to enforce the two-State solution.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the NPRD pledges its support to the Palestinian people in their just struggle for freedom and the right to their homeland. The rights of persons with disabilities are an inalienable part of this struggle.