The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) entered into force on 3 May 2008. The convention is targeted at ensuring that ratifying states adequately protect the rights of the disabled, and promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Sri Lanka ratified the CRPD on 8 February 2016. As a ratifying state, Sri Lanka is bound to enact ‘enabling legislation’ that will actively protect the rights enshrined in the CRPD. Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka has an obligation to ensure that 4 key rights and protections are afforded to persons with disabilities. They are:
1. The right to equal protection and non-discriminatory practices on the grounds of disability
2. The right to accessibility and personal mobility
3. The right to education, healthcare and work
4. The right to participation in political and public life
This blog piece will briefly examine the status of Sri Lanka’s current legal and policy framework in relation to these rights.
1. Right To Equal Protection And Non-Discriminatory Practices On The Grounds Of Disability
The CRPD mandates that a state party prohibits all discrimination on the basis of disability, and guarantees equal and effective legal protection to persons with disabilities (Article 5, CRPD).
The Sri Lankan constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to equal protection and prohibits discrimination on particular grounds including race, religion, sex and language (Article 12). However, unlike the South African constitution, the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of disability is not given constitutional protection in Sri Lanka.
2. The Right to Accessibility and Personal Mobility
The CRPD places an obligation on ratifying states to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Further, the Convention requires that ratifying states identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility (e.g. in buildings, roads, hospitals and workplaces). The CRPD also obligates the state to facilitate access to assistive technologies and live assistance (Article 20, CRPD) for persons with disabilities. In 2006, Regulations made in terms of the Persons with Disabilities Act, required that all public places and buildings be made accessible to persons with disabilities by 2009. However, progress to date has been slow.
Further, the lack of technical equipment and assistive devices such as braille printers and screen readers in public places continues to place obstacles on the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in public life.
3. Right to Education, Health and Work
The CRPD protects persons with disabilities from being excluded from the general education system of the basis of disability (Article 24, CRPD). Further, the Convention guarantees that persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination (Article 25, CRPD). The CRPD also protects the right of persons with disabilities to participate in the labour market (Article 27, CRPD).
According to the general education reforms of 1997, GoSL introduced the concept of ‘inclusive education’. This policy allowed children with disabilities to be integrated into ordinary classrooms. However, shortages of assistive devices and special education teachers currently result in children with disabilities being indirectly excluded from the education system.
In terms of labour force participation, in 1988 it was mandated that 3% of job opportunities the public service be allocated to persons with disabilities. Unfortunately according to the National Policy on Disabilities, this quota is severely underutilized.
4. Right to Political Participation
The CRPD obligates states to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life (Article 29, CRPD).
In Sri Lanka, there is no legal restriction to persons with disabilities participating in political life. However, the political system and electoral processes place indirect restrictions on the active political participation of persons with disabilities. These indirect restrictions include physically inaccessible polling stations, lack of ballot papers in large fonts, and the absence of trained polling agents.
Therefore, based on the above analysis, it is clear that Sri Lanka’s legislative and policy framework fails to meet the threshold required by the CRPD. In this context, fulfilling international obligations requires that disability rights reform be given increased prominence in the country.