Statement on behalf of the Coordinating Group of the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor at the Opening of the Twenty-Third Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
At the opening of the 23rd session of the CRPD Committee, on 17 August 2020, Validity’s Co-Executive Director, Steven Allen spoke on behalf of the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor
Coordinating Group and shared some preliminary findings of the global
survey, which was translated into 25 languages and received more than
2,100 responses from 134 countries. Please watch the Statement on UNTV (starting at 1:30:20) and read it here:
Members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour to join you today to provide these initial remarks at the opening of the Committee’s 23rd
session at a time of great peril for persons with disabilities globally.
Our thoughts go out to all those who have been affected by this
horrendous virus, to all those who have friends and family members
affected, and to all of those on the frontline around the world who are
doing all in their power to mitigate the worst impacts.
I provide these initial remarks as Co-Executive Director of the
Validity Foundation and on behalf of a coalition of seven disability
rights organisations which include the European Network on Independent
Living, Disability Rights International, the Centre for Human Rights at
the University of Pretoria, the International Disability Alliance, the
International Disability and Development Consortium, and the sister
organisations Disability Rights Fund and Disability Rights Advocacy
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the virus began to have a global impact earlier this year,
Validity and our partners quickly began receiving reports that persons
with disabilities all around the world were immediately experiencing
severe consequences. Ad hoc reports from our partners suggested that
residential institutions were being locked down, the courts were being
suspended, and problems were emerging in terms of continuity of
community-based support and social security programmes.
Governments began taking unprecedented steps to lockdown whole cities
and eventually entire nations in a desperate attempt at halting the
spread of the virus, simultaneously rushing through emergency
declarations to restrict people’s movement, passing urgent measures
within national health systems and closing off large sectors of our
As human rights-based organisations and advocates, it quickly became
clear to us that few governments were taking a disability-inclusive
response to the crisis. In April, we joined together and collectively
developed the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor, a global survey to try
to gain a picture of what was really happening. The survey had three
components, the first aiming to collect the testimonies of persons with
disabilities themselves, the second seeking information from
governments, and the third requesting information from independent human
rights bodies and inspectorates.
The survey was translated into a total of 25 languages and remained
open for a period of three months. During this time, we have received
over 2,100 responses from 135 countries spanning from Argentina to
Zimbabwe and covering every continent. The vast majority of responses
were received from persons with disabilities themselves, as well as
their representative organisations.
But I’m sorry to inform you that very few governments or national
human rights institutions responded. While we can all understand the
immense pressures caused by handling this human catastrophe, the lack of
responsiveness from the majority of governments confirms, perhaps, the
low level of priority placed on ensuring a response that is genuinely
inclusive of persons with disabilities.
And it also saddens us to inform you that the testimonies we have
received confirm many of our worst fears. While we are in the process of
analysing the mass of information which has been collected over these
last months, we can already provide you with the following emerging
themes prevalent across countries, regardless of their level of
People with disabilities in institutions
We have received over 300 testimonies from 50 countries raising
critical concerns about failure to protect the lives, health and safety
of persons with disabilities in residential facilities.
- In Canada, one institution was left dangerously understaffed and according to one account “people were left dead in their beds, others laying on the floor dehydrated”
- In another institution in Nigeria, a respondent with disabilities told us that people were “effectively imprisoned” due to a total lockdown of the institution: “A lot of people died because of this,” they said.
organisation of persons with disabilities in Nepal said that no hygiene
facilities, regular medicines or other necessary equipment were
provided to people in rehabilitation centres.
- And there is now
emerging evidence in Europe and North America that a large number of the
fatalities from the virus came among people with disabilities in
residential facilities, which are inherently dangerous due to their
Right to health
Another theme that has emerged is a crisis in terms of accessing
basic, specialist and emergency healthcare, both in respect of the virus
as well as other health needs.
- In Italy, Canada, the UK, the USA, Austria, Ireland and France,
numerous respondents reported that governments have adopted triage
policies which directly discriminate against people on the basis of
disability, including in accessing ventilators and other life-saving
treatments – a clear violation of the Convention which in many cases
have led to preventable deaths.
- In South Africa, a person with
disabilities reported that their continuing specialist healthcare had
stopped, causing immense pain and suffering: “I cannot see my
consulting specialist physician, he won’t see his normal patients for
fear of spreading virus… I can’t see my pain specialist.”
Mexico and Zimbabwe, we received reports that critical medicines had
become unavailable or simply too expensive for persons with disabilities
to access, further heightening the pre-existing bidirectional link
between disability and poverty. According to one person with
disabilities from Zimbabwe: “To get medicine is not easy in my
community, pharmacies demand United States Dollars which the majority
don’t have and the medicines are very expensive beyond the reach of many
persons with disabilities.”
Access to Food
Almost one third of respondents from 81 countries around the world
reported serious problems in accessing food and nutrition. Such reports
not only came from low- and middle-income countries, but also from the
most highly-developed countries, with numerous respondents pointing out
that governments gave this issue low priority and mainly relied on NGOs
- In Nigeria, one organisation of persons with disabilities
reported that the mother of a child with disabilities was harassed by
policemen on her way to collect food relief at one of the distribution
- In Switzerland, a respondent with disabilities said “I find it difficult that I cannot go alone to the bank any more, or to the food shop. I always have to do with my assistance.”
received a report from Honduras that food orders for elderly persons
have been allegedly prioritised by the government, but orders had not
been met or maintained.
Children with disabilities
Many family members of children with disabilities reported that they
had been completely abandoned by their governments. A shocking 86% of
respondents said their government had taken little or no action to
prevent serious harm to children with disabilities.
- Family members of girls with disabilities felt abandoned by
governments and support services during the pandemic. There were reports
that girls with disabilities were not receiving supports for mental
- In Uganda, another OPD raised specific concerns about street children who are allegedly being “quarantined in some boarding school facilities.”
echoing a widespread concern about the denial of any sort of education
to children with disabilities during the pandemic, one Moldovan
organisation of persons with disabilities reported that “children
with disabilities did not have access to online education due to a lack
of information technologies and internet access.”
Police Brutality against Persons with Disabilities
The survey received disturbing reports of police brutality from
around the world. Without accessible information or access to food and
healthcare, persons with disabilities are leaving their homes and are
then particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse by police or military
forces tasked with enforcing lockdowns.
Freedom from Violence, Neglect, Exploitation and Abuse for Women and Girls with Disabilities
Women and girls are disproportionally being affected by the pandemic
as access to police protection, women’s shelters, social workers, trauma
counseling, or participation in the informal economy is significantly
diminished. Testimonies from the survey detail grave instances of sexual
assault, domestic violence, and exploitation from family members and
members of the community. Respondents from around the world noted their
governments did not take measures to safeguard the rights of women and
girls with disabilities and the absence of government provisions for
accessible complaint mechanisms and supports.
- Respondents in Kazakhstan, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe
noted significant increases in cases of gender-based violence –
including the rape of a girl with disabilities by multiple men in
Nigeria, the rape of a 10-year old girl with disabilities in Nepal, and
the rape of an adolescent girl with psychosocial disability in Uganda.
in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nigeria reported that sexual and
gender-based violence is particularly severe for women with disabilities
in remote, rural and slum areas, as well as for women and girls with
disabilities confined to institutions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The testimonies we have received from persons with disabilities
around the world are overwhelming, and point at a shocking disregard for
protecting the most fundamental rights of people with disabilities. For
all the talk of ensuring that governments adopt disability-inclusive
response and recovery plans, the picture on the ground is that persons
with disabilities have been and are being left behind. What started as a
survey to gain a real-time picture of the impact of the virus now
serves as a testament to the failure of many of our governments to act.
If this pandemic shows us one thing, it is that we in the disability
community – persons with disabilities and allies – must stand together
more strongly than ever. This honourable committee has now a crucial
role to play in sounding the alarm.
The disproportionate impact of this virus on persons with
disabilities has less to do with the virus itself, and ever so much more
to do with the choices that our governments make in the days, weeks and
I thank you.