The Year in Disability Rights

A relative pushes John Biel Dup’s wheelchair through the dirt paths of Protection of Civilians Camp 3 in Juba,. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps..


© 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

People with disabilities around the world face serious obstacles to realizing their rights on an equal basis with others. Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 documents abuses such as violence, discrimination, segregation, and unlawful detention of people with disabilities in 32 countries including Australia, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and the United States.

Due to prevalent stigma and lack of adequate mental health services, thousands of people with mental health conditions are shackled – chained or locked up in small confined spaces – in many countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Indonesia, and Somaliland. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of shackling in homes, traditional and religious-based healing centers, schools, psychiatric hospitals, and state-run rehabilitation centers. Those shackled are often exposed to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and isolation. Though shackling persists in Indonesia, government agencies have made some progress by signing an agreement to monitor places where people with mental health conditions have been shackled. Governments should ban shackling and develop quality, accessible community-based support and mental health services.

In countries facing conflict and humanitarian crises, such as Cameroon and South Sudan, people with disabilities are at heightened risk as they struggle to flee or are left behind when others flee. In April 2019, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed its first resolution calling for the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict by ensuring “access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance” with the participation of people with disabilities in humanitarian planning and delivery.

People with disabilities still face barriers to quality education due to discrimination, lack of reasonable accommodations, and inaccessible buildings and teaching. In South Africa, children with disabilities face prejudice from education officials and are often placed in special schools, excluding them from an inclusive education in mainstream classrooms. In addition to inaccessible infrastructure, children with disabilities in Iran are subjected to a mandatory medical assessment for school enrollment that includes a discriminatory I.Q. test to determine which type of school – if any – they are permitted to attend. Children with albinism are often excluded from schools, stigmatized by students and teachers, and, in Mozambique, kept at home due to fears of kidnapping and violence. Governments should end segregation of children with disabilities and ensure inclusive education where children with and without disabilities study together.

In numerous countries, including Brazil, Serbia, and India, many children and adults with disabilities are confined or unlawfully detained in closed state and private institutions where they may face violence, neglect, and, in some cases, physical and chemical restraint. But some countries, such as Armenia, are making progress in supporting people with disabilities to live independently in the community.

As we enter 2020, governments should do more to support people with disabilities and ensure they can enjoy the same rights and safety as others around the world.