… a call for the enactment of the disability equity bill by the 9th parliament of lesotho
Persons with disabilities in Lesotho continue to face multiple discrimination on a daily basis, from access to education, access to employment opportunities, access to justice and access to health services to mention a few. They are inhibited from enjoying their constitutional rights on an equal basis with others due to their disability alone. Challenges faced emanate from the current discriminatory legal, policy and social environment which fail to adequately recognise persons with disabilities as right holders.
Lesotho’s ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the 2ND December 2008 and since then has slowly began taking measures to ensure the respect, promotion and the protection of the rights of PWD’s by putting in place institutional, policy and financial measures aimed at ending discrimination . It is worthy to note that Section 18 of Constitution of Lesotho does not specifically mention disability as the prohibited ground of discrimination which would enhance legal claims against discrimination, persons with disabilities are however still protected by this discrimination clause. Section 33 of the Constitution under Principles of State Policy provides for the rehabilitation, training and social resettlement of persons with disabilities. In addition the provision calls upon the government of Lesotho to design policies that will promote the placement of people with disabilities at workplaces for their wellbeing.
The first commendable step taken by the Government of Lesotho was the creation of the Disability Services Unit within the Ministry of Social Development to coordinate the national response to disability mainstreaming. Secondly Lesotho has put in place the National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy which outlines the measures to be taken by The Government of Lesotho to address disability rights issues. Thirdly the Government issued instructions for the drafting of a disability equity law whose result was the Disability Equity Bill 2014. In addition disability has been included in the National Social Protection Policy and the corresponding strategy, disability is also included as a crosscutting issue in the National Strategic Development Plan. It is sad to note that the Disability Services Unit is understaffed and underfinanced to met the objectives for which it was set up which include the coordination of national disability mainstreaming.
The steps taken by Lesotho are inadequate and fall short of its obligations under international law. Lesotho undertook to engage in the development and implementation of policies, laws and administrative measures aimed at securing the rights of people with disabilities and to abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination towards people with disabilities (Article 4 of the UNCRPD). Below are some proposed measured to enhance the promotion protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, whilst they are in no form exhaustive they represent priorities set by persons with disabilities themselves through their Federation of Orgarnisation of Persons with Disabilities LNFOD.
- The enactment of the Disability Equity Bill 2014 into law. This Bill comprises of an array of legal rights for persons with disabilities including rights of physical access, access to services including health, the provision of education and the creation of the Disability Advisory Council.
- The endorsement and implementation of the Draft National Disability Mainstreaming Plan 2015. This will ensure mainstreaming of disability in all Government Ministries.
- The endorsement of inclusive education for learners with disabilities in Lesotho through the development and implementation of an inclusive education Policy for Lesotho.
- The endorsement of the provision of reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities as a guiding principle in the Labour Laws and regulations of Lesotho.
- The review of the following discriminatory provisions:
- Section 57 of the Constitution of Lesotho which provides that, people who cannot speak are not eligible to be appointed as senators. This is a constitutional prohibition for a Deaf person from being appointed in the Upper House solely on the basis of disability. This provision is premised on the cultural believe of Basotho that, Deaf people should be excluded from participating in the national issues because they are ill.
- National Assembly Electoral Amendment Act of 2011 which provides for the category of people who are legally prohibited from participating in the general elections. Persons with mental disabilities fall within the scope of the section of our society who are denied a right to vote on the basis of disability. The perception of the draftsmen is that all people with mental disabilities do not have the capacity to decide on their own. Hence, should be denied off their right to participate in the elections.
- Section 219 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act of 1981 provides as follows;
“No person appearing or proved to be afflicted with idiocy, lunacy or inability or labouring under any imbecility of mind arising from intoxication or otherwise whereby he is deprived of the proper use of reason, shall be competent to give evidence while so afflicted or disabled”.
females with disabilities especially those with intellectual disabilities who are the victims of sexual abuses are inadequately protected as the evidence of the person with intellectual disability is inadmissible in a Court of Law because the evidence is regarded to be unreliable as it is adduced by the person of unsound mind. This Section runs in parallel with the article 12 and 13 of the UNCRPD which calls upon state parties to recognise the legal capacity of people with intellectual disabilities in making sure that both civil and criminal justice of the state parties is accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities.
- Penal Code 2010 which makes abortion illegal in Lesotho. However, it permits abortion if the pregnant person should be giving birth to the seriously physically and mentally disabled child subject to the consensus of more than one medical practitioner (Section 45(C)). This is seen by persons with disability as the creation of a discriminatory exception against children with disabilities to be born because it permits the pregnant person to abort the child simply because the child is disabled.
Whilst it is evident that the task for the government of Lesotho working with orgarnisation of persons with disabilities to reform the current environment to accommodate persons with disabilities is momentous it requires political will, the corresponding financial commitment and robust implementation of coordinated and structured plans and policies.
It is our call therefore to the 9th Parliament through its Parliamentary Committees particularly the Committee on the Social Cluster to follow through and ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected as outlined in Political Party Manifestos, The Coalition Agreement 2015, and most importantly as outlined by His Majesty the King in his Speech From the Throne during the Official Opening of the 9th Parliament when he stated his expectation that the Disability Equity Bill will be passed into law.
By: Maja Matsoha-Makhoali
Human Rights Advisor