FEEDBACK– Engaging European stakeholders on the Charter on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action

Posted by: on Jun 2, 2017 | No Comments

On 31 May, IDDC, EDF and Human Rights Watch organised a breakfast meeting on the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action.

The International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC), the European Disability Forum (EDF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) gathered Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), representatives of the European Commission, as well as human rights and humanitarian stakeholders for a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament on the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. The event, hosted by MEPs Heidi Hautala (Greens) and Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D), marked the first anniversary of the Charter after its launch at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. It was an opportunity to further engage European stakeholders on disability inclusion and to discuss the role of the European Union and Member States in the implementation of the Charter.

Participants widely agreed that the European Union should show leadership to ensure that humanitarian actors dedicate enough time and resources to the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Concrete suggestions were shared. The European Commission could take the forthcoming international fora, such as the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York (13-15 June), the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) humanitarian segment in Geneva (21-23 June) and the UN General Assembly in September, as opportunities to showcase the EU commitment to the Charter and call on other donors’ and humanitarian actors’ support. It could also mobilize Members States on the Charter via its regular coordination mechanisms. Today, only nine EU Member States endorsed the Charter (Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK). The European Parliamentarian also has a key role to play in ensuring that the EU remains strongly committed politically and in the field to a humanitarian action that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. Political actions envisaged by MEPs during the event could support the mainstreaming of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the field.

About 30 participants attended the event, including MEPs Helga Stevens (ECR) and a representative of Brando Benifei’s (S&D) office, as well as representatives of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) Directorate and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

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Why promote the rights of persons with disabilities in humanitarian aid?

 The Charter is a tool to implement article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, said Catherine Naughton, director at the European Disability Forum (EDF). It helps keeping the discussion alive on how humanitarian actors act towards the Charter’s principles, especially in terms of supporting participation of persons with disabilities in the response.

HRW found that people with disabilities and older people in South Sudan face greater risks of being shot, hacked to death, or burned alive because they are less able to flee violence” explained Shantha Rau Barriga, director of the disability rights program at Human Rights Watch (HRW). She pictured how the most vulnerable are disproportionately affected by the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan through testimonies gathered in a newly published report. “The ones who have sought refuge in the bush or in camps also struggle to access crucial humanitarian assistance including food, water and latrines”.

EU role towards a humanitarian action that is inclusive of persons with disabilities

All participants, both from civil society and from European institutions, agreed on the necessity to gain more support to implement the Charter.

Specifically, Member States of the European Union should endorse the Charter and support the elaboration of the Inter Agency Standing Committee’s guidelines on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action.

“A political dialogue on the Charter implementation has to happen during discussions on specific crisis with humanitarian coordinators and key representatives”, stressed Martin Lagneau, Institutional Representative to the EU at Handicap International. “This is the only way to ensure the Charter principles are translated to the field level, in the humanitarian response plans, coordination mechanisms, data collection mechanisms and so on”. Martin called on the European Commission for a continued mobilization at global level, including with UN agencies, to showcase the EU support to the Charter. He also invited the European Parliament to consider concrete political actions to raise awareness on the issue among its members and escalate the information down at national level, calling on Member States to do more.

Leonor Nieto, Head of Unit on Policy Development and Regional Strategy at DG ECHO, noted that the signature by the EU of the Charter was an expression of its commitment to an EU humanitarian aid inclusive of people with disabilities. Between 2013 and 2015 projects targeting persons with disabilities were funded for 30 million euros; “One year after the signature of the Charter, there is more to do collectively by donors and partners” said Ms Nieto. “We need to increase the capacity of our staff to disability inclusion, mainstream the issue in our response, provide trainings, increase the capacity of partners in the field, sensitize people and continue raising awareness of the Charter principles”. She proposed for the Commission to facilitate a specific dialogue with EU Member States representatives. “Commissioner Stylianides is very committed to people with disabilities in humanitarian aid and would like to see further progress in this field”.

Hosting MEPs, Heidi Hautala (Greens) and Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D), concluded the event by stating the pivotal role of the European Parliament to influence and support the political effort towards a humanitarian action that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. “We always try to address the issue of disability in each activity at parliamentary level, as well in our field visits”, said Mr Guerrero. “The EP Committee on development is very active in this field”. Ms Hautala proposed to formally ask EU Member States about their level of commitment and implementation of the Charter. MEP Stevens suggested looking at the US as a best practice to ensure that all public money spent is inclusive.