Press release

UNESCO joined a multi-stakeholder coalition to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean

Kingston, 27 – 28 July 2021. Advancing legislation for, with, and by persons with disabilities in the Caribbean is necessary to ensure fundamental freedoms are protected and human rights promoted, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Therefore, the University of the West Indies Centre for Disability Studies (UWICDS) and the CARICOM Special Rapporteur on Disability, in collaboration with a multi-stakeholder coalition including UNESCO, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Digicel Foundation, organized the Special Ministerial Conference for Specific Legislation for Persons with Disabilities in the Caribbean from 27-28 July 2021.

The two-day conference which was held virtually and on-site with a limited number of participants at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters, came within the context of Caribbean SIDS signing and ratifying the UN CRPD, commitments to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Declaration of Petion Ville, a 2013 decision by Caribbean heads of governments to prioritize persons with disabilities in policy-making. Notwithstanding the commitments to these UN conventions and frameworks and regional agreements, only six countries and territories have developed specific legislation to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

Under the leadership of Senator Dr. Floyd Morris, CARICOM Special Rapporteur on Disability, the conference explored developing a specific legislative model for persons with disabilities to protect and uphold their rights in the Caribbean societies.

The keynote address was delivered to the conference by the Rt. Hon. Baroness Patricia Scotland QC, who expressed continued support from the Commonwealth Secretariat for the efforts of the Caribbean to secure the participation, inclusion and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities through legislation.

In the Caribbean, 1 million people are living with some form of disability. While they have already been pushed to the margins of society, COVID-19 has aggravated the situation of persons with disabilities. To protect and promote human rights for all, effective regulations and progressive legislation for their implementation are needed.
Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO.

Representing UNESCO with the mandate to promote inclusive and peaceful societies, Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO addressed the Conference virtually and expressed UNESCO's readiness to support the Caribbean region to identify best policy practices and strengthen South-South Cooperation to promote human rights and address intersecting forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities. 

The Vice Chancellor of the UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles stressed UWI’s commitment to unlocking the potential of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean through education.

Over 20 countries within the region participated in the conference. There were over 100 participants in the two days of exhilarating discussion on the theme of “Securing Participation, Inclusion and Non-discrimination of Persons with Disabilities through Legislation.”

Emanating from the conference was the development of a special template for specific legislation to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The template gives a pellucid indication of the essential features that should be captured in specific legislation for persons with disabilities in the region. Some of the features include: the establishment of statutory agency to drive disability development in each country; the development of disability rights tribunals; the establishment of dedicated funding mechanism to drive development of persons with disabilities and clauses to protect persons with disabilities in education, health care, employment, housing, public transportation, accessibility and access to information. Countries will use the template as the guide to preparing their specific legislation.

We cannot dictate to governments what must be included in the specific legislation as we have to respect their sovereignty. However, we can assist in guiding the process to advance the development of legislation to allow for the participation, inclusion and non-discrimination against persons with disabilities in their countries.
Senator Dr. Floyd Morris, CARICOM Special Rapporteur on Disability,

OUTCOMES

Strengthening the resilience of persons with disabilities and improving access to public services is crucial. This requires investment in inclusive education, training of health professionals, and building robust social protection systems as first steps towards removing discriminatory barriers that inhibit the full participation of persons with disabilities in Caribbean societies. Participants also highlighted the overall need to meaningfully include persons with disabilities in decision-making and the design of public policies comprising the COVID-19 recovery process. In closing the special ministerial Conference on Wednesday, 28 July, Senator Dr Floyd Morris announced the outcomes of the Special Ministerial Conference.

These include: 

  • A five-year timeframe for all countries within the Caribbean sub-region to develop specific legislation to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;
  • A three-year timeframe for countries that already have specific legislation, to amend such laws to capture essential elements of the template that does not exist in their current legislation;
  • To use the Regional Disability Index managed by the UWICDS to monitor the implementation of inclusive policies and disability legislation in Caribbean countries.
  • Strengthening capacities of institutions, civil society, and non-governmental organizations to advocate for persons with disabilities and promote legislation for persons with disabilities. 

 
NEXT STEPS

The draft legislation document will be updated based on the outcomes during the Conference and made available to the public. 

UNESCO and UWICDS plan to conduct a series of training in 2021 to strengthen capacities on the rights of persons with disabilities and engage youth and media houses to advocate for disability inclusion across the Caribbean.