As advocates for the rights of people with disabilities and their inclusion in the Gambia, ARTICLE 19 and the Gambia Federation of People with Disabilities welcome the adoption and assent of the Persons with Disabilities Bill.
On 6 July 2021, The Gambia National Assembly passed the Persons with Disabilities Bill, announcing that President Adama Barrow had entered into force and thereby assented to the Bill on 4 August. After almost a decade of tireless advocacy engaging a range of stakeholders, people with disabilities now have a fully-fledged law that protects their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Reacting to the advent of this this long-awaited piece of legislation, Muhammed Krubally, Chairperson of the Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD) stated:
“This law is the most important piece of legislation for us [Persons with Disabilities]. The Law not only recognises our rights, but also enables us to hold the government accountable where it fails to protect these rights. For more than a decade, we have fought for this and finally it is here. We are grateful to the European Union for the two-year project, which to a large extent made this possible by supporting our advocacy engagement. We would also like to thank ARTICLE 19 for leading us on this path over the last three years and supporting us in mobilising institutions and power-holders by commenting on the draft bill to make sure it was compliant with human rights standards”
The Act provides for “the health care, social support, accessibility, rehabilitation, education and vocational training, communication, employment and work protection and promotion of basic rights for persons with disabilities and for connected matters.” This is a major step towards the fulfilment of the Gambia’s international obligation, especially to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country ratified in July 2015. The Gambia, having signed and ratified the convention, bears the responsibility of ensuring the “full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for persons with disabilities” in the Gambia without discrimination, including by “modify[ing] or abolish[ing] existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities.” The State is further required to “prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds”.
Despite the guarantees of this Convention and the Gambian Constitution of 1997, which states that “all persons shall be equal before the law,” people with disabilities continue to face numerous barriers to their full inclusion and participation in the life of their communities in the Gambia. The Government and power-holders in the country now have a key instrument to fulfil their rights, tackle discrimination and other issues they face, and run an inclusive effort to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all without leaving people with disabilities behind.
Congratulating the various stakeholders engaged in the process, Bulakali Alfred Nkuru, the Deputy Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa, launched the following appeal:
“The adoption and the enforcement of a disability rights law in the Gambia is the result of a multi-stakeholder engagement for the Government to domesticate the Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and to improve the social inclusion, economic situation and global welfare of persons with disabilities. This is a big step towards an inclusive society that protects and promotes the rights for all. However, this law alone is not an end in itself. While we congratulate all actors involved in this progress, we now call on the Government to implement it so that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy the rights guaranteed. Particular attention should be given to specific needs of women, children and young people with disabilities as stated in the law.”
It is our hope that the government will now ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life by putting in place proper mechanisms to foster implementation of this new law. For this purpose, the Government and the National Assembly should quickly work for the operationalisation of the institutional arrangements, including the Establishment of the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities.
ARTICLE 19 calls on media to quickly start implementing the provision of the Act, obliging them to guarantee access to information by using accessible languages, and on tech companies to accelerate disposal of material such as phones and computers that respond to the specific needs of persons with disabilities. Access to information is key pillar for persons with disabilities to know their rights, hold those in charge accountable for them, and to enjoy them. Media and communication counterparts must accelerate this, and ensure it happens in their spheres of action.
ARTICLE 19 will continue to work with The Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD), Gambian institutions and all stakeholders to popularise this Bill and educate the public on the rights of persons with disabilities and to advocate for the inclusion of all minorities and discriminated groups’ voices.
The Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD) is the umbrella body for over 15 registered organisations of persons with disabilities in the Gambia. It has advocated for the need for a law that caters for the rights and needs of persons with disabilities for over a decade.
ARTICLE 19 West Africa is an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) defending freedom of expression and access to information across the globe. With its implementing partner, the Institute for Human Rights Development in Africa (IHRDA), ARTICLE 19 has recently implemented a 32-month-EU-funded project on the theme “Strengthening human rights standards, support to Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights, The Gambia Federation of the Disabled and The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violation (GCVHRV) during Transition”. A main component of this project was to “support the operationalisation of the Draft Persons with Disabilities Bill”. We wish to extend our profound gratitude to the Delegation of the European Union in the Gambia for supporting this action.
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