UNHRC 52 Session : An interactive dialogue with SR on the rights of people with disabilities

Author:GHRD Delegates


An interactive dialogue session with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities focused on Tunisia and its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the 13th of March 2023 at the United Nations Office in Geneva Switzerland. The session started with an opening statement from the delegation of Tunisia stating all of the efforts taken to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. For instance, in January 2019, Tunisia established mechanisms to assist victims to get free healthcare in the public healthcare system. Further, in 2016, a law to combat trafficking as well as eliminating all forms of discrimination established sanctions against those who commit acts and speeches of discrimination about persons with disability. This law also aimed at protecting the privacy of children, women and girls with disabilities. Thus, in general, the speakers emphasized that Tunisian’s approach to the issue consists of promoting the role of persons with disabilities. They characterize this as a positive approach to strengthen rights of persons with disability and ensure their inclusion in society which also consists the need for persons with disabilities to remain in their environmental “milieu” and be in close contact with their family and live a normal life within their community. This has been enforced through the 2005 legal framework. The strategy consists of ensuring the financial autonomy of disabled persons. Their societal project is based on the idea of a social state that protects the most vulnerable while also complying with international guidelines to ensure equality for everyone in Tunisia. This entails using a rights based approach using the social security system which provides help to the most vulnerable in society namely: cash benefits, free healthcare, reasonable accommodation, provision so people can access basic care. Moreover, positive discrimination has been used to promote jobs in both the public and private sphere for persons with disabilities. Indeed, 2% of jobs are set aside for people with disabilities. This has proven successful; as statistics have shown that the employment of persons with disabilities have gone up by 1% in public administration. Another aspect that was highlighted was the focus on increasing accessibility to sports and cultural events for persons with disability. The case of the 2018 paralympics was mentioned as evidence of the progres made for inclusion of persons with disability in society. To conclude, the delegation of Tunisia stated that their legal framework about persons with disability is a source of national pride and despite being hit by the covid-19 epidemic the state was able to provide for the most vulnerable. Their main goals related to bridging gaps in the educational system regarding developing appropriate pedagogy for autistic children with specialized training being cited a top priority.

In response a number of participants in the session pointed out remaining challenges faced by persons with disability in Tunisia such as Mr Samuel Njuguna Kabue argued that despite an inclusive legal framework, the enforcement and applications of it left many persons with disability behind. Further, he stressed that too few persons with disability were involved in the policy making processes, disaster responses and preparedness. He also stated that police, court officials and jails need to use a human rights based approach and receive training to deal with persons with disabilities whether they be victims, observers or complaints. Another prominent issue that was raised was sexual and physical violence against women, girls and children. Moreover, poor media misrepresentation and use of language against persons with disabilities combined with a severe lack of sign language in most forms of media remain prominent issues. Speaker Rosemary Kayess emphasized the need to define who are persons with disabilities in order to clearly understand who qualifies for benefits. M. Kim enquired specifics regarding what services were offered by the state of Tunisia to women girls with disability and how they could access those needs. Similarly, Odelia Fatoussi pushed to know how Tunisia plans to protect women and girls with disabilities in the future.

While explaining the extent to which a number of legislations and provisions enacted by Tunisia are in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and how they have improved since October 2011, the need to raise awareness was once again emphasized, given the low level of awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities in the country.

In response to these questions, the delegates stated that to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and to further adapt the system to the needs of persons with disabilities Tunisian law has made it possible to open projects funded up to 22 thousand dollars to protect persons with disabilities from all forms of discrimination and exclusion. The delegation also mentioned the benefits given to disability card holders such as free public transportation and other services to facilitate their inclusion in society. Further the delegation emphasized the equal treatment of persons with disabilities regardless of gender.

To conclude, on the other hand, the road to equality has once again proved to be long and requires hard work, with participants raising a number of persistent fundamental problems and the need to take protection and prevention measures. These are :
The need to increase the use of sign language in all television/media channels
The need to protect persons with disabilities from neglect and abuse
The need to prevent deprivation of their liberty and of their families, i.e. to ensure that neither children nor parents are separated from each other on the grounds of disability
The need to train police, courthouse and prison officials to adopt a human rights-based approach towards persons with disabilities.
The need to take necessary measures for women and girls subjected to sexual and physical violence and forced marriage
The need to provide adequate accommodation and housing to persons with disabilities
The need to provide guardianship to persons with disabilities
The need to collect further data on persons with disabilities
The need to ensure the freedom and financial independence of persons with disabilities

During the interactive dialogue, in response to concerns and questions raised by the participants, particularly in relation to risks to the health of women and girls, it was explained that women with disabilities are provided with priority and free health services as well as facilitated access to many buildings and events/ and these services are part of the general budget (2%). The delegation stressed the use of a holistic and comprehensive approach to people with disabilities which brings together: services, caregiving, inclusion without discrimination. They recognized shortcoming but insisted there's no discrimination against persons with disabilities and that their legislation was in line with the CRPD. Crucially, there were disagreements between the Tunisian delegation who reiterated the advancements made in terms of advancing the rights of persons with disability, and external parties that were not satisfied and pointed out flaws in enforcement and practice.