On Friday, July 26, the United States announced its endorsement of the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action — a big step toward protecting people with disabilities during international crises.
The State Department announced the news on Twitter via Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s Twitter account. Secretary Pompeo wrote, “the U.S. remains a leader in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities both at home & abroad. That is why, this month, the U.S. endorsed the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action." Today is also the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Charter, co-launched by Humanity & Inclusion and more than 70 partner organizations at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, encourages governments and other stakeholders to lift barriers to people with disabilities in need of services and aid during conflict, displacement, and natural disasters. The current 230 endorsers of the Charter commit to ensuring that people with long-term physical, psychosocial, intellectual, or sensory issues are active participants in the development, planning, and implementation of humanitarian programs.
“Today, the U.S. highlights the vital need to incorporate people with disabilities in emergency responses, from preparedness and crisis through transition and into recovery,” said Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “The Charter underscores the critical message that the global community leave no one behind, and cements a longstanding commitment by the United States to protect the rights and meet the needs of those living with disabilities even in extreme circumstances. Making humanitarian action inclusive of people with disabilities has been a goal for Humanity & Inclusion since beginning operations in 1982.”
During conflicts, disasters, and other emergencies, the people with the greatest needs are often the least likely to have equal access to essential protection and humanitarian assistance. People with disabilities are more likely to be neglected, abandoned, and exposed to targeted violence, exploitation, and abuse. The entrenched discrimination they face only exacerbates these challenges.
Together, the Charter’s 230 endorsers agreed to five principles to make humanitarian action inclusive of people with disabilities:
- Non-discrimination and recognition of the diversity of people with disabilities;
- Participation and involvement of people with disabilities in developing humanitarian programs;
- Inclusive response and services that ensure services and humanitarian assistance are equally available for and accessible to all people with disabilities;
- Inclusive global policies and their implementation; and
Cooperation and coordination among humanitarian actors to improve inclusion of people with disabilities.
“The U.S. today reaffirms its long history of support for humanitarian causes, human rights, and inclusion of people with disabilities globally,” says Meer. “This Charter is completely in line with those ideals, and the U.S. endorsement sends a message to other states to do the same. This endorsement makes clear that including people with disabilities in the planning and execution of emergency relief operations worldwide is a core American value — one that Republicans and Democrats alike can be proud of.”
Endorsing the Charter is the second encouraging move that the U.S. has made in support of people with disabilities this summer. The first took place on June 20, when the U.S. voted in favor of a United Nations Security Council resolution to protect and affirm the rights of people with disabilities in armed conflict, and to ensure their access to humanitarian aid. The resolution affirms that the impact of conflict on people with disabilities is particularly high, and that all parties to conflict have the responsibility to protect all civilians, including people with disabilities, from the effects of war.
While signing the Charter is commendable, the U.S. has not yet joined international consensus on other treaties recognizing rights of people with disabilities, especially the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. President Barack Obama signed the convention in 2009, but the treaty fell five votes short of Senate ratification in 2012.
“U.S. support of this important Charter highlights a paradox,” says Meer. “The State Department today acknowledged the critical need to account for people with disabilities in crises, yet it remains for the U.S. to join international consensus on a treaty that provides an overall rights framework for people with disabilities. There’s more to be done. We take the opportunity today to call upon the Administration to resubmit the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the Senate for its advice and consent.”
The U.S. has also yet to join two international treaties banning the use of landmines and cluster munitions, weapons that injure and kill thousands of people worldwide during and after wartime (the vast majority of whom are civilians).
“The U.S. took a great step today, but we will be resolute until we see the White House and Senate commit to ratifying the treaties banning the production, stockpiling, use, and transfer of both cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines. We will celebrate when the U.S. abandons the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and signs the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”