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Why Cabinet sits on vital policy document

Publishing Date : 23 March, 2015

Author : FRANCINAH BAAITSE

 
The Botswana government has not ratified the United Nations (UN) convention on People with Disabilities (PWD) and it has emerged that the country is not ready to domesticate the protocol nine years on for fear that it may violate  the set rules.

The Executive Director of the Botswana Council for Disabled, Sekgabo Ramsay says the government excuse for not domesticating the convention is that “the system is not ready.”

“If the government ratify the convention, it would be required to domesticate it and therefore bound to comply with it. The government could easily be sued by people with disability if for some reasons it offends the convention, but we have to lobby and advocate for the ratification regardless of whether they are ready or not. If we wait they (government) will never be ready,” Ramsay further explained.

As the world celebrates the human rights Month this March, the eyes of the country’s human rights groups such as BCD and the Botswana Network on Law and AIDS (BONELA) are on whether the government would take a step closer to ratifying the convention which seeks to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

Persons with disabilities according to the convention include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
“We are outraged by the fact that Botswana has not signed the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

As a result Botswana does not have a specific disability law. The National Disability Policy of 1996 has been under review for more than two years. The absence of a policy and legislative framework to acknowledge disability as a human right, has resulted in a fragmented response to disability issues including addressing the needs of persons with disabilities,” added another human rights activist, Cindy Kelemi who is the Director of BONELA.

The review on the 1996 national policy on disability was completed and submitted to Cabinet about two years ago and it is yet to be brought before Parliament and Kelemi is of the view that the policy could provide a conducive environment for minority groups to claim their rights.

“While we acknowledge that significant strides have been made to address the needs of persons with disabilities, a lot more still needs to be done and having a policy in place will be a good starting point. We need to increase efforts to raise awareness about disability issues, empower people with disabilities to actively participate in the political, social, economic, cultural and religious discourse and creating strategic partnerships to advance the rights of persons with disabilities,” Kelemi added.

Kelemi’s contention is that without disability specific legislation in place, the ability of government to protect the people living with disability is quite limited and the prospects of the future of the disadvantaged group depend on the ability and willingness of public officers to implement the existing policies.

Although the government has not ratified the convention in question, it has put up disability programmes in different Ministries and an office directly dealing with disability under the Office of the President. However, Kelemi is not happy with the office’s performance and is disappointed that it has failed to convince the Minister of Presidential Affairs to take the policy to Parliament to date.

“We were truly elated when the office of disability was established under the office of the president. We had hoped that the office will be able to advocate for persons with disabilities from within government. We had hoped that the Disability Office will work towards ensuring that Government of Botswana signs the UN Convention on the rights for persons with disability which is legally binding in nature. But we are disappointed that this office is only limited to coordination, integration and resource mobilisation. While these activities are critically important, as long as we do not have a conducive policy and legal environment these efforts will remain futile. As long as disability issues are not addressed from a human rights approach, we will continuously experience problems,” Kelemi pointed out.


BONELA and the Botswana Council of the Disabled remain committed to advocating for ratification of this convention and will continue to engage with government on this issue. Meanwhile the current session of Parliament closes in less than two weeks time and the policy issue is not in the agenda. The next session only comes in July this year.


The Coordinator in the office of People living with disability, under the office of the President, Thomas Motingwa was yet to respond to Weekend Post enquiries at the time of going to print.

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