Sunday, June 23, 2024

GFD calls for more inclusion of persons with disabilities in electoral systems

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The Gambia Federation of the Disabled is the umbrella body of all registered Organizations of Persons with Disabilities in The Gambia which advocates the principles of Equalization of opportunities and has recommended more participation of persons with disabilities in the country’s electoral system.

The organization called for Full, Effective, Equal Participation and inclusion in society without distinction or discrimination of any kind.

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Below is the full statement on the recently concluded local government election and their recommendations.

Similarly, the Umbrella Body calls for respect, promotion, and protection of all the fundamental human rights of Persons with Disabilities irrespective of Race, Gender, Color, Religion, Ethnic, Social Origin, and Birth.

However, The Gambia Federation of the Disabled partnered with CSO Coalition on Elections and Election Watch Committee in the recent Councillorship election to promote the participation of Persons with Disabilities in political activities.

Unanimously, the election observers’ groups of persons with disabilities served as election observers nationwide with impeccable performance and professionalism.

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Election of the recently concluded councillors, four persons with disabilities contested as candidates, and one emerged victorious, this is the first time in the history of the Gambian’s election for such several persons with disabilities to be seen as political candidates.

This is informing the general citizenry and election authorities that persons with disabilities are interested in equally exercising their political rights. Legal Instrument on the election for persons with disabilities.

Gambia’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and its Optional Protocol in July 2015 without reservation, was a consolidation of the legal framework for promoting and protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons with disabilities.

Specifically, Article 12 provides for equal recognition of persons with disabilities before the law and Article 29(a) on the Convention and Section 55 of Persons with Disabilities Act 2021 emphasizes that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for them to vote and be elected. Gambia has enacted several electoral laws with specific provisions on disability. However, implementation has been limited; hence giving persons with disabilities minimal benefit.

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For example, the concluding observations on council elections and all previous elections highlight the inaccessibility of the voting environment for persons with disabilities, specifically wheelchair and crutches users.

Election findings on disability

Both the election observers’ bodies partnered with Gambia Federation of the Disabled revealed, “In most of the observed polling stations, persons with disabilities, pregnant/breastfeeding mothers and elderly were either assisted or given priority to vote.

However, it was also observed that accessibility for wheelchair users was a challenge”.

Inaccessibility to election booths by persons with disabilities recurred in all the elections conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission in the Gambia which is a cross violation of fundamental human rights and contradicts session 33 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.

There is a wide and strong consensus that persons with disabilities in The Gambia believe they are treated as second-class citizens and suffer tremendous discrimination in many areas-including the voting process.

Recommendations for effective participation of persons with disabilities in political activities.

✓ IEC to immediately cease discriminating against persons with disabilities in accessing polling booths. Physical accessibility to registration sites and polling stations is an issue that must be addressed.

✓ Human rights bodies, International Organizations, CSOs should all cooperate with Organizations of Persons with Disabilities in addressing cross violations of rights melted on persons with disabilities in exercising their fundamental human rights.

✓ Human rights bodies, government and non-governmental institutions in charge of electoral democracy in The Gambia should raise awareness of the CRPD.

They should specifically emphasize articles 12 and 29 and Section 55 of Persons with Disabilities Act 2021 that discuss inclusion and equality of persons with disabilities in elections and public life, particularly concerning the right to their involvement in election administration and monitoring.

✓ The ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare should be much committed to the issues of persons with disabilities in the Gambia and be in the frontline in addressing ranges of discriminations on persons with disabilities.

✓ Inventory of registration sites and polling places.

As the IEC designates registration sites, polling stations and nomination centres, each should be categorized as their accessibility for persons with disabilities so that a benchmark can be achieved for future reference.

✓ Outreach to disabled citizens. The IEC should initiate a strong voter education and public outreach program to government agencies, NGOs, CSOs, Community authorities, international organizations, Disabled Organizations to disseminate information regarding the registration period, the registration sites, polling place sites and other election- related information aimed at the general public.

However, this would include the development and distribution of promotional materials, posters, radio and TV spots, cassette tapes (for visually impaired voters) and the like such material should be produced in Braille, and also recognize the special needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community.
✓ Securing technical assistance.

To help facilitate the implementation of these goals, the IEC should invite international organizations and technical experts to assist in the continued development of programs designed to provide political access to people with disabilities.

✓ In order to implement many of these recommendations effectively, adequate funding is necessary for both IEC and GFD.

Gambia Federation of the disabled representing the disabled Organizations operate with little or no funding and in locations that are indescribable by providing sub-grants to local disability groups to focus exclusively on facilitating the participation of persons with disabilities in the election, such groups would not have to take resources away from other priorities.

There are several conclusions derived from this intentional violation of political rights of persons with disabilities in the Gambia.

One of these is that a variety of international and national legal instruments safeguard the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities to participate in electoral processes in The Gambia.

However, their implementation is still a challenge, which can be attributed to some of their provisions not being disability-specific as well as there being insufficient resource allocation to the preparation and organization of disability-inclusive elections.

Another conclusion that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 21 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) Article 25 guarantees is that everyone has a right to take part in the governance of their country, directly or through free-chosen representatives; and the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of will of the electors.

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