Disability and Armed Conflict: episode 3

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attend a "class" on the peace process between them and the government  Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attend a "class" on the peace process between them and the government © AFP/Luca Acosta

in Focus by Barbara Caltabiano

According to its Political Constitution of 1991, Colombia grants its citizens protection, even those with disabilities. In particular, article 13 states that the State is obliged to “protect those individuals who on account of their economic, physical, or mental condition are in obviously vulnerable circumstances” and to “sanction the abuses or ill-treatment perpetrated against them”.

Are these provisions actually implemented? What is the situation in the protracted conflict in Colombia and what is its impact on people with disabilities? The third episode of Disability and Armed Conflict will try to answer these questions, focusing on a case study, issued by the Geneva Academy, analysing the impact of the Colombian conflict on persons with disabilities.

First and foremost, the more than 50-year long armed conflict in the Latin-American country caused millions of victims, particularly in rural areas. Approximately 220,000 people have been killed, and more than seven million Colombians have been displaced. Not to mention the thousands of people that were wounded, mutilated, tortured, kidnapped or deprived of their land.

Disability in Colombia is still mostly considered on a medical-model basis and is therefore under-inclusive. The identification of disability is thus underreported, due to the longstanding stigma and particular exclusion of the group, which further contributes to the lack of accurate figures concerning the number of people with disabilities in Colombia. Nevertheless, stakeholders tend to agree that it should exceed 7 million people. In addition, Colombia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2011.

Even though Colombia is a party to the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, in this country persons with disabilities can be denied equal recognition before the law. Indeed, a guardian may be appointed by a judge to make legal decisions on behalf of a person with disability, clearly violating his/her right to enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis. In addition, limited external documentation of the conduct of hostilities and on the current conditions under which people with disabilities live further prevents an aggregated analysis. The Geneva Academy research team managed to carry out structured interviews, finding out that on the one side, violations such as sexual violence, deprivation of liberty, looting and the use of anti-personnel mines have been consistently perpetrated during conflict; on the other, they have also caused physical and/or psycho-social disabilities, while exacerbating pre-existing disabilities.

Among the most outrageous violations, forced sterilisation of women and girls with disability is a common practice, especially in war scenarios, and is even allowed by Colombian law, in clear violation of the CRPD. This violation has been linked with facilitating sexual violence within families. In addition, persons with disabilities have been largely excluded from peace talks and are still ignored in the implementation of the peace agreement. There is still no inclusiveness for post-conflict integration and development plans for people with disability. More specifically, those with psycho-social and intellectual impairments remain invisible members of the society.

In conclusion, there are several gaps in the information regarding the impact of conflict on people with disabilities and their needs. In particular, disaggregated data is needed to help assess Colombia’s implementation of the CRPD and to further point out what barriers people with disabilities face when accessing their rights. Rather than accommodating them, the narrative still excessively focuses on “curing” or “rehabilitating” people with disabilities. The lack of implementation of the CRPD in Colombia is also due to the consistent movement of IDPs with disability, the remote locations where these people live, as well as insecurity, corruption, and lack of infrastructure and disability expertise.  



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