On Monday, 19 October, the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) together with the Caribbean arm of the Council for World Mission (CWM) convened a two-day seminar on the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Twenty-one people participated.
Held at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, Guyana, the seminar included a cross-section of individuals from the Caribbean including St Kitts, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, Jamaica and the host nation, Guyana. The gathering reflected a rich diversity of human resources, some persons with disabilities, several religious leaders, community-based social workers, representatives from non-governmental organizations, teachers, medical personnel and other community leaders.
In his opening remarks, Rev. Dr Gordon Cowans, EDAN Caribbean coordinator, lamented the fact that, “the church was lagging behind when it came to addressing issues of disabilities”. He further stated that the time had come for the church to become that voice of advocacy for the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities. Dr Samuel Kabue, EDAN executive secretary, made a similar plea in his presentation. He said that it was the time for “action”. While he was pleased that many nation states had signed on to the UN convention, he noted that in some cases not much had been done by way of implementation. He drew attention to the fact that CWM had prepared and distributed among its member churches a booklet, “Affirmations: Moving beyond accommodation to affirmation and advocacy”. This is a resource for pastors and their congregations as awareness is raised and disability issues are brought to the forefront of their ministry and mission programmes.
As the main facilitator, Victoria Lee of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) introduced the CRPD and shared extensively on the CRPD Committee review process. She enlightened the gathering on drafting submissions for the committee and many other advocacy opportunities in the UN system. Highly interactive group work focused on education, health, violence and protection, and political participation of persons with disabilities.
Priscilla Owen of Montserrat reflected that Article 12 is at “the heart of the convention as it deals with equality before the law” and “human rights protection is indispensable for the exercise of other human rights”. She and others expressed the hope that as the Caribbean states strive to collaborate more effectively, the positive influence on disability issues would encourage a more coordinated effort in British-dependent territories.
Emerging from the general conversation and close interaction was a renewed focus. Angela Kissoon of Guyana concluded: “People with disabilities must be given equal opportunity to integrate into the wider society.” The seminar ended on the note that there was much work to be done by governments, civil society and members of the community of persons with disabilities to ensure that the terms of the convention become living testimony in the lives of all nations and peoples. Much was yet to be done in empowering persons with disabilities to claim their rights in the spirit of the mantra: “No decision about us without us.”