CAR

Central African Republic: People With Disabilities Left Behind

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Aid Agencies Should Include Them in Planning; Meet Basic Needs

(Nairobi, April 28, 2015) – People with disabilities in the Central African Republic were often left behind and struggled to flee to safety when their communities came under the brutal attacks by armed groups beginning in 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. When they did reach sites for internally displaced people, they faced difficulties accessing sanitation, food, and medical assistance. Human Rights Watch released a new video in which people with disabilities described their struggles during the conflict.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to renew the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic on April 28, 2015. The mandate is expected to include for the first time a specific requirement to pay particular attention to the needs of people with disabilities, and to report and prevent abuses against them.

“One of the untold stories of the recent conflict in the Central African Republic is the isolation, abandonment, and neglect of people with disabilities,” said Kriti Sharma, disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council’s action will help ensure greater visibility to the needs of people with disabilities.”

Human Rights Watch briefed a number of Security Council members, UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations on our findings. One senior UN official familiar with the emergency response in Central African Republic told Human Rights Watch: “We don’t pay enough attention to the issue of disability. We should be doing more. There is no place for discrimination in humanitarian action.”

The Central African Republic has been in acute crisis since early 2013, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a campaign characterized by widespread killing of civilians, burning and looting of homes, and other serious crimes. In mid-2013, groups calling themselves the anti-balaka organized to fight against the Seleka. The anti-balaka carried out large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui, the capital, and western parts of the country. Thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced during the conflict, including people with disabilities.

“During the war, people with disabilities lost everything; their wheelchairs, their homes, their livelihoods,” Simplice Lenguy, president of the group representing people with disabilities in the M’Poko camp for internally displaced people in Bangui, told Human Rights Watch. “Going back to our neighborhoods is going to be impossible without significant support from humanitarian organizations.”

“People with disabilities will need support to rebuild homes, get food and medical care, and create income-generating activities,” he said. People in the M’Poko camp were expected to begin leaving voluntarily as early as April 24. Aid and support services for people with disabilities will be especially important as the transitional government begins to close down displacement camps and help people to return home.

From January 13 to 20 and from April 2 to 14, Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 people in Bangui, Boyali, Yaloké, Bossemptélé, and Kaga Bandoro, including 30 with physical, sensory, psychosocial, or developmental disabilities; their families; government officials; diplomats; and representatives of aid agencies and local disabled persons organizations.

Human Rights Watch found that at least 96 people with disabilities had been abandoned or were unable to escape and that 11 were killed in Bangui, Boyali, Yaloké, and Bossemptélé. The figure is probably a fraction of the total. Most spent days or weeks, and in a few cases up to a month, in deserted neighborhoods or villages with little food or water. People with physical or sensory disabilities interviewed, especially those who were abandoned, were often unable to negotiate the unfamiliar and uneven terrain without assistance.

Hamamatou, a 13-year-old girl from the town of Guen in southwestern Central African Republic who had polio, told Human Rights Watch that her brother carried her on his back when their village was attacked until he got too tired to continue. “I told him, ‘Souleymane, put me down and save yourself,’” she said. “He said he would come back for me if they didn’t kill him.” He never came back.

When anti-balaka fighters found her two weeks later, Hamamatou described what happened: “The fighters said, ‘We have found an animal. Let’s finish it off.’” Another anti-balaka soldier intervened to save her life.

Father Bernard Kinvi, director of the Bossemptélé Catholic hospital, 300 kilometers northwest of Bangui, said that he and his fellow priests spent days looking for survivors following a massacre of some 80 people by the anti-balaka militia in January 2014, and that 17 out of the 50 people left behind in Bossemptélé were people with disabilities. Among them was an elderly blind woman who was left for dead and who spent five days lying in the riverbed among several corpses; a young boy with polio he found hiding five days after the massacre; and an elderly man who had lost his feet and hands to leprosy found abandoned in his home several days after the massacre.

The gravity of the crisis in the Central African Republic, coupled with the alarming number of humanitarian emergencies globally, has resulted in an overwhelming burden on aid agencies. Although the United Nations has categorized the situation in the Central African Republic as one of the gravest by its standards, the country has not received adequate humanitarian funding. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), since the beginning of 2015, the Central African Republic has received about US$126 million, less than 20 percent of the $613 million its strategic response plan calls for.

With limited aid available, aid agencies were often unable to address the specific challenges faced by people with disabilities. Of the eight UN and nongovernmental aid agencies Human Rights Watch interviewed, none were systematically collecting data on people with disabilities, and their needs were not fully included in the agencies’ programming.

The United Nations, nongovernmental aid agencies, and the transitional government should take into account the needs of people with disabilities in their response to the crisis and include people with disabilities themselves in their planning and decision-making processes, Human Rights Watch said. For this critical work to take place, it is essential for donors to invest in disability-inclusive humanitarian efforts.

Humanitarian agencies and the transitional government should begin to systematically collect data on people with disabilities to include them in policy decisions and assistance programs. People with disabilities should be included in the Bangui Forum, a national dialogue slated to take place from May 4-10. The government should also take steps to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in elections scheduled for August.

“People with disabilities are too often overlooked by aid groups and peacekeeping missions seeking to help the victims of conflict,” Sharma said. “The UN and aid agencies should train their staff to make sure people with disabilities have equal access to all services in the camps and in their communities as they return home.”

For more details on the situation for people with disabilities in Central African Republic, please see below.

To read a witness piece, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/node/134605

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Central African Republic, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/africa/central-african-republic

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on disability rights, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/topic/disability-rights

To download raw footage and photos: http://multimedia.hrw.org/distribute/lcpnwhmyqr

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