Peace agreements hold much promise for promoting the interests of persons with disabilities, but they can be equally destructive. For meaningful impact, provisions addressing disability are but an initial step, writes Dr Sean Molloy in his new report, Peace Agreements and Persons with Disabilities. Sean Molloy is an Associate of the PSRP and a Research Associate at Newcastle Law School.
Persons with disabilities routinely face discrimination, marginalisation and isolation in all contexts. The effects are exacerbated in situations of emergency or armed conflict, where persons with disabilities are at increased risk of acute harm, gross human rights violations, and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Armed conflict has a particularly devastating and disproportionate impact on persons with disabilities, in all phases of conflict and its consequences: for persons in conflict zones; for those fleeing conflict; and for those in post-conflict situations or dealing with the aftermath of conflict.
In theory, peace agreements can go some way in helping to ensure that persons with disabilities are supported in peace building efforts and post-conflict societies more generally. A new PSRP report examines how peace agreements to date have included persons with disabilities. It distinguishes between two broad groups: provisions addressing non-conflict related disability and persons with disability arising from conflict.
Provisions addressing non-conflict related disability
Provisions addressing non-conflict related disability target those with disabilities that preceded conflict and which do not arise as a result of it. Included in this category are provisions on: humanitarian assistance and protection; political inclusion and empowerment, which includes inclusion in peace processes, inclusion in state institutions and provisions supporting the ability for persons with disabilities to participate in the democratic process. In addition, provisions also include those on socioeconomic empowerment, covering such things as non-discrimination, access to education, employment and social security and health.
Persons with disability arising from conflict
The second category refers to those with disabilities because of conflict. Provisions targeting this group include reintegration and rehabilitation, support to persons with disability and their families, funding arrangements regarding programmes addressing those with injuries from conflict and compensation and reparations. The new report unpacks these categories, offering examples from different peace agreements.
Potential Lessons and Obstacles for the Future?
Alongside the potential of peace agreements to lay the foundations for laws, policies and programmes aimed at supporting persons with disabilities, peace agreement provisions help to identify different issues that must be addressed as part of an inclusive peace process. These include the need for early intervention, the importance of political, economic and social empowerment and efforts to ensure the reintegration of those with disability after conflict.
At the same time, peace agreements are far from panaceas and can potentially exacerbate the challenges facing persons with disability once conflict ends. Firstly, relatively few peace agreements have include provisions on disability. In those cases that do, disempowering language can perpetuate discrimination and perceptions of persons with disability as helpless victims. There is often a tendency to treat persons with disability as a homogenous group, overlooking intersectional differences or the lived realities of those at the national, sub-national and local levels.
In short, while peace agreements hold much promise for promoting the interests of persons with disability, they can be equally destructive. For meaningful impact, provisions addressing disability are but an initial step. More important is identifying the manner in which these provisions are included, the language used and their ability to translate into empowerment. An ample starting point would be to ensure the active participation of persons with disability from different social strata in peace negotiations, peace agreements and implementation efforts.
Read the full report: Peace Agreements and Persons with Disabilities