By Kebba Secka
‘Article 19’, a Non-governmental Organization (NGO) whose mandate is to defend freedom of expression and access to information, in collaboration with the Gambia Federation of the Disabled, held a day long stakeholders forum to advocate for the enactment of the Disability Rights Bill and its implementation. The objective of the forum is for draft disability rights bill to be enacted and operationalized by the end of the year, for the empowerment of the Gambia Federation for the Disabled and the enhancement of the socio-economic status of the Disabled among others. Participants explained that in the past twenty-two year rule of the former regime, rights of minorities particularly persons with disability, was side-lined and little or nothing was given to their human rights status including access to public facilities.
According to participants, it was anticipated that the democratic change of government will bring in laws, policies and institutional mechanisms that will better strengthen democracy, rule of law and the human rights of all persons as upheld by the Constitution.
In his keynote address, the Chairperson of the Gambia Federation of the Disabled Muhamed Krubally who is also a sitting Magistrate, inspired his colleagues to set the sky as the limit for their abilities. Magistrate Krubally who spoke extensively on how he excelled through the ranks to become the country’s first differently abled Magistrate said: ‘‘I now make a norm that in every gathering of the disabled, I will explain how I excelled to become the country’s first differently abled Magistrate.’’ Krubally said his federation has a total membership of more than three hundred people and these include sub-organizations that have registered under the federation for the sake of advancing the lives and livelihoods of differently abled persons by promoting and protecting their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. He commended the federation’s good relationship with Government but expressed concern on the delay of the disability rights bill at the National Assembly for enactment. “We will not be tired. We have had several engagements with Government including the Ministry of Justice but we cannot know why it has to take so long for the Bill to be taken to the National Assembly,” he complained.
The Minister of Information and Communication Ebrima Sillah on his part explained Government’s position on the Bill when the concern was put to him during a question and answer session at the National Assembly. He disclosed Government’s preparedness for the enactment of the Bill by the end of the year. ‘‘My Ministry has an important role to play in this regard. Fatou Jange Senghore, the Executive Director of Article19 and my humble self, made consultations on the Bill. Come next National Assembly sitting from September to December, the bill will be passed into Law,’’ he promised.
The European Ambassador to the Gambia Attila Lajos, in his remarks, identified Government representatives in the gathering as an assessment of Government’s preparedness to support the Bill. He narrated some of the efforts the federation did after the change of Government, geared towards supporting the draft of the disability bill, so that it can be passed into Law. He however expressed the hope that Government will respect the demands of the federation since it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, together with the European Union’s support. ‘‘The problem is not about the person with disability. The problem is with society. The longer the bill takes to be passed into Law, the more people with disability suffer,’’ he warned.
Participants were engaged in activities to advocate for the review of national policies and legislation in order to eliminate or amend those Laws that will entrench discrimination or deny any person with disability from accessing public facilities, health and education. They discussed the enhancement of the understanding of persons who are differently abled to know their rights and have skills to address issues of their rights violation. Participants took the opportunity to share experiences and made recommendations for the way forward.
The forum was funded by the European Union.