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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reflections on Human Rights Day

I’ve had a busy week and today we marked the end of disability week by celebrating International Human Rights Day, which falls on the 10th December. Indeed, this day becomes more significant since we now have a brand new UN Convention protecting our rights as disabled people. Every year, we hold a parliamentary session where disabled people and parents are given the chance to speak to politicians. This event is also broadcast live on the local national TV channel (TVM).

Yes, there’s a lot to celebrate. Much has changed since we were locked in institutions, or undignified and devalued as humans – which comprised having our bodies subject to medical scrutiny and our souls judged by dubious theological doctrines. We are not products of sin, or else, defective examples of humanity... Not having either a sex or an individual identity. Indeed, we have come a long way…

or have we?

Yes and no. My quality of life, as a disabled person, is often affected by the decisions my country’s government takes. Fortunately, Malta is in the process of ratifying the UN Convention rights of Disabled People But, of course, presently, I still have to fight to secure my right to be part of this society. And it’s sometimes exhausting. Access to Transport, information and services remain problems for me as a visually impaired wheelchair user. And it doesn’t stop there.

I find it disturbing that we still hear politicians speaking of ‘economic hardships’ when we demand our rights to be respected. And the ‘economic burden’ we seem to pose helps justify our elimination. Do pre-natal screening and abortion ring a bell? Or euthanasia? And when you’re already been subject to countless ‘professionals’ putting you down because of your body, clerics speaking of you in the third person, and economists calculating how much you will cost the state. Then you wonder… Is it worth living?

The answer remains yes. Yet, apart from the injustices perpetrated in the minority world (or developed countries), which have included institutionalisation (such as Czech republic), faced sterilisation (such as Australia, US and others) the greatest injustices prevail in the majority world. The issue is not just about disabled people but it affects all people who have to face endless wars, famine and poverty. Not to mention deal with the effects of more potent diseases. And we give? Very little aid and no solutions to rectify our historical injustices - the effects of a minority world that has exploited foreign natural resources, instrumetaised country’s geographical positions and are contributing to massive pollution and waste.

To top it all, we also call people living in the majority world,’less fortunate’ – as if luck had everything to do with their situation. I remember being referred to as ‘less fortunate’ myself because of my impairment but then I realised that we as individuals and as a society often create disability, as we create the realities of poverty and ignore injustice. Admittedly, I have been guilty of trampling over the rights of others myself (knowingly or unintentionally) but the fact remains that if I do not respect the rights of others, I cannot expect others to respect mine.

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