ERITREA: Respecting Persons with Disabilities

By Simon Weldemichael

Disabilities of all kinds have been part of humankind and the responses of societies towards people with disabilities have been varied.

Some societies welcome and accept their citizens with disabilities and others reject them. Disability can generally be defined as a physical or mental impairment which has adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Disability is associated with multidimensional issues comprising health, social, economic and human rights. Disability does not just affect the individual. It impacts the whole community.

In 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the standard rules on the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities aimed at facilitating for member states to adopt policies and programs to achieve full participation of and equality for persons with disabilities. The government of Eritrea is committed to achieve the sustainable development goals and agreed principles aimed at significantly reducing poverty and speed up the pace of socio-economic and human development of the Eritrean society.

In regard to disability, poverty is both a cause and consequence. Poverty and disability strengthen each other and they contribute to the vulnerability and exclusion of the affected people. The cost of excluding people with disabilities from taking active part in community life is unbearable. People with disabilities can be productive and active members of the society. The issue of disability should also be seen from human rights perspective. A society that denies people with disabilities the right to participate and contribute in the community has difficulty attaining prosperity and liberty. Welcoming and accepting people with disabilities are a manifestation of a civilized culture. A society that has a tendency to discriminate against people with disabilities cannot win victory in the fight against poverty. The government of Eritrea encourages the full and effective participation and inclusion of the entire society.

In addition to the natural cause, the thirty-year war for liberation and the twenty years of resistance against the TPLF aggression left Eritrea with many people with disabilities. War caused a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of thousands of Eritreans. After independence the majority of the disabled veterans were released from active duty and began to lead civilian life. The government demobilized them and made efforts to enable them become productive members of the society. To address the physical or mental injury caused by the war demands a coordinated effort.

The people of Eritrea have great respect for the war disabled veterans and always honors all the great service rendered for liberty and security. It is indeed the duty of the society to respect and serve the people with disabilities who gave so much of themselves to the freedom we enjoy today. Their sacrifices have given the rest of the society the security and peace in the country, and preserved and protected the human rights and dignity of all Eritreans. To respect and serve those who gave unrestricted service for the people and the country is the obligation of the present and future generations of Eritrea.

In Eritrea, the government and the people recognize the rights of persons with physical or mental disabilities, in particular their right to be treated with respect and dignity. Within the limits of the resources available to them, they attempt to assist persons with physical or mental disabilities to achieve their full potential and to minimize the disadvantages suffered by them. The people and government of Eritrea are working to develop programs for the welfare of persons with disabilities, especially work programs consistent with their capabilities. Eritrean television has taken initiatives to translate the programs into sign language to create suitable communication for persons with disabilities. The government encourages the establishment of organizations that represent people with d i s a b i l i t i e s . Up until now various organizations that aim at improving the quality of life of persons with all forms of disabilities have been formed t a r g e t i n g Eritrean war veterans who are visually impaired or have hearing problems and people with mental disabilities. In order to fight for inclusion, people with disabilities need to live in environments in which they are empowered. Eritreans with disabilities are encouraged to organize themselves to claim their rights. The government has supported citizens with disabilities to be included in all aspects of life.

The government and people of Eritrea must continue to give respect, honor and recognition to the war disabled veterans who sustained injury in the war for liberation and defense of independence. The continuous contribution of Eritreans from diaspora to enhance the welfare of Eritreans with disabilities is worth mentioning here. The government opened a school for the visually impaired citizens in Asmara and a school for the citizens with hearing problems in Keren. It also conducts campaigns to raise awareness throughout the society regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for their rights and dignity. The coordinated consciousness raising campaign undertaken at all levels of the society have helped eliminate stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices related to persons with disabilities.

In Eritrea, there is a famous maxim that was developed and popularized during the country’s long struggle for liberation that indicates the value of human beings. It goes on to say Zeyteqm sebn haXinn yelen, roughly translated as there is no useless human being and metal. The capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities have long been recognized in Eritrea. EPLF’s war disabled fighters were at the center of the struggle performing various tasks including military duty. In Eritrea policies related to rehabilitation, prevention, anti-discrimination law and individual support are clearly stated in documents issued by the government. The government is committed to equitable distribution of wealth, services and opportunities to all citizens. With all the economic constraint in place, a special attention is paid to the disadvantaged sections of the society. We should not be content with the current level of receptiveness and positive perception towards persons with disabilities. The media and the curriculum should continue to portray persons with disabilities in a way that promotes their skills and abilities and their contributions to the society. Persons with disabilities are citizens and we should give them equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Exclusion or discrimination is the ditches that bury solutions.