Failure to acknowledge disabled people’s right to employment

Beirut, Lebanon –:24 June 2004 –“You are welcome but you won’t get it,” said Father Ayoub El Said, summarizing the response disabled people get when they demand the application of Law No. 220 and other basic necessities from the government. Father El Said was one of hundreds of people who gathered on Wednesday, June 16, 2004, on crutches and in wheel chairs, to sing about their rights and list their demands on signs and printed posters. The disabled people who demonstrated were joined by representatives from more than 60 organizations, including disabled rights groups; civil associations; women’s and young people’s groups; and development organizations.

Their first demand was the implementation of Law No. 220, ratified in 2000. This law establishes a quota for the hiring of disabled people in public institutions and in the private sector. “If I don’t get the chance to work in the public sector because I am disabled, how am I supposed to admonish the private sector if it does not enforce the law and give me the chance to work?” said Dr. Fawzi Ariji to Human Rights Media (HRM).

The government still hasn’t implemented the four year old law. In a statement given by Silvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union, associations of the disabled and civil organizations said the following: “We are gathered here in a sit-in before the parliament where, four years ago, Law No. 220 enshrining the rights of the disabled was issued… According to the Lebanese constitution, the government is held accountable for its work by the parliament. We have come here to stage a sit-in because the government has spent four years ignoring laws related to the disabled, and because the ministries did not answer our demands that they fulfill their responsibilities as stipulated in the law. We have come here after four years during which the poverty, marginalization, unemployment, illiteracy, and human rights violations against disabled people only grew. People say that poverty is increasingly affecting all citizens; we say that we accept equality. But the poverty to which we are subject transgresses human dignity, and results from a failure to acknowledge our rights as citizens. But unemployment of disabled people is not due to the lack of job opportunities, but to the unequal opportunities and the absence of rehabilitation on one hand, and to a failure to acknowledge disabled people’s right to employment on the other hand. They say the government is paralyzed on all levels; we ask then why is it so active in doling out personal and selective benefits, and why in holding electoral campaigns? They say we are not a priority. Well, if the interests of poor and marginalized social classes are not the priority of a government, then this government should be dismissed. That’s why we ask the parliament to convene an extraordinary session to investigate the government’s disregard for and refusal to implement Law No. 220 enforcing disabled people’s rights.

This law was intended to effect social change and progress on several levels, for the benefit of all people, not only the disabled. This law would lead primarily to:
-moving from care based exclusively on voluntary outeach to a society built on the principles of human rights, equality, and equal opportunities.
-moving from the marginalization and isolation of the disabled to their complete integration into the economy and the life of the society.

Do these goals really serve disabled people alone or do they also promote social and economic development for the whole society? We call on the parliament to ask the government to explain the reasons behind its disregard for the law on the rights of the disabled and its justification for hindering the implementation of the law. The parliament should also find out if this disregard stems from the absence of adequate political will to support the social and economic development of the disabled class. (…)

Health and hospitalization issues constitute an endless source of suffering. As for tax exemptions, the financial violations and breaches are too great to enumerate with the ink from a single pen. Yet we read in the newspapers about Lebanon’s impressive human rights record, which is lauded in international human rights assemblies.

Where do we stand on the issue of these rights? You keep talking about democracy and you participate in Arab and international summits, yet you prevent us from influencing our country’s policies and you eliminate us from our country’s map. We strongly denounce the fact that union bodies did not intervene to put an end to the breaches and flagrant neglect of Law No. 220. We assert that this issue is purely one of dignity, rights and economic justice and that if it is not dealt with, it will have negative effects not only on disabled people – effects which are alone sufficient reason for change – but also on the poverty rate in the country. It will also constitute an economic burden. Therefore, honoring the rights of the disabled must be a priority issue. We came here to raise our voices aloud and say: ‘The parliament should bring the government to account and start asking it to implement the law relevant to the rights of the disabled in order to enforce upon the government its role and responsibilities.'”

Many MPs mingled with demonstrators and made several promises, like that of Minister of Finance Fouad Sanioura who reiterated the necessity of the cooperation between the Ministries of Labor and Finance. Before the end of the sit-in, Speaker Nabih Beri reached the Parliament square. Demonstrators quickly surrounded him and asked him for the reason behind the delay in implementing the law. He made promises and asserted that the disabled are the honor of the country, adding that “The true disability is in the government.” Responding to a question regarding whether an extraordinary session will be held to investigate the government’s failure to implement the law, he said, “The government is used to beating around the bush, but with God’s will, the session will be held as soon as possible.” People who participated in the sit-in can do nothing but wait until the promises are fulfilled, something that will not happen before the end of the parliament’s summer vacation.