Across the world, more than one billion people – or 15% of the world’s population – live with disabilities. They face significant barriers to realizing their human rights, including discrimination in education, employment, housing and transport; denial of the right to vote; and being stripped of the right to make decisions about their own lives, including their reproductive choices. Individuals with physical, sensory, intellectual and mental disabilities often face increased violence, yet they remain invisible in their communities. Governments fail to protect their rights, and make access to redress difficult.
Over the past few years, Human Rights Watch has become a pioneer in mainstreaming disability rights within the broader human rights agenda, and is seen by disability rights experts and disability rights organizations as an important partner in global advocacy efforts. In more than 25 countries, our work has addressed a broad range of issues such as violence against women and children with disabilities, access to education and health care, institutionalization, legal capacity, political participation and the impact of armed conflict. Through our global advocacy, we have pressed for broader ratification and implementation of the groundbreaking Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and stronger protections for people with disabilities worldwide. Specifically, we have monitored legal reform processes in a number of countries and incorporated disability rights concerns in our advocacy on such issues as violence against children and abusive treatment in health care. This brochure highlights Human Rights Watch’s growing body of work and advocacy to uphold the rights of people with disabilities around the world.
Disability Rights in Institutions and Places of Detention
Under the presumption of mental disability, countless
individuals around the world languish in psychiatric institutions
for years, some without adequate access to mental health
services, personal hygiene, or even water. Conditions in such
institutions are rife with mistreatment, including verbal abuse
and beatings, forced treatment, lack of medication, and use
of restraints and confinement as punishment. Our long-term
goal is a systematic shift in the treatment of people with mental
disabilities from institutionalization to community integration.
Political Participation and Access to Justice
Lack of access to civil, political and economic rights for people
with disabilities – including the right to a fair hearing, to vote,
marry, seek employment, and access health services – is
commonplace worldwide. As Human
Watch’s country specific research has shown over recent years, deprivation of
legal capacity or the right to make decisions about one’s own
life – profoundly impacts people with disabilities.
many countries, national laws treat persons with disabilities as
unequal citizens, sometimes allowing them fewer rights than
This body of work underscores that no citizen should be
denied their civil and political rights on the basis of a disability.
One Billion Children with Disabilities Forgotten
There are 120 to 150 million children with
disabilities under the age of 18 worldwide.
Watch has found that children with
disabilities are denied access to school, subjected
to corporal punishment and other forms of
physical violence, and face segregation in schools,
institutions and places of detention.
attention to these abuses, our goal is to ensure that
children with disabilities are no longer excluded and
abused, and instead enjoy the same rights as all
Women and Disabilities
Women with disabilities experience multiple
discrimination – as a result of their disability
and gender – and face a heightened risk of
physical and sexual violence. Many factors
contribute to this risk, including limitations
in physical mobility, communication barriers,
isolation, and common myths that persons
with disabilities are weak or asexual. In many
countries, an alarming number of women
with disabilities continue to be denied
reproductive and sexual rights through the
practice of forced sterilization. Our goal is to
bring an end to violence and discrimination
against women with disabilities worldwide.