It was recently I had an opportunity to visit Mauritius and interact with the warm people there. My interaction was mostly with people with disabilities ands their organizations. There struggles and challenges seemed to be the same as ours and their advocacy movement had familiar traits. I for one felt very at home and one with them.
It was during our discussions while preparing a stakeholders report from the Universal Periodic Review of Mauritius did we realise that Mauritius while ratifying the convention had three reservations. The more I think of these reservations the more amazed I get by how the State could ratify on one side and make these reservations they did on the other sides. The reservations seem to go against the principles of the convention. I cannot help but express myself aloud my opinion of these reservations on people with disabilities in Mauritius with a Disclaimer that I am not an expert in human right law and the expression is solely my thoughts.
At the time when the State signed the convention in 2007 put a reservation on Article 11 Situations of risks and Humanitarian Emergencies. The state said that "The Government of the Republic of Mauritius (…) does not consider itself bound to take measures specified in article 11 unless permitted by domestic legislation expressly providing for the taking of such measures."
What this reservation seems to imply is that the State will not take any measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters unless their domestic law specially suggests that they must provide them protection and safety to persons with disabilities. So would this on ground mean that at the time of an emergency the State will protect all other people except persons with disabilities? More over with this reservation there is an implication on Article 9 1(b) that talks about removing barriers to make emergency services accessible.
For accessibility they say - “The Republic of Mauritius declares that it shall not for the time being take any of the measures provided for in Articles 9.2 (d) and (e) in view of their heavy financial implication.”
Accessibility for all persons with disabilities is a pre-requisite for their inclusion. Without making provision for accessibility realization of a number of articles in the convention including living independently, education, employment, sports and culture, personal mobility, access to justice etc. is not possible. Accessibility is one of the cross cutting articles and is also one of the general principles; hence a reservation on any aspect of accessibility will effect most other articles.
Article 9 2(d) talks about making public signage available in public places available in braille and in easy to read formats. And article 9 2(e) talks about availability of live assistance and intermediaries such as sign language interpreters, scribes, and readers etc. to make facilities more accessible.
These reservations create discrimination between the disability constituencies as signage in Braille is largely used by blind persons and easy to read formats is most required for persons with intellectual disabilities. Also while live assistance and intermediaries may required by any person with disabilities, but they are very much required for Deaf persons, blind persons and deafblind persons to enable them to have access to information and be able to communicate effectively.
Reservations to these two articles would have an adverse effect on the implementation of Article 21 of the convention that apart from other things talks about recognition and promotion of sign language and braille to enable all persons with disabilities to have freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information.
Additionally “heavy financial implication” as a reason for these reservations seems unfair considering that article 4.2 of the convention requires the state to a use to maximum of its available resources to progressively achieve full realization of economic social and cultural rights and without accessibility these rights cannot be achieved. Considering that implementation has to be achieved progressively and not be achieved overnight then why have the reservations at all.
With regard Education, they have a reservation to Article 24.2 (b), the Republic of Mauritius has a policy of inclusive education which is being implemented incrementally alongside special education.”
In discussion the DPO’s expressed that while education is free for all children but for children with disabilities since they are admitted only to special schools run by NGO’s, they were required to pay some amount towards their education for books, special aids etc. Moreover since few communities have special schools there is an additional transport costs that parents of children with disabilities have to incur. This transport costs are high as the bus company charged for the entire year including the holidays.
Children with disabilities having to pay for what is free for other children is discriminatory. Moreover inclusive education is not being incrementally provided as claimed by the state and how can it be if there is a reservation to Article 9.2(e). For inclusion in schools there is a definite need for live assistance and intermediary services.
Having put a reservation on the article 24.2(4) that says “Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;” the State seems to have comfortably abstained from its duty to provide inclusive education. Special education is highly prevalent and that too not available in the child’s community. Moreover special education is of poor quality and costs money to children with disabilities. It seems difficult that this situation will change in the near future as by making this reservation the state seems to have boldly stated their plan to continue with special education and discriminatory practices.
The first step towards inclusion must be for the State to not have such reservations. These reservations make their intent clear hence it is important for the DPO’s to advocate and have these reservations taken away thereby, taking a step closer to progressively achieving full inclusion of all persons with disabilities.