Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Examines Report of Sudan
Twenty-three laws had been identified to be brought in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Sudan on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Presenting the report, Idris Ibrahim Gamil Agame, Minister of Justice of Sudan, explained that since the ratification of the Convention, Sudan had made huge strides towards adopting a human rights-based rather than medical approach to disability. Some of the latest developments included the enactment of the amended Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017, replacing the previous Persons with Disabilities Act of 2009. Twenty-three laws had been identified to be brought in line with the Convention, while 12 other laws were also being studied, included the Medical Insurance Act. Persons with disabilities had taken part in the national social dialogue to achieve peace and security in Sudan, whereas the Government had made strenuous efforts to incorporate disability in all ministry plans, in partnership with organizations representing persons with disabilities. The Government had also created the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, overseen by the President and half of whose membership represented members of organizations of persons with disabilities. However, the country had faced many obstacles that hampered its efforts in the field of human rights, such as the unilateral coercive measures imposed for more than two decades. Those measures hindered the realization of basic rights for the Sudanese population, which was why Sudan looked to the support of specialized United nations agencies, Mr. Agame noted.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the submission of an alternative report by civil society, the Government’s efforts to domesticate the Convention, adopt the revised version of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017, and to restructure the National Council for Disabilities in 2010. However, they expressed concern that the new Persons with Disabilities Act was not sufficiently in line with the Convention because it lacked provisions which prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. Experts also pointed out to the dominance of substitute decision-making as opposed to supported decision-making, inadequate care for women and girls with disabilities, violence against women and children with disabilities, existence of corporal punishment, forced medical treatment, female genital mutilation, intersectional discrimination, use of derogatory terms about disability, lack of statistical data, reasonable accommodation, awareness raising programmes about the Convention, active participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life, access to justice and legal assistance, the right to marry, the status and use of the sign language, protection of refugees and displaced persons with disabilities, provisions for independent living, voting rights, inclusive education, employment, healthcare, inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction plans, international cooperation projects and plans to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.
In his concluding remarks, Minister Agame clarified that there was no legal requirement that a person with disability have a guardian. Only in the case of commitment, would a child with disability or a person with intellectual require the consent of the guardian. He reminded that Sudan had declared 2018 the year of disability to shed light on the issues of persons with disabilities.
Martin Babu Mwesigwa, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sudan, thanked the delegation for a very enriching dialogue, noting that many misconceptions about disability persisted, as exemplified by the debate in Sudan whether persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities should be granted full rights. He expressed hope that the dialogue would enable the Government of Sudan to work with all persons with disabilities to implement the Convention in a holistic manner.
Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for coming to the Committee with an open mind and heart. She expressed hope that 2018 as the year of disability in Sudan would be used to reflect on the dialogue and to repeal substitute decision-making.
The delegation of Sudan included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, and of the Permanent Mission of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today (February 22, 2018) at 3 p.m. to consider the initial report of Slovenia.
The initial report of Sudan can be read here: CRPD/C/SDN/1.
Presentation of Report
IDRIS IBRAHIM GAMIL AGAME, Minister of Justice of Sudan, said that human rights were a lofty and noble goal for the Government of Sudan. Those principles were harbored in all the aspects of the political and social life in the country. Sudan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol in April 2009. The initial report was prepared in the basis of a participatory approach, reflecting the views of a broad spectrum of society. The Government had adopted an approach of objectivity and transparency in the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. Since the ratification of the Convention, Sudan had made huge strides towards adopting a human rights-based rather than medical approach to disability. Some of the latest developments included the enactment of the amended Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017, replacing the previous Persons with Disabilities Act of 2009. Twenty-three laws had been identified to be brought in line with the Convention, while 12 other laws were also being studied, included the Medical Insurance Act. Persons with disabilities had taken part in the national social dialogue in order to achieve peace and security in Sudan. The Government had made strenuous efforts to incorporate disability in all ministry plans, in partnership with organizations representing persons with disabilities. Conferences and meetings had been held to discuss the incorporation of disability in the work of ministries throughout 2016, leading to the submission of many proposals to the President. Those efforts had resulted in the adoption of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017.
The country had developed a national foundation for artificial limbs, which offered prosthetics for persons with disabilities at a reduced cost. All assistive devices and prosthetics for persons with disabilities had been exempt from taxation. The Government was currently working on a law to establish accessibility standards for architectural design. Persons with disabilities had taken part in the elections of 2015; seven of them had won in the elections and one of them headed the Legislative Council in the northern province. The Government had created the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, overseen by the President and half of whose membership represented members of organizations of persons with disabilities. Other entities charged with the protection of human rights were the Constitutional Court, which was specialized in the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and its judgments were final and compelling. The National Human Rights Commission oversaw the implementation of rights and was a reference point in that regard. It also received complaints, undertook investigations and provided advice about remedies. Sudan had faced many obstacles that hampered its efforts in the field of human rights, such as the unilateral coercive measures imposed for more than two decades. Those measures hindered the realization of basic rights for the Sudanese population. The Government reiterated its sincere willingness to lift all barriers to the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, to promote early detection and prevention of disability, promote development, reduce poverty and illiteracy, and confiscate all weapons from all unauthorized persons. Sudan looked to the support of specialized United nations agencies in that respect, Mr. Agame concluded.
Questions by Committee Experts
MARTIN BABU MWESIGWA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sudan, commended civil society from Sudan for having submitted an alternative report, and the Government of Sudan for having taken the initiative to domesticate the Convention, having adopted the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017, and having undertaken the restructuring of the National Council for Disabilities in 2010.
However, the new version of the Persons with Disabilities Act was not sufficiently in line with the Convention as it lacked provisions which prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. In addition, the definition of disability did not include persons with psycho-social disabilities. The National Council for Disabilities was not sufficiently funded.
Furthermore, Mr. Mwesigwa observed that there had been no broad revision of other laws and policies to align them with the Convention. For example, the Civil Transactions Act of 1984 still deprived some persons with disabilities of legal capacity.
The issues of women and girls with disabilities were not adequately addressed either as part of the broader gender issues, or as part of women’s issues in general. The general social development of children with disabilities was deficient, and corporal punishment was not explicitly prohibited in various settings. It was imperative that Sudan took immediate measures to address the problem of violence against children with disabilities, including corporal punishment, in all settings, Mr. Mwesigwa stressed.
The lack of informed data and statistics on persons with disabilities was another critical issue. Efforts should be undertaken to review the questionnaire in consultation with persons with disabilities and their organizations to ensure that no question invoked stigma.
Mr. Mwesigwa expressed hope that the new Constitution would provide for the effective inclusion of persons with disabilities. He applauded the signing of the Marrakesh Treaty and called on the State party to speed up the internal processes that would enable the eventual ratification of the treaty.
Mr. Mwesigwa noted a lot of good will in the State party to properly address disability issues. However, a plethora of laws were not consistent with the Convention. Could the State party provide a timeline for the alignment of all laws on persons with disabilities with the Convention?
An Expert commended the State party for having approached the Committee for technical support in the drafting of its initial report. What was the number of disability-related complaints? Had there been any cases of denial of reasonable accommodation? What was the state of physical accessibility for wheel-chair users?
What measures had the State party taken to ensure the accessibility of shelters for women with disabilities exposed to violence? As a developing country, what measures had Sudan taken to diminish the poverty of women and girls with disabilities?
What awareness raising programmes on the Convention had been carried out? Had organizations of persons with disabilities been involved in their planning? Were there any organizations for persons with intellectual disabilities in Sudan? Was there an enforcement mechanism for the implementation of accessibility standards? Had the Convention been translated into different local languages, especially in rural areas?
Did the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017 prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability? Did it consider the denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination? What kind of remedies were planned if that was not the case? It seemed that there was no guarantee for intersectional discrimination.
What monitoring measures did the State party have for the implementation of plans and legislation to combat violence against women? Had the State party conducted research on the current situation of women and girls with disabilities? What opportunities were available for girls with disabilities to receive education and economic welfare packages?
Had there been any effort to promote a positive image of disability through the media?
How was it ensured that the publicity of disability issues was carried out from the human rights-based rather than the charity perspective? Experts voiced concern about the use of derogatory terms on disability in the State party.
How did Sudan ensure web accessibility for persons with disabilities? How did the Government promote active participation of persons with disabilities through their representative organizations in decision-making, formulation of policies and their monitoring?
It did not seem that the Government recognized that organizations for persons with disabilities were those run by persons with disabilities. Were there plans to define them as such?
What were the powers of the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Justice to receive complaints? What were the plans to institutionalize legal assistance for persons with disabilities? What kind of budgetary allocations had been set aside for the implementation of disability policies?
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, raised the issue of children with disabilities being hidden by their families, and the high risk they faced in terms of abuse and violence. Were training sessions organized for child officers and awareness raising programmes for families to prevent the social exclusion and stigmatization of children with disabilities?
Replies by the Delegation
IDRIS IBRAHIM GAMIL AGAME, Minister of Justice of Sudan, said that the Government needed more detailed statistics about persons with disabilities in all the eight provinces of Sudan. The Minister underlined the importance of mainstreaming disability in all Government policies, and the participation of persons with disabilities in the Government’s work.
The delegation clarified that updated questionnaires in line with the Washington Group on Disability Statistics would be used in the upcoming census. Those would allow a more comprehensive overview of the situation of persons with disabilities.
Awareness raising campaigns about the Convention had been organized in partnership with civil society. There were four major unions representing persons with disabilities, which were self-managed, except for the union for persons with intellectual disabilities which was managed by families. The role of those unions was consultative and advisory.
All State programmes involved the participation of persons with disabilities. Women with disabilities had a 50 per-cent quota representation in various civil society organizations. The effective participation of organizations of persons with disabilities in the preparation of Sudan’s initial report was of utmost importance for the Government.
There were seven programmes on television and radio with persons with disabilities in the role of anchors. Other mainstream programmes took into account the activities of persons with disabilities. All State institutions positively responded to the needs of persons with disabilities due to awareness-raising campaigns.
As for accessibility, upon arrival in Sudan special transportation was provided for persons with disabilities. However, public transportation and buildings were not entirely accessible. A law on universal building design had not yet been adopted. The sign language was not available in all news bulletins, either. The Convention was translated into Arabic, but not in Braille and various local languages.
Legislation in many African countries may be excellent, but there was a gap between the theory and practice. The Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017 had been subject of consultations of all relevant stakeholders, and the text was as close to the Convention as possible. The Civil Transactions Act of 1984 did not impinge on the right of persons with disabilities to legal capacity.
The 2017 definition of disability encompassed any persons with sensory and intellectual impairment. There was a big debate on whether persons with intellectual and psychological disabilities should be given the same rights as all other citizens, explained IDRIS IBRAHIM GAMIL AGAME, Minister of Justice of Sudan.
The human rights-based approach to disability was a very important one for the Government. “Nothing for us without us” was the guiding principle. Gender parity was also important in that respect. Two seats for women with disabilities were reserved in disability associations. The integration of women with disabilities and gender issues in all public policies was an essential task for the authorities.
KAMAL GUBARA MOHAMED SALIH, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that the Government had many programmes to empower women in Sudan, including for women with disabilities, and in order to eliminate poverty.
There were studies on the situation of women and children with disabilities, which had noted discrimination against those groups. The Law on Buildings and Construction required compliance with various standards. It did allow a certain grace period for constructors to adapt buildings for persons with disabilities.
Severe penalties could be handed down for violence and abuse of children with disabilities. The authorities had developed a guide for families on how to treat children, and a hotline was available to children to report any mistreatment. Parents were subjected to punishment for the abandonment of children with disabilities. Corporal punishment was prohibited in schools. Shelters for children with disabilities could accommodate them from birth. Extended family and tribal structures were also used to bring up children with disabilities.
The Constitution enshrined the principle of equality before law for all citizens, including opportunities for education, employment and full involvement in society. The Advisory Council on Human Rights was an inter-ministerial body whose main responsibility was to provide binding legal opinions to ministries.
As for the development of persons with disabilities, they received free-of-interest loans, social grants, and specially designed vehicles. Health services for children with disabilities were provided free of charge for at least five years.
Questions by Committee Experts
Were there activities to inform persons with disabilities about disaster risk reduction plans? What laws regulated the evacuation of persons with disabilities in those situations?
Experts welcomed the introduction of a dictionary of legal terms in the sign language. Were dictionaries provided in judicial procedures? What kind of accreditation did interpreters need to interview deaf persons in criminal procedures? What was the level of physical accessibility of courts in Sudan?
The fact that persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities could be ordered to undertake forced medical treatment, including by traditional healers, was contrary to the Convention and could amount to torture, Experts stressed. What was being done to develop community-based services for such persons? How effective were legal provisions to eliminate female genital mutilation?
What kind of training on mobility skills was available for teachers? How could deaf children use the hotline to report cases of abuse and violence?
Had Sudan adopted any comprehensive policies to ensure the protection of refugees
and displaced persons with disabilities?
What measures were in place to protect the rights of those claimed to lack mental capacity? Was their legal capacity taken over by somebody else? Was there training on supported decision-making for families, Government and judicial officials?
What measures had been taken to ensure independent living and the availability of assistive devices?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that Sudan had a national plan to protect persons with disabilities in emergencies and crises, namely the Plan on Voluntary and Humanitarian Action. It also had a plan to combat natural disasters, and it had organized a large-scale campaign to disarm people.
The country’s judicial system recognized legal capacity of all persons. The notion of legal capacity presupposed capacity to act and to be present. The Civil Procedure Code provided the maximum level of protection for persons who might not be deemed to be legally capable. The Criminal Code stipulated that if a person did not enjoy legal capacity, she or he could be referred to special institution or their families. However, that provision should be read in conjunction with other provisions, namely it was conditional on expert medical opinion. Laws prioritized persons with intellectual disabilities and reduced penalties for them, noted IDRIS IBRAHIM GAMIL AGAME, Minister of Justice of Sudan, adding that guardians could only be appointed by the court.
Persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities could not be institutionalized against their will. The Public Health Act prohibited medical treatment without consent. Any non-medical treatment by non-licensed traditional healers was criminalized. However, courts could order persons to undergo medical examination.
There were many sign languages in use, but the authorities would issue a unified sign language guide in cooperation with UNESCO. Public servants constantly underwent trainings on disability, whereas accredited sign language interpreters were available to deaf persons.
The Government had deployed much effort to root out female genital mutilation. To that end it had passed laws to outlaw the practice in four provinces where it was prevalent, had made efforts to track down perpetrators, and had carried out awareness raising practices. Sudan’s laws criminalized sorcery and provided for the issuing of permits to traditional healers.
In terms of independent living, providing assistive devices to persons with disabilities was still a challenge for the authorities. The Government provided voluntary personal assistance to persons with disabilities and their families, and it had exempted imported assistive devices from taxes. Rehabilitation centers operating under the supervision of the National Institute for Assistive Devices helped persons with disabilities to learn how to use assistive devices.
As for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons with disabilities, the delegation stated that the authorities had provided them with educational, social and employment opportunities. The Government had come up with urbanization plans for the camps to adapt them to the needs of persons with disabilities.
The delegation noted that the Government was keen to align its laws with the Convention, adding that ratified international treaties took precedence over national laws.
Questions by Committee Experts
Experts raised questions about the freedom of speech, access to information, and noted that there was a very slow implementation of inclusive education. When would the State party have a clear plan towards inclusive education with timeframes and goals, including the reform of legislation? How was primary education made available to children with disabilities in remote areas? What was the state of physical accessibility of universities?
Had the State party taken any additional legislative measures to reduce the number of working hours for persons with disabilities? Was it compulsory to provide training courses for persons with disabilities to benefit from employment promotion schemes? What was the number of employed and unemployed persons with disabilities? Was there any quota system for them? How would the State party ensure that persons with disabilities were employed outside the area of “suitable jobs”?
What was done to ensure the availability of public information in easy-to-understand formats for persons with intellectual disabilities? How did the State party ensure affordable and accessible healthcare for those persons? What was done to improve health outcomes for persons with intellectual disabilities? What measures had been implemented for persons with intellectual disabilities to speak for themselves and to represent themselves?
Since there was no rehabilitation legislation in compliance with the Convention, when would the State party introduce relevant legislation? What were examples of disability inclusive development projects? Had there been any effort to involve persons with disabilities in programmes of international cooperation?
How were persons with disabilities included in poverty reduction plans and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals? What was the State party’s plan to analyze disability-related data?
Were there any State programmes for the development of sports, creative and cultural activities for persons with disabilities? How was appropriate parenting ensured for parents of children with disabilities? How was secrecy in the voting process guaranteed for persons with disabilities?
Were there plans to reform the laws that restricted marriage for persons with disabilities on the grounds of legal capacity?
MARTIN BABU MWESIGWA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sudan, applauded the Government’s efforts to upgrade the Special Needs Department within the Ministry of Education. However, he raised concern that many aspects were still lacking, such as the need to ensure the proper financing and staffing of the Special Needs Department, and to ensure proper coordination with other ministries.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, underlined that any kind of substitute decision-making was not in line with the Convention. It undermined the human rights-based approach to disability and should be replaced with supported decision-making that would not amount to guardianship. Ms. Degener stated that Sudan had good laws that forbade forced medical treatment, but noted that legal guardians could still decide that persons with disabilities undergo forced treatment.
Replies by the Delegation
Inclusive education was one of the main priorities and challenges of the Government, which was in the process of reforming education, adapting curricula and assistive devices, and training teachers and tutors. As for the slow implementation of inclusive education, the authorities were currently implementing a clear timeline in cooperation with UNICEF. Various categories of persons with disabilities could join regular schools, and the general tendency was to have inclusive education rather than specialized one. Due to the high number of nomads in rural areas, the Government had set up education programmes for them and had launched awareness raising campaigns for them.
As for employment, the law clearly provided for quotas and stipulated that no person would be prevented from taking up employment because of disability. There were no specific jobs allocated to persons with disabilities; employees were recruited according to job specifications. Physical capacity was no longer a hindrance to obtaining a job, and persons with disabilities played important roles in various ministries. Persons with disabilities were entitled to shorter working hours when they needed to leave work to get medical treatment.
The Government did not have sufficient statistics on the employment of persons with disabilities.
The delegation underlined that Sudan’s legal framework was very advanced and in line with the Convention. The National Commission of Human Rights was an integral part of institutions that ensured the protection and promotion of human rights. The Government was working on drafting a comprehensive law on human rights.
In terms of international cooperation, all relevant ministries had been cooperating with international organizations to benefit from technical assistance, and workshops to provide decent work for persons with disabilities and to provide training on living independently.
The election laws did not prevent persons with disabilities to vote or to stand for election. There were some problems with accessibility to voting polls and availability of voting in different formats, but the authorities had solved those. Each person was entitled to marry and live independently.
Persons with disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities, were very active in the field of sports. In fact, the major winners of gold and silver medals in Sudan were persons with disabilities.
Sudan had rehabilitation institutes and hospitals for all persons with disabilities, regardless of the type of disability. In general, accessibility to environment, services and communication remained one of the most important challenges in the country.
KAMAL GUBARA MOHAMED SALIH, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, invited Committee Experts to visit Sudan, and said that he would alert the Ministry of Tourism to consider making tourism in Sudan more accessible to persons with disabilities.
IDRIS IBRAHIM GAMIL AGAME, Minister of Justice of Sudan, clarified that there was no legal requirement that a person with disability have a guardian. Only in the case of commitment, would a child with disability or a person with intellectual require the consent of the guardian. He reminded that Sudan had declared 2018 the year of disability to shed light on the issues of persons with disabilities.
MARTIN BABU MWESIGWA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sudan, thanked the delegation for a very enriching dialogue, noting that the understanding and appreciation of the Convention was a process. Many misconceptions about disability persisted, as exemplified by the debate in Sudan whether persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities should be granted full rights. Mr. Mwesigwa highlighted the importance of appreciating the diversity of all persons and expressed hope that the dialogue would enable the Government of Sudan to work with all persons with disabilities to implement the Convention in a holistic manner.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for coming to the Committee with an open mind and heart. She expressed hope that 2018 as the year of disability in Sudan would be used to reflect on the dialogue and to repeal substitute decision-making.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).