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COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES REVIEWS THE INITIAL REPORT OF RWANDA

15 March 2019

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded the consideration of the initial report of Rwanda on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Alvera Mukabaramba, Minister of State for Social Affairs of Rwanda, introduced the report and said that Rwanda had made significant progress in meeting its obligations under the Convention to which it had acceded in December 2008.  The Constitution, revised in 2015, now contained a comprehensive charter of human rights, strictly prohibited discrimination based on physical or mental disability, and defined the duty of the State to adopt special measures to facilitate the education of persons with disabilities and provide for their welfare.  In 2018, Rwanda had prohibited discrimination at the workplace, criminalized discrimination on the grounds of physical or mental disability, and strengthened the protection of children with disabilities.  The Rwanda Building Code laid down the rules of urban planning and constructions with a view to the accessibility, regulations governing the accessibility of information and communication technology had been adopted, and the Bus Rapid Transit transport strategy of 2018 took into account universal and inclusive design.  The right to education stressed the Minister, was a constitutional right and Rwanda had adopted in 2019 the National Inclusive Education and Special Needs Policy.  To guarantee the right to participation in the electoral process, Rwanda had, inter alia, introduced an accessible ballot for persons with visual impairments, designed in close collaboration with the National Council of Persons with Disabilities and the National Electoral Commission.

Committee Experts commend the setting up of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities in Rwanda and said that the inclusive education policy approved in January 2019 and the policy and the law on transport were something to be proud of.  But challenges remained, they remarked, raising particular concern about the continued use of the guardianship regime and lack of progress transiting the supported decision-making approach.  Insufficient training on disability issues and the rights of persons with disabilities of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors created barriers to effective access to the justice system. While Rwanda was a leader in women’s public and political participation, especially in Parliament, women with disabilities did not seem to be sufficiently represented in political life and in policy and decision-making.  The delegation was asked about the deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities, the approach to early detection of disabilities and how it involved families and communities, and the possibilities for children with disabilities to freely express their opinion and be involved in all matters that affected them.  The Experts noted that households led by persons with disabilities in the majority of cases experienced poverty, while for most persons with disabilities, self-employment seemed to be the main employment model. 

Ms. Mukabaramba concluded by stressing that the extremely enriching dialogue would enable the Government to examine how to better support persons with disabilities and strengthen the areas that showed some weaknesses.

Samuel Njuguna Kabue, Committee Rapporteur for Rwanda, in his conclusion thanked the delegation for their candid and open answers and the recognition of the areas that needed further attention.

The delegation of Rwanda consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Local Administration, Ministry of Justice, National Council of Persons with Disabilities and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Rwanda at the end of its twenty-first session on 5 April. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday 18 March at 3 p.m. to begin the consideration of the combined second and third reports of Spain (CRPD/C/ESP/2-3).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Rwanda (CRPD/C/RWA/1) and its replies to the list of issues (CRPD/C/RWA/Q/1/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

ALVERA MUKABARAMBA, Minister of State for Social Affairs of Rwanda, introduced the report which she said was prepared under the close coordination of the National Council of Disabled Persons and with the active involvement of many public institutions and civil society organizations.  Rwanda had made significant progress in meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which it had acceded in December 2008, including the adoption of legal and procedural safeguards for the protection and respect of the rights of persons with disabilities.  The Constitution had been revised in 2015 and now contained a comprehensive charter of human rights, strictly prohibited discrimination based on physical or mental disability, and defined the duty of the State to adopt special measures to facilitate the education of persons with disabilities and provide for their welfare.  The legal framework had been strengthened in 2018 with the prohibition of discrimination at the workplace, criminalization of discrimination on the grounds of physical or mental disability, and strengthening of the protection of the children with disabilities.  The Minister added that the country was a party to a number of international instruments which provided additional protection for persons with disabilities and which were directly applicable in the domestic legal order since Rwanda was a monist State.

The National Council of People with Disabilities was responsible for the advocacy and social mobilization on disability issues with a view to strengthening the capacities of persons with disabilities and ensuring their participation in national development.  The National Human Rights Commission was an independent public institution established by the Constitution to promote and protect human rights.  In addition, other institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Commission for Legal Reform, the recently created Rwanda Investigation Bureau, and the Directorate for Social Protection and Inspection within the Ministry of Local Administration they played a vital role in promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.  Rwanda was committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoyed accessibility on an equal footing with others, continued the Minister.  The Rwanda Building Code laid down the rules of urban planning and constructions with a view to the accessibility, regulations governing the accessibility of information and communication technology had been adopted, and the Bus Rapid Transit transport strategy of 2018 took into account universal and inclusive design.  Five accessible information and communication technology centres had been set up, one in each province and in the City of Kigali.  In order to facilitate access to justice, a free legal aid service was offered to vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, professional sign language interpreters were available, and a free telephone number (2425) could be used to obtain legal information.

The right to education, stressed the Minister, was a constitutional right.  The 2016 ministerial decree determined the modalities of the special treatment of persons with disabilities in schools, the national skills-based curriculum had been revised to incorporate an inclusive education component, and the National Inclusive Education and Special Needs Policy had been adopted in 2019.  Rwanda had taken steps to guarantee the right to participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, including adopting the law which removed the requirement for visually-impaired individuals to be assisted during the vote and introduced an accessible ballot for this group.  This well-functioning instrument had been designed in close collaboration with the National Council of Persons with Disabilities and the National Electoral Commission, the Minister emphasized.  At the Global Disability Summit held in July 2018 in the United Kingdom, Rwanda had taken a number of commitments to further promote the rights of persons with disabilities.  In conclusion, the Minister recognized that 25 years after the genocide against the Tutsi and despite the good political will of the Government, Rwanda continued to face challenges such as the lack of qualified personnel, particularly for inclusive education and sign interpretation, the social attitudes towards disabilities, and limited resources, but it nevertheless remained resolute to solving the problems that stand in the way of persons with disabilities.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Samuel Njuguna KABUE, Committee Rapporteur for Rwanda, opened the dialogue with the delegation of Rwanda by commending the country’s exemplary role in the East African Community and the setting up of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities.  The inclusive education policy approved in January 2019 and the policy and the law on transport were also something Rwanda could be proud of. 

But challenges remained, he remarked and said that the two laws from 2007 on the rights of persons with disabilities were still not in line with the Convention, while the policy on persons with disabilities was taking too long to be implemented and persons with disabilities through their representative organizations were not being sufficiently involved in the process.  While Rwanda was a leader in women’s public and political participation, especially the representation in Parliament, women with disabilities did not seem to be included.  The law on the protection of children with disabilities seemingly addressed only mental and physical disabilities, leaving children with visual and hearing impairments aside, and there was the issue of inclusive education of children with disabilities who lived with their families.

In terms of the accessibility, the Rapporteur remarked on the poor application of the 2010 building code and the continued inaccessibility of the infrastructure.  The Committee was very concerned that Rwanda continued to maintain a guardianship regime and had not made progress towards establishing the supported decision-making approach.  Insufficient training on disability issues and the rights of persons with disabilities of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors created barriers to effective access to the justice system.  Mr. Kabue also remarked that due to the lack of resources, the National Human Rights Commission did not seem able to fully deliver on its mandate.

Other Experts asked about the timeline for the completion of the ongoing harmonization of the legalisation relative to persons with disabilities and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in drafting and implementing the national action plan to raise awareness of disability issues. 

The Experts inquired about the systematic collection of information and desegregated data based on gender, age and type of disability, as well as barriers that persons with disabilities were facing in society, including on those living in care and on those in detention.  The Experts urged Rwanda to adopt the approach to data collection as laid down in the Washington Group Short Set of disability questions and so ensure the availability of quality disaggregated data to provide a better picture about women and children with disabilities. 

The advancement of women was crucial to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, but the needs of women with disabilities did not seem to be adequately addressed nor were they sufficiently represented in political life and policy-making.  What were the key challenges in empowering women with disabilities and improving their participation and representation?  Were there ways to bring affirmative action in order to make women with disabilities more visible in political life since none had ever been elected to any governing body?

What steps were being taken to ensure de facto gender equality and to ensure equal access to sexual and reproductive health services and family planning to women with disabilities, including refugee women?  Sexual and reproductive health strategies must be specifically designed for women with disabilities, the Experts stressed.

The delegation was asked about the deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities, the approach to early detection of disabilities and how it involved families and communities, the possibilities for children with disabilities to freely express their opinion and be involved in all matters that affected them, and measures in place to address bullying in schools.  Corporal punishment was banned only in educational institutions but not in homes - were there any plans to change that? 

The Experts also raised the issue of persons with albinism and asked about measures to eliminate the negative sociocultural attitudes and beliefs.  Did persons with intellectual disabilities have their own representative organizations of persons with disabilities, and if not, what ways were there for their voices to be heard?  The delegation was asked to explain sanctions for non-compliance with the 2015 building code and the steps taken to assure the accessibility of transport, technology and communication?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the national legal framework, the delegation explained that the planned revision of 2007 on persons with disabilities to bring it in line with the Convention will start as soon as the national policy on persons with disabilities was adopted, and was expected to be completed by the end of 2019.  The delegation took note of the gaps in the legal framework concerning persons with intellectual disabilities and would work to address them, and would also pay attention to the gaps in the implementation of the existing legal framework.  Awareness-raising campaigns were ongoing and would surely continue given the Government’s commitment to the improvement of lives of persons with disabilities.

In response to concerns related to the lack of participation of persons with disabilities in strategy and policy development, the delegation explained that the National Institute for Disability was working for the past seven years, despite the limited resources.  It held quarterly meetings in which the decisions were made and recommendations given to different bodies in order to address the issues of persons with disabilities, with their direct participation.   The Ministry of Local Administration was mandated to receive complaints, either in writing, by email, or in person, and complaint mechanisms were available at all levels of the Government.  The complaint mechanism of the National Commission for Human Rights had complaint mechanism available to everyone.
 
The representation of women was a matter of political will and Rwanda was fully committed, said the delegation.  Women were represented at all levels of Government, with at least 30 per cent quota guaranteed by the law.  Even though women with disabilities were not present in decision-making positions, they were present in other sectors, such as higher education where they held positions of university professors.  It was a gradual process and with continual public awareness programs in place, things would certainly change and enable women with disabilities to actively participate and be represented in politics as well.

Rwanda had adopted a policy on reaching the Sustainable Development Goal N°5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, which specifically included women with disabilities.  Women who had children with disabilities were provided with direct support and the newly founded representative organization of women and girls with disabilities would receive the Government’s support.  Support was available for female athletes with disabilities and for numerous sports teams of women with disabilities.  With the 2019 budget allocations, Rwanda would be able to reduce the gap in data collection which in turn would improve the protection of the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

The delegation acknowledged the problem of limited access to reproductive health services for women with disabilities.  The Constitution underscored the right to life and reproduction, while violence was a topic of utmost address when it came to legislative measures.  Discrimination and violence were issues addressed by courts and punished accordingly.  A new Penal Code was addressing the practice of abortion and access to contraceptives for women in general. 

The law protecting children’s rights had been enacted in 2000, while the National Commission for Children was also very active on the matter and it addressed all the children including those with disabilities.  Children were learning about their rights and they too could address the authorities in case of any problems they experienced, either in schools or families.  Rwanda was committed to ensuring that all children had a family and it was gradually addressing the difficulties in the adoption of children with disabilities.  Corporal punishment was banned also in homes with the recent adoption of the Family Law.

Having desegregated data was recognized as an important issue.  Such data were not fully available at the moment, but the Information Management System was being set up and would soon be able to provide disaggregated data based on all the relevant criteria.  The country had adopted the Washington Group Short Set of disability questions and disaggregated and detailed data on persons with disabilities were available and were being used as a foundation on which to draft policies and programmes.  The National Council for Children and the National Council for Women were also involved in data collection. 

Data on persons with albinism were currently not being collected, said the delegation, informing the Committee that the Organization for Integration of People with Albinism was active and represented this group, including in cases involving killings of persons with albinism.

A dictionary of sign language was in a final phase of preparation and hopefully would be ready by the end of 2019 and soon be included in the educational curricula. 

Building codes and construction norms bore in mind the persons with disabilities, with improved access to buildings, roads and public transportation.  The progress in the accessibility was slow but visible.  The sanctions for the violations of the Rwanda Building Code included fines, the suspension of the construction until the conditions were met, or the removal of the non-conforming buildings.  All new buildings were in full compliance with the Rwanda Building Code, while others were being improved to make them fully accessible.

The Government had opened five accessible information and communication technology centres around the country which were, inter alia, equipped with computers produced for people with visual impairment.  There were reserved places for persons with disabilities in buses and the new roads were accessible to persons with disabilities.  Further measures were discussed with the Ministry of Transport on the policy aimed to make all means of transportation accessible over the next couple of years.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Turning to the situation of persons with intellectual disabilities, the Experts asked when Rwanda would ensure the equal recognition of persons with disabilities before the law and replace guardianship with supported decision-making.  Where did the most of persons with intellectual disabilities live and could they choose to live where and with whom they wanted?  What mechanisms were in place to prevent torture or ill-treatment of persons with disabilities in residential institutions and how could cases of abuse and violence be reported?  The delegation was asked about deinstitutionalization and the shift to community-based living, as well as training and education of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors on the Convention and human rights-based approach to disabilities.

Did the Government have any legislative measures to extend procedural accommodation and so enable persons with disabilities to access justice, for example, the use of Braille and sign language and other forms of accessible information, and the availability of free legal aid?  What was being done to make the judicial system fully accessible to persons with intellectual disabilities?

The Experts commented on the heightened vulnerability of girls and women with disabilities to gender-based violence and asked about the incidence of such violence and the availability and accessibility of legal, medical, and psychosocial services, and shelters of other forms of accommodation.

Experts asked for more information on measures taken or planned to provide subsidies for the persons with disabilities to obtain and use assistive devices, as well as their maintenance?  Were refugees with disabilities provided with the same services as citizens of Rwanda?  There was an obligation of an evacuation of persons with disabilities form the areas of conflict and dangerous situations.  How was the information on emergency procedures available in easy to read formats for persons with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation stressed that refugees enjoyed the same rights as Rwandans, including access to rehabilitation and inclusion and they participated in the national activities.  There were around 123,000 refugees in the country; of those, around 3,000 had disabilities and they had access to assistive devices on an equal footing with the Rwandan citizens.

Rwanda was conscious of the increased vulnerabilities and greater needs of persons with intellectual disabilities and it was providing support to their two representative organizations.

The process of deinstitutionalization had begun, the delegation said, explaining that initially, the orphanages had been closed and the country hoped to continue the process and close the centers for disabled children, even if it was more difficult to find a home for them.  For that purpose, a three-year programme had been set up which aimed to implement a full transition to community-based approach in caring for children with disabilities.  Currently, 84 children with disabilities from those centres were currently living with the support families.  In conjunction with the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Rwanda strived to ensure that children with disabilities were placed in families rather than in centres.

The delegation reiterated Rwanda’s full commitment to implementing the Convention’s provisions related to reasonable accommodation.  Because the maintenance of assistive devices was a challenge, Rwanda had started to support orthopaedic workshops two years ago.

Training, awareness-raising and information campaigns on the rights-based approaches to disability and the Convention were ongoing for the authorities at the local, provincial and central levels, as well as in various sectors.  Persons with disabilities themselves were targeted as well to increase the knowledge and awareness of their rights.

Disaster and emergency response staff were being trained on properly addressing the rights of persons with disabilities in emergency situations and the Government was working on making the disaster reduction manual more inclusive.   

Access to justice for persons with disabilities was a challenge, the delegation acknowledged and said that Rwanda was taking steps to improve the situation.  The bar association provided free legal services to all persons with disabilities in conflict with the law, and there was a toll-free number for persons with disabilities to use if they needed legal advice.  Currently, there was only one person with disabilities in detention; the regulation was in place guaranteeing their freedom of movement within a prison, their medical needs were covered, and any discrimination was promptly addressed.  The national preventive mechanism within the National Commission for Human Rights could visit any place of detention without announcement, including residential institutions for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Violence against persons with disabilities was monitored by general mechanisms in place.  Between 2014 and 2018, 267 cases of gender-based violence against persons with disabilities had been reported. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts underlined the importance of timely information in an appropriate format to ensure the right of persons with disabilities to life in the community.  They asked whether Rwanda took into consideration the World Health Organization guidance on the use of assistive devices and whether persons with disabilities could obtain them free of charge.  Was the Government adopting policies that recognized sport as a measure for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the life of the community? 

The delegation was asked about the measures in place to improve the capacity of the health staff to communicate with persons with disabilities and to adequately address the medical needs of persons with disabilities, particularly those with psychosocial disabilities.

Additional information was asked on measures taken to ensure that all persons with disabilities could exercise their right to marriage and parenthood on an equal basis with others and without discrimination.

The Experts noted that households led by persons with disabilities in the majority of cases experienced poverty, and asked whether Rwanda considered looking at the social protection from the point of view of individual needs of persons with disabilities in order to reduce their marginalization in households.

For most persons with disabilities, self-employment seemed to be the main employment model.  They asked about specific measures to increase the number of persons with disabilities employed in the public sector, such as quotas and targeting employment of women and young persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation in the workplace, and technical and professional training of persons with disabilities.

As far as international cooperation was concerned, the Experts inquired about the inclusion and participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in all programmes run by development partners, and how international cooperation programmes applied the internationally recognized accessibility standards.

When it came to freedom of expression, the Experts inquired about the plans to finalize the sign language dictionary which had been going on since 2014 and to increase the number of television channels with sign language interpretation.  What steps was Rwanda taking to train and certify sign language interpreters?  Was easy to read information available to promote the enjoyment of the right to vote for persons with intellectual disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to the access to information in accordance with the Convention, Rwanda was providing information to all the institutions that dealt with persons with disabilities in the country.  The 2030 Agenda was always taken into account and persons with disabilities were in the focus, just as all other vulnerable groups.

The ratification process for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled was well advanced and would be soon completed.  The National Human Rights Commission was in full compliance with the Paris Principles and the World Health Organization guidelines were taken into account.  The delegation reaffirmed that the legal provisions were being continually revised in order to bring them in line with international standards.

There was nothing in the law that discriminated against persons with disabilities and prevented them from fully realizing their right to family and parenthood

Inclusive education policy had been adopted and the efforts were ongoing to implement it throughout the country.  HIV services and sexual and reproductive health services were free and available to all citizens of Rwanda, including persons with disabilities.  The various social protection networks provided services to persons with disabilities and medical staff were trained to provide adequate medical care to persons with disabilities.

Employment policy did not allow for the discrimination on any grounds and certainly not on the grounds of disability.  There was an on-going study in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour on the incentives and a quota system for the employment of persons with disabilities.

Assistive devices insurance coverage had been recently shifted to the Rwanda Social Security Board and efforts were being made in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance to include all assistive devices into social security coverage.  The number of assistive devices provided was already on the increase; not all were accessible through social services but the list was expanding, with on-going efforts to make all fully available in all areas of Rwanda.  Wheelchairs were individualized and the distribution and maintenance staff were being trained.  The focus of social services had been changed from households to individuals, and family members received care based on their specific needs.

The sport was recognized as one of the most important areas when it came to the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and their increased participation in public life.  Rwanda’s Paralympic team was one of the best in Africa and was regularly competing in championships all over the world.

On the matter of the access to information, the delegation noted that providing Government’s documents in easy read formats was a work in progress, both in regard to the information on the electoral process and in all other spheres.  The Government planned to extend the scope of sign language services in broadcast media and would encourage private television stations to do so too.

Concluding Remarks

ALVERA MUKABARAMBA, Minister of State for Social Affairs of Rwanda, in her concluding remarks, said that the dialogue was an extremely enriching experience and would enable the Government to examine how to better support persons with disabilities, strengthen the areas that showed some weaknesses, and improve the implementation of the Convention.  Ms. Mukabaramba thanked all Committee Members for opening their horizons that would in turn help improve the position of persons with disabilities in Rwanda.

Samuel Njuguna Kabue, Committee Rapporteur for Rwanda, in his conclusion thanked the delegation for their candid and open answers and the recognition of the areas that needed further attention and expressed hope that the fruitful cooperation would continue. 

Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their input and wished them a safe journey home.



For use of the information media; not an official record

CRPD/19/04E