REMARKS OF THE RC, DR. BABATUNDE AHONSI ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY

03 December, 2020

Your Excellency, (Rtd) Brig General Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone,

Honourable Vice-President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh,

Honorable Ministers,

Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,

Colleagues from the United Nations system,

Distinguished Representatives of non-governmental and civil society organizations ,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

On behalf of the UN system in Sierra Leone, I am honoured to join the Government and people of Sierra Leone and other relevant stakeholders on the occasion marking the commemoration of the International Day of the Persons with Disabilities.  The UN Country Team applauds the Government of Sierra Leone for its efforts in addressing issues of exclusion and marginalization and their impact on persons with disabilities in the country. I want to use this opportunity to assure you of the UN’s continued support to the Government in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006 and ratified in Sierra Leone in 2009, and other related international conventions to further advance the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

Since its proclamation in 1992 by the UN General Assembly Resolution 47/3, the UN has continued to join forces with governments and people around the world to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on every 3rd day of December. The annual observance seeks to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all domains of society and development, and to increase awareness on issues affecting persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Today, we are commemorating the International Day of Persons living with disabilities in a very different and trying period, with the global COVID-19 crisis exacerbating pre-existing inequalities at all levels.  It is evident that persons with disabilities are among the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit in this crisis.

Extant data suggests that there are one billion persons with disabilities in the world, with 80 per cent living in developing countries. Estimations suggest that 46 per cent of people aged 60 years and above are persons with disabilities. Data also indicates that one in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life, while one in every ten children is a child with a disability.  This grim data represents a significant signpost as to where the world should prioritize and spend its efforts and resources.

This year’s theme on the commemoration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities is; ‘’Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World’’. This theme is aptly chosen, given that even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities are excluded, and are less likely to access health care, education, employment and to participate in the development projects. The global outbreak of COVID-19 has further worsened this situation.

Supporting disability rights is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is also key to the global pledge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind. It is, therefore, important to note that our commitment to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common goal.

Excellencies,

In these trying times, the UN is calling for an integrated approach by the global community to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind.  The UN firmly believes that an integrated approach is key to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, and to a recovery process that better serves everyone in building back better. An integrated approach will also provide us with more robust systems capable of responding to complex situations in the future.

The UN Country Team  is committed to supporting the Government of Sierra Leone in addressing policy and structural issues that affect persons with disabilities in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the SDGs Agenda 2030, and existing national legislations and plans, including the Medium Term National Development Plan.

This commitment is highlighted throughout the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2020-2023 for Sierra Leone, which serves as the agreement between the United Nations system and the Government of Sierra Leone regarding the UN contribution to the Medium-Term National Development Plan and to the country’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework has 4 outcome areas and one of these is the “Protection and Empowerment of the Most Vulnerable”. This aims at supporting the Government in, among others, improving protection of the rights of vulnerable groups, such as Persons with Disabilities, and to provide such groups with increased access to capacity building opportunities and to support them in achieving greater entrepreneurial and financial literacy and employability.  It also extends to protection against violence and access to justice.

Most recently, in terms of implementation this UN commitment was demonstrated following the outbreak of COVID 19. The UN in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, District Councils, SLUDI, OFP and other partner organizations embarked on several activities in support PWDs across the country. These included distribution of food items, education materials and protective equipment to PWDs (targeting school going children with disabilities),  dignity kits to women and girls with disability, sexual and reproductive health awareness raising, and radio and TV discussions to raise awareness of COVID-19 preventive measures and disability issues accessible to all communities.

Recently, the UN undertook building projects to ensure physical access to PWDs to buildings of the Parliament of Sierra Leone, the newly established reproductive health centre in King Harman Hospital and in schools.  In the near term, The UN will initiate a programme to support person with disabilities in select communities to grow vegetables and groundnuts. 

The UN pledges its continued support to policy and programming aiming to ensure that PWDs in Sierra Leone are informed, engaged and empowered to contribute to sustainable human development and resilience of their communities. In that regard, the UN is supporting the government to review the Persons with Disability Act 2011 through the Ministry of Social Welfare. The importance of reviewing the existing Act cannot be overemphasized. It is, therefore, hoped that this review process will capture emerging issues and when completed would provide the basis for effective and efficient implementation of the PWD Act in Sierra Leone.

Moreover, in collaboration with key sector stakeholders, the UN is currently working on Economic Development (LED) programme which among many other things seeks to address a broad spectrum of disability issues and their attendant challenges of exclusion, marginalization and socio-economic deprivation through various strategies

The UNCT in Sierra Leone looks forward to a continued good working relationship with the Government of Sierra Leone, and especially those Ministries, Departments and Agencies with mandate on PWD issues, NGO, persons with disabilities as we seek to collaboratively address perennial issues that affect the lives of Persons with Disability  in Sierra Leone.

I wish you a fruitful commemoration.

Thank you.