Human rights day is an important day in South African history. It enables us to examine how far we have come and how far we have yet to travel. Unfortunately the rights of people with intellectual disabilities have been chronically neglected abd vulumes remains to be done to ensure that their rights are respected and protected. In this regard, the South African Federation has put out a press release. It appears below:
Human Rights Day reminds us that it’s the fate of society’s most vulnerable that is the true measure of our success – or our failure – in matching human rights ideals, says the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH).
And among the most vulnerable are citizens with intellectual disabilities – whose dignity and rights are often overlooked because they are poorly understood, or all too easily ignored. The voices of those who lack agency or the ability to self-advocate are often drowned out, their wishes and their needs scattered to the wind.
In a country where services are woefully inadequate, can their rights be realised? And what can be done to improve the situation of such individuals and to allow them to live with a sense of dignity?
The right to inherent dignity is violated at every affront to any other human right, for in the absence of any given entitlement, a life becomes undignified. If there are inadequate mechanisms to enforce both civil and political and socio-economic entitlements, a person’s sense of dignity is essentially voided.
When a person is vulnerable the realisation of the right to dignity becomes especially problematic because such individuals require a “leg-up” to place themselves on equal footing as others. This is not aided by the pervasive stigma with which people with intellectual disabilities are contended or the failure to prioritise the rights of such individuals.
So what is there to be done? SAFMH has some propositions. As a non-governmental organisation seeking to protect and uphold the rights of people with mental illnesses, psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities SAFMH aims on Human Rights Day 2019 to highlight the plight of people with intellectual disabilities and to demonstrate the lack of dignity in the lives they lead and the need to change things for the better. SAFMH believes there are steps to be taken, and we have chosen this Human Rights Day, 21 March 2019, to highlight the claims to dignity of people living with intellectual disabilities, and to deliver a three-part challenge aimed at securing real progress towards that objective. This call to action is made in view of our broad mandate as an advocacy body, working to influence both the course of decision-making processes as well as the treatment meted out to people living and working at grassroots level.
First, we call on the state as the primary duty-bearer in upholding the pillars of the legal system to ensure that laws and policies are implemented and further developed in the interests of people with intellectual disabilities. Examples of such an instruments are the Mental Health Care Act Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan 2013-2020.
Second, we call on the families and caregivers of people with intellectual disabilities to become educated in the types of services available and the types of services needed so that they can advocate for their loved ones with intellectual disabilities. This would include finding out how to contact services supporting people with intellectual disabilities and through locating information about the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and what they are entitled to. An example of how one may educate themselves would be through accessing documents designed for this purpose such as the SAFMH Guide to Supporting Loved Ones with Intellectual Disabilities or through approaching one of SAFMH’s mental health societies which operate in different parts of the country.
Finally, we call on community-based organisations providing services to people with intellectual disabilities to provide them with the tools and support they need to self-advocate, utilising appropriate human rights education as an integral tool to do so. People with intellectual disabilities often need to be assisted in order to raise their voices and it is through learning about their entitlements and in being supported to compare what they have versus what they deserve that they can begin to demand what they want and need. People with intellectual disabilities should also be encouraged by those providing services to them to become involved in human rights activism such as the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement.
As a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, SAFMH makes these calls in the conviction that it is possible to change lives for the better and to truly ready South Africa for a new era, one in which the legal guarantees bestowed upon people with intellectual disabilities by legal instruments become a reality in their lives.
Project Leader: Awareness and Information
011 781 1852/ 072 2577 938