“What are you going to do for us people with disabilities?”
That was the question that Raja Abdullah Almasabi, a disability rights defender from Yemen, asked the United Nations Security Council last week. While all council members advocated the protection of people with disabilities, Raja, whom I have met over the past few months, pointed out a recurring problem with governments around the world: They make promises they never keep.
Raja reported in detail how the Five Year War had a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities in her country. She described the difficulties they face from violence and barriers in displacement camps. She described how many people with disabilities, including themselves, had acquired new secondary disabilities as a result of the war.
She urged governments to do more to protect people with disabilities in Yemen and called for their full participation in humanitarian planning. People with disabilities “must have a seat at the table,” she said.
One ambassador replied, “We can do more. We can do better. “
But for Raja, who has heard empty promises all her life, government promises are not enough. She spoke again and asked what exactly the Security Council would do next.
Governments around the world have made many commitments to the United Nations in recent years to do more to help people with disabilities in their humanitarian efforts. When Nujeen Mustafa, a disability rights activist from Syria, briefed the Security Council in April 2019 – the first person with a disability to do so – there was a cascade of promises. But as Raja testified, people with disabilities in conflict areas continue to struggle more than others to flee attack and gain access to protection and support.
Both Raja and Nujeen shared their hopes of what the Security Council should do to better protect people with disabilities. Raja left three main reasons: stop the war in Yemen, involve us in your work and provide resources and targeted means to reach people with disabilities. It is now up to the United Nations and governments to keep their promises and carry out their commitments. Millions of people with disabilities affected by conflict count on them.