Human rights violations happen only in far away, mostly war-torn countries right?
In Australia, our lucky, war-free country, virtually every person with a disability experiences rights violations at some point in their life. For many, these violations occur not just once, but daily.
I know what it’s like. Born with Down syndrome, I’m a passionate human rights advocate for people with disability. I have spent my days helping people with a disability know their rights and speak up for them as a peer pentor for House with No Steps since 2013. I also serve as a member of Community Disability Alliance Hunter and the Disability Council NSW, an official advisory board to the state government.
I know – only too well – how common human rights violations are for people with disability. Multiple forms of rights violations occur every day, in every state and territory, in aspects of life most people take for granted, such as housing, employment, and access to public transport. How would you feel if you struggled to find and keep a job, due to discrimination? Or if you weren’t free to choose where to live, and who you lived with?
Why are people with disability so much more likely to experience rights violations? For one thing, often they can’t be involved in decisions in their own life – from what they have for breakfast, to what they wear, to which doctor they see. This means they’re especially vulnerable to rights violations and abuse. Research has shown that more than a quarter of people who report sexual assault have a disability.
The fact that human rights violations still remain common in a lucky country like Australia is a tragedy. Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Our country even has a Disability Discrimination Act, which is meant to protect people and promote equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal access for people with disabilities.
Despite these protections, in 2015 the United Nations Human Rights Council raised serious concerns about human rights violations against Australians with disability, in a periodic review of human rights in our country. As part of this review, local not-for-profits flagged a range of issues - including forced sterilisations, violence against people with a disability, and the indefinite detention of people with disability in the criminal justice system, as urgent concerns that need addressing.
It’s especially upsetting that, often people with a disability may not even realise that their rights are being violated, as they don’t know their rights. Worse, many do know but are too afraid to speak up, fearing they will get into trouble.
It’s time this changed. The tragedy of human rights violations in Australia must not be ignored. We need to be brave and speak up about the situations of abuse and neglect affecting some people with disability.
We need to help people with disability to know their rights, and give them the support they need to speak up, and make a complaint if they feel their rights are not being respected. People who can’t speak up, for whatever reason, can get someone to do so for them but unfortunately help isn’t always nearby. This is why we really need more advocates and self-advocacy groups, to make sure help is available for everyone.
Everyone has the right to speak up, speak loud and clear, no matter what the issue is.