Rival international summit aims to highlight government’s ‘global hypocrisy’

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Disabled activists and their organisations are to host their own international “solidarity summit” in a bid to highlight the hypocrisy of the government’s decision to co-host a major “global disability summit” in east London later this month.

The solidarity summit will also be held in east London, on Sunday 22 July, two days before the government’s Global Disability Summit takes place less than a mile away on the Olympic Park in Stratford.

The government has invited disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) from across the global south to its event and says it wants to “galvanise the global effort to address disability inclusion in the poorest countries in the world”.

But Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which is organising the solidarity summit with the support of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), says there has been anger among disabled activists at the decision of the UK government to co-host the event when its own record on disability rights is so poor.

Although DPAC and ROFA are not calling for a boycott of the government’s event, DPAC’s Ellen Clifford said: “We want to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the government in hosting the global summit.

“People in the UK are rightly very angry about it, but we think it is important that that anger is not channelled at the summit itself because of the chance that it is going to benefit disabled people in other countries.”

Some DPOs in the global south are believed to feel that the summit will give them leverage to push their own governments to act on disability rights.

Clifford said DPAC and ROFA “support initiatives that genuinely benefit disabled people and DPOs” but do not yet have enough information to say whether the government’s summit “is going to achieve the aim of benefitting Deaf and disabled people and their organisations”.

In a statement, ROFA said the UK government had been found guilty in November 2016 of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in connection with its policies on independent living, social security and employment.

And it said the UK government continued to “dismiss the findings and expertise” of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Last October, Penny Mordaunt, then the minister for disabled people, dismissed the committee’s report on the UK government’s implementation of the convention.

The committee had called for more than 80 improvements to the ways in which the UK’s laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, the highest number of recommendations it had ever produced for a country undergoing the review process.

But Mordaunt still insisted that she wanted to “promote” the UK government’s disability policies so they could be a “catalyst for change elsewhere in the world”.

ROFA said the UK government’s involvement in this month’s summit – which will be headed by Mordaunt, who is now the international development secretary – undermined any attempts to strengthen disabled people’s rights under the UN convention.

Instead, ROFA said, it “provides a platform for them to showcase to other states how it is possible to get away with ignoring those rights when it comes to your own citizens”.

And it said the government had frequently used the poorer conditions faced by disabled people in other countries to deflect criticism of its own policies, which it said was “a misunderstanding of the UNCRPD, which is about the progressive realisation of rights”.

ROFA was also critical of the decision of Mordaunt’s department to exclude UK DPOs from the design and delivery of its Disability Inclusive Development Programme, believed to be worth more than £25 million.

Disabled activists from Bolivia, Uganda and Greece are set to attend the DPAC and ROFA summit, which will explore issues around the international fight against the oppression of disabled people.

Other leading disabled activists, including Anita Cameron, director of minority outreach for Not Dead Yet in the US and a leading figure in the national grassroots organisation ADAPT, and Naziaty Jaacob from Malaysia, who is among disabled people campaigning for a disability discrimination act in her country, are planning to speak to the International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit via Skype.

The government’s “global disability summit” is being co-hosted with the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the government of Kenya.

Among those speaking at the government’s event will be the disabled president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno.

More than 60 representatives of DPOs from the global south have been invited to the event.

The themes are: tackling stigma and discrimination; inclusion in education; routes to economic empowerment; and harnessing technology and innovation.

As well as showcasing best practice, the summit aims to generate sustainable commitments from the governments of developing countries, donors, voluntary organisations and the private sector.

The previous day, 23 July, IDA will host a Civil Society Forum, which aims to amplify the voices of disabled people and DPOs and highlight current issues relevant to the global disability movement and the realisation of UNCRPD.

Among the forum’s tasks will be to agree a statement on behalf of disabled people and DPOs that will be read during the opening of the summit.

It will also discuss what is needed to achieve full implementation of the UN convention, and the need for capacity building of DPOs at local and national level.

Picture: Delegates in Geneva last September discussing the UK’s implementation of the UN convention