On 14th June, the World Independent Living Centre Network (WIN) organised its first joint side event, with a commitment to strengthen the global Independent Living Movement and to play a role in the COVID-19 recovery.

The event was organised during the 14th session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Independent Living activists from Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia delivered the following messages:

1. A call on the States Parties to the CRPD to implement Article 19 and the General Comment 5, on living independently and being included in the community.
2. A need to acknowledge that segregation, in institutions, sheltered workshops and other settings, is a form of discrimination, and that what is needed is one system for all, with adequate support and assistance.
3. A recognition of the importance of peer support and the global movement for Independent Living.
4. A request to involve WIN in post-COVID recovery.

During the side event, the speakers touched upon concerns, but also mentioned some positive steps that had been taken in their countries. For instance, Shafiq Ur-Rehman, the WIN representative from Pakistan, spoke  about the vaccination process for COVID-19, with all the vaccination centres being accessible, and disabled people eligible to be vaccinated in their own homes. While Chano Park, from CIL Seoul in South Korea, talked about the recently debated Deinstitutionalisation bill, which aims to outlaw institutionalisation in his country within the next decade.

There were frustrations raised about the cutting of key deinstitutionalisation programmes in the United States and the apparent slowness to act on deinstitutionalisation within Europe. WIN representatives Wendy Barrantez Jimenez and Laura Hockman acknowledged that the pandemic had set disability rights back to the beginning in Latin America and Canada.

There was a welcome intervention from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Gerard Quinn, who called for implementation of Article 5, on equality and non-discrimination, as the key norm which prohibits segregation of disabled people. He suggested for Articles, 5, 8 and 19 to be used together, to ensure disability rights are respected globally. He acknowledged that the current model of institutionalisation was not working and that new paradigms needed to be sought after.

Another key intervention came from the Vice-chair of the Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Amalia Gamio, who stressed the need to implement Article 19 and the General Comment 5, to ensure that the process of deinstitutionalisation takes place. She noted that if disability rights are not met, it not only degrades disabled people, but non-disabled people as well – for tolerating rights abuses.

Finally, the famous US disability rights activist, Judith Heumann, spoke about the importance of getting positive media representation for disabled people, in order to help create a process of normalisation in the minds of the general public. She also said we need to hold each other up and support each other as a movement, so that we can appreciate the victories we have achieved.

At the end of the event, WIN representatives read out the joint statement, which called on governments globally to take disability rights seriously. They committed to acting as a watchdog, using all means to fight institutionalisation, and expanding the Independent Living movement globally – making sure that disabled people know their rights.

Watch the recording of the side event here.

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