Mr Bounkeuth Sangsomsak (right) and Mr Leon Faber
(KPL) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Union Delegation to Laos successfully hosted a workshop on “Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” on March 14.
This one-day workshop was a side-event to the 7th Laos-EU Human Rights Dialogue that took place last month in Vientiane. It presented an opportunity for the EU and Laos to continue expanding and deepening the conversation that took place in the dialogue, this time with specific reference to the rights of people with disabilities.
Discussions were opened by the Minister to Prime Minister’s Office and Chairman of Lao National Steering Committee on Human Rights, Mr Bounkeuth Sangsomsak, and co-chaired by the EU Ambassador to Laos, Mr Leon Faber.
The seminar was an occasion to recall that upholding the rights of people with disabilities is of utmost importance, that they must be free from being subjected to any form of prejudice and must be treated equally as specified in the law, throughout all levels of society. Additionally, they must have equal access to health care, social services, and opportunities for their personal growth, in order for them to be able to contribute towards society in as many ways as possible.
Discussions focused on the related international legal frameworks, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which both the EU and the Lao PDR have ratified and submitted their progress report to, in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Among the 100 participants were Lao and Cambodian officials, representatives from EU Member States, UN Agencies and International Organizations, as well as Disabled People's organisations (from Laos and Cambodia) and International NGOs including Handicap International, which actively participated in preparations for the seminar.
People with disabilities came to share their experiences, the challenges they face and their personal achievements. Participants also discussed the Lao national Policy on Disabilities as well as the Strategy and Action Plan that are currently designed. They shared experiences about the role played by the Disabled People's organisations in designing and implementing national and international policies on Disability, as well as about the regional dynamics through ASEAN cooperation on Disability Rights, with the participation of the Cambodian Disability Action Council and the Cambodian Disabled People's organisation.
Overall, over one billion people in the word are said to live with a disability, 80% of whom live in developing countries and are mostly represented by women and elderly people. Due to the lack of economic opportunities, people with disabilities face greater challenges to escape poverty.
Furthermore, their number is continuously rising not only due to ageing, civil and political conflict, malnutrition, accidents, violence, communicable and non-communicable diseases including HIV and AIDS, natural disasters, lack of accessibility and support, but also because of persistent discriminatory behaviours.