YEMEN: National disability rights expert talks to CRIN

Rajaa Abdulla Ahmed Al-Masbi is the chairwoman of the Arab Human Rights Foundation. Below she chats to CRIN about her work on disability rights in Yemen and gives a mini profile of the Arab Human Rights Foundation.

What have been the focus of the Arab Human Rights Foundation’s on disability rights in Yemen?
We have spent a lot of time lobbying the government to make provisions for the rights of persons with disabilities in three key areas:
to improve accessibility in public places and schools;
to train the media in disability rights to combat stereotypes of people with disabilities;and to ensure all children with disabilities have an identity card which entitles them to free health care. It can be very difficult for many families here who have five or six children with disabilities and have to pay for all of their healthcare.

What is one change your organisation has managed to achieve that you are proud of?
We are the only human rights organisation in Yemen which has a strong focus on disability rights. There are a lot of organisations which focus on service provision for people with disabilities, but we have worked with the government with the media, schools, etc to promote a strong human rights approach to disability, not a charitable pitying approach.

Do you have any laws which specifically protect the rights of people with disabilities here in Yemen?
Yes, we have law number 61 which was passed in 1999 which specifically protects the rights of persons with disabilities.

Are all the provisions of this law positive or are there some things that you think need to be amended?
One of the biggest problems with this law is that it defines persons with disabilities as people who have lost a part of their body because of sickness or because of an accident. It also makes some provisions for people with visual and hearing impairments, etc, but there is nothing about people who were born with a disability or for people with learning difficulties.

Do you have 3 key recommendations for action for your government to strengthen protection of the rights of persons with disability?
Yes, more than 3, but here are some:
1. Inclusion: persons with disabilities, particularly children must be included in all aspects of life – health, education, etc
2. to change its definition of persons with disabilities to include all disabilities, for example people who have learning difficulties and people who were born with disabilities.
3. education for all people with disabilities, for example at the moment, people with hearing impairments cannot work in universities.
4. we should not have to pay taxes on automatic cars. At the moment the only time we don’t have to pay taxes for these is if we import them from abroad.

Some people argue that all human rights instruments apply to people with disabilities, what is the added value of this Convention in your opinion?
It is the first democratic Convention that has involved people with disabilities and has actually accepted their ideas. The specific mentions of children and women with disabilities are also essential. It is important to be specific about this because in Yemen, for example, we have a law for child rights and a national youth strategy, but children with disabilities are not mentioned anywhere in this.

Is there anything in the Convention that you had lobbied for but that was not included, or anything you feel is too weak?
Yes, Yemen had lobbied for the inclusion of a mention of children with disabilities living in situations of armed conflict and under occupation. Children living in situations of armed conflict are mentioned in the preamble but the part on children living under occupation was taken out because the US and Israel disagreed with it.

What do you think should be the next steps to follow up this conference?
I am not worried about ratification in Yemen because I know the government is working on this. The next step is to get laws changed and for the government and NGOs to take the Convention seriously and work through its articles.

The Arab Human Rights Foundation: mini profile

Mission: to raise awareness about and promote respect for human rights in Yemen.

Where: based in Yemen, works with partners in the Middle East and North Africa

Activities on disability rights:

  • To lobby the government on law no. 61, 1999, which makes provisions for the rights of persons with disabilities with three key recommendations:
    - Accessibility in public places, schools, etc.
    - Awareness raising activities with the media to combat stereotypes of people with disabilities
    - Ensure all children with disabilities have an identity card which entitles them to free health care
  • Training people who work in television, radio and print media journalists on disability rights and including people with disabilities in their work
    Working with children – the next generation – in schools to change attitudes towards disability
    Pushing the issue of disability rights onto the agenda in presidential and parliamentary elections.
  • We receive many many calls from parents who have children with disabilities, because of this we set up a parents’ disability group.
  • We have created a media group for disability rights
    Training on the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

Contact Rajaa at:
Rajaa Abdulla Ahmed Al-Masabi
Arab Human Rights Foundation
PO Box 11181, Sana’a
Republic of Yemen
Tel: +967 1 441299; Fax: +967 1 441290
Email: or raja@ahrf-y-org


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