After a world war with devastating consequences and loss of human life seventy-five years ago, governments declared that human rights belong to everyone. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) affirmed hope and humanity, and underscored the universality of rights by mentioning ‘everyone’ 30 times. It grounded a more expansive human rights system that now includes migrants, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities – at least on paper.

But the reality remains far from this promise of rights. For example, less than one percent of Foundation funding for Human Rights Defenders includes people with disabilities (HRFN: 2019) and few protection organisations offer accessible emergency support or include disabled people at all. The exclusion of human rights defenders with disabilities weakens the integrity of human rights values, failing to meet the needs and rights of more than a billion people with disabilities around the world. It also undermines the effectiveness of the human rights system to protect human rights for all.

Human rights advocacy to ensure the rights of those most marginalized is often dangerous. Yet, safety, protection and emergency or long-term support for human rights advocates at risk rarely considers HRDs with disabilities or the relationship between human rights advocacy and disability. Perhaps we assume disabled people are not on the frontlines of the most urgent human fights? Or worry that the need to project power and persistence could be at odds with disability inclusion? The truth could not be further from either of these assumptions.

We live in a world where one in five people has a disability. Despite the limited inclusion of HRDs with disabilities in the movement, people with disabilities are already living in our communities and on the frontlines of human rights. Including people with disabilities in the protection of human rights defenders is more than just the right thing to do. Learning from the resourcefulness, creativity, and resilience of the disability community will strengthen existing HRD strategies and introduce new ways of working. Doing so would enable civil society to be more robust and representative.

To address this, The Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, a thought leader on protection approaches and strategies for HRDs, has released a Guide on Protecting Defenders with Disabilities. Created with input from more than 70 defenders with disabilities, it shares approaches to supporting the activism, protection, and well-being of defenders with disabilities, especially those with psychosocial disabilities and cognitive disabilities.

Read the full article about defending human rights by Catherine Hyde Townsend and Otto Saki at Alliance Magazine.