TEDxGateway 2018! Shantha Rau Barriga is guarding rights of disabled; read how
Shantha Rau Barriga is Founding Director of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch. She is Founder member of the International Network of Women with Disabilities, member of the Amnesty International Advisory Group on Disability Rights and expert advisor to the catalyst for inclusive education.

Focusing on rights of disabled

“In 2010, I joined Human Rights Watch, which defends the rights of people worldwide. The organisation was exploring what added value it could bring to the disability rights field and did not have any in-house expertise or strategy. The organisation hired me as its first and only disability rights researcher and advocate — tasked with monitoring and investigating the abuses against some of the one billion people with disabilities around the world.”

Change-makers

“Human Rights Watch has built a body of evidence on the situation of people with disabilities in more than 50 countries on issues such as barriers to education, violence against people with disabilities, involuntary detention and treatment and heightened risks in humanitarian crises. For example, in India, following the release of our report on conditions in institutions and mental hospitals four years ago, we met with the state minister for health of West Bengal, together with our local partner, and urged him to end the use of isolation cells, explaining that they are inhumane, and provide no support or care to people in crisis. Within days, the isolation cells were torn down.”

More visibility

“In the many countries I have visited researching conditions for people with disabilities, the one constant — and haunting — refrain I have heard from people with disabilities has been: ‘I am treated as less than human’. Twelve years since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), much progress has been made in many aspects of the law and life, and people with disabilities in many countries are leading the fight for their rights. Governments and international humanitarian organisations should develop and implement plans for inclusion of these people in humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts.”

Equal rights

“There has been important progress in developing strong laws and policies that guarantee on paper that the one billion people with disabilities around the world have the same rights and dignity. In reality the situation is quite different. People with disabilities are often hidden in their homes or institutions, neglected and denied their most basic human rights — the chance to go to school, have a job, marry or be a part of our communities. The challenge is in changing the mindsets. Because the ‘suffering’ people with disabilities experience stems from how the rest of society treats them.”

Achievements

Juror for the inaugural Her Abilities Award (honouring the achievements of women with disabilities), Shantha Rau Barriga has served on the UNICEF Advisory Board for the 2013 State of the World’s Children report. She has participated in the UN negotiations toward the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and was Communications Director for the Coalitional for the International Criminal Court.

She worked with UNICEF Tanzania, carrying out an assessment on children with disabilities in refugee camps in Kibondo.
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