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Issue #1945      14th December, 2020

Peace for disability justice

This article is the edited script for 3CR Alternative News program for the International Day of People with a Disability produced on Sunday 6th December.

To celebrate the International Day of People with a Disability, I will be talking about the links between peace and disability justice, and the production of disability.

The UN defines disability in its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as: “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

This convention was adopted in 2006 based on the social model of disability, which has been advocated for by disability activists in the West. The social model, which says that society must eradicate barriers for disabled people, replaced the medical model that says that it is an individual’s responsibility to be “fixed” by medicine and therapy.

One thing that the UN convention does not consider is the production of disability. It is important to understand that by “producing disability” I don’t mean to say that disability is unnatural. Even though many people might see disability as something that only happens to others, the reality is that disability is common and normal. In Australia, about 4.5 million people are disabled.

Disability can be produced when bodies are inflicted with systemic violence. This systemic violence can either be through:

  • dangerous working conditions
  • state violence
  • social violence
  • armed conflict and occupation

The UN convention only mentions that disabled people are to still have their human rights during armed conflicts and foreign occupation. But what about a person’s right to have their health and bodies protected from lifelong injury or debilitating sickness during war and occupation? And what about how war disables communities not just during conflict, but also generations afterwards?

One example is the amount of birth defects found near US bases in Iraq after the 2003 invasion by the US and NATO. Since the invasion, the significant increase in birth defects in Iraq is believed to be because of America’s use of munitions with depleted uranium during the war.

Another example is the effects of the Vietnam War on the population. One New York Times report stated that approximately 67,000 people in Vietnam lost limbs, or eyes from cluster bombs since the end of the war. One study on disability in Vietnam found that you were more likely to be disabled if you were born during the bombing of Vietnam or if you live in a heavily bombed district.

There are articles about Israeli soldiers “kneecapping” Palestinians in order to maim them and control the population. One article quotes an Israeli sniper saying they would shoot “42 knee caps a day”. Another article talks about how this practice has created an entire generation of “disabled youth” in Gaza. An Inquiry by the UN in 2019 found that out of 6,000 protesters during the Great March of Return in Gaza, over eighty per cent were shot in the lower limbs. While some people fully recover from being shot in the keens, one in five will have a limp for the rest of their life and others may have to have their leg amputated.

Sanctions can also harm disabled and ill people. From Iran to Venezuela, we have seen sanctions repeatedly limit people’s access to needed medical supplies. In this way, the UN is complicit in harming disabled people and producing disability.

The social model applies well for those of us in the West that are less likely to experience systemic violence. In Australia, we have not experienced war since the Frontier war we waged against First Nations people. The social model falls short in achieving disability justice worldwide and for us in Australia who become disabled at the hands of the racist justice system or unsafe work conditions. We are also complicit in producing disability in other countries.

This is why we need to start answering the questions of the production of disability through war, foreign occupation, and other systemic violence.

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