Title: HUMAN RIGHTS ARE EMBEDDED IN THE LEAGUE'S POLICIES
A new monthly column in the LWVUS-UN Google group (GG), called CASES & CONVENTIONS, highlights human rights cases heard before United Nations bodies. February's case focuses on the human rights of a women with disabilities to cast a private ballot. For more insight, please read the linked case review and then join the GG to read past case reviews on racial discrimination, aerial herbicide spraying's impact on indigenous populations and US trade sanctions of humanitarian goods headed to Iran.
CASES AND CONVENTIONS: Column by: Jill Follows, Savanna J. Mapelli, Susan Sherer, Anu Sahai, Erin Leigh Darnley (February 7, 2019) POSTED TO Google Group at LWVUS-UN
Fiona Given vs. Australia, (2018) This case decision upheld the human right of an Australian citizen with physical disabilities to cast a private ballot in a federal election.[i]
Context: This case was decided by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee is composed of a body of experts who monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Convention was adopted by the UN in 2006 and became the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century. The Committee examines individual complaints alleging violations of the CRPD. This case arose in Australia which did ratify the CRPD and consented to be bound by the convention.[ii]
[i] Case report of Fiona Given vs Australia https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/CLIN_2018_05_218_ENG.pdf
Scroll to page 26 “In general, the Committee required the State Party to take the following measures: (i) consider amending the Electoral Act in order to ensure that electronic voting options were available and accessible to all people with disabilities who so required, whatever the types of impairment, and that the facilities put in place were accessible to them; (ii) uphold, and guarantee in practice, the right to vote for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, as required by Article 29 of the Convention, by ensuring that voting procedures facilities and materials were appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use, and protect the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot through the use of assistive technologies; (iii) consider amending the Electoral Act in order to ensure that, in cases where assistance by another person could be necessary to enable a voter to cast his or her vote, the person providing such assistance was under an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of that vote.”
[ii] Countries agree to be bound by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-43-consent-to-be-bound.html
It is noteworthy that the USA did not ratify the CRPD and remains an outlier in the minority. [i] [ii] According to a 2017 report of the USA Government Accountability Office there are still concerns about the existence of impediments to voters with disabilities attempting to exercise their right to cast a private and independent vote. [iii]
Case Summary: Ms. Fiona Given, an Australian citizen, was born with cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. She used an electronic synthetic speech generating device for communication. She went to her polling station to vote in a federal election and claimed her human right to vote as a disabled person. Ms. Given asked the presiding officer at her polling station to assist her with casting her ballot by marking the ballot according to her direction, and then folding the ballot and depositing it in the ballot box. The presiding election officer declined the requested assistance stating that accommodations were offered only to persons who had previously registered as disabled with visual impairments. Under these circumstances Ms. Given forfeited her right to cast a private ballot. She was compelled to rely on her personal assistant to cast her ballot, thus revealing her political choice to a non-favored individual. Ms. Given argued that these concessions denied her the human right to cast a secret ballot using assistive technology and to secure assistance from a person of her choice.
The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed Ms. Given’s case with specific reference to three Articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD): Article 29 (Participation in political and public life)[iv] Article 9: (Accessibility) [v]; and Article 5 (Equality and Non-Discrimination[vi]). The UN Committee decided that the State Party in Australia was obligated to ensure that Ms. Given, and others like her, had access to “voting procedures and facilities that would enable her to vote by secret ballot without having to reveal her voting intention to any other person in all future elections and referendums in the State Party.” (Further details found in endnote i)
LWVUS Impact on Issues 2016-2018: “…the League has supported efforts to increase the accessibility of registration and voting for people with disabilities in federal elections and undertaken major efforts to encourage citizens to participate in the electoral process.” https://www.lwv.org/league-management/other-issues-tools/impact-issues-2016-2018-online-edition at page 13
LWVUS BLOG-How the League Helps Ensure Voting Access for Americans with Disabilities (7/25/14) “…the League works to ensure equal access to the ballot for Americans with disabilities” by, among other ways, holding voter registration drives…serve as volunteer poll watchers and check on physical accessibility requirements mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, fight restrictive voter ID measures and pursue states’ compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. [vii]
Sustainable Development Goal (United Nations): SDG 16.7- Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels; SDG 16B- Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development [viii]
Think Globally: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) is an international human rights convention. CRPD was adopted by most Member States to the UN in 2006. Procedurally, following the UN adoption of a convention, the convention is passed to each Member State for ratification. https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-2.html
Act Locally: Shortly after the UN adopted CRPD, a group of international experts on the human rights of persons with disabilities met in Madrid, Spain to draft recommendations that encouraged and supported the participation of civil society in ongoing efforts to implement CRPD. The standard for disability advocacy was based on the principle “Nothing about us without us”. (A loose interpretation of this quote suggests that policies pertaining to persons with disabilities must be developed by persons with disabilities.) The experts recommended that NGOs, among many other things, produce training materials on the CRPD, raise awareness of the CRPD through education campaigns and partner with allied organizations such as women’s organizations to expedite ratification of the convention. [ix]
Does the October 3, 2017 GAO report raise concerns about impediments to casting a private and independent vote by citizens with disabilities?
Is there case precedent in the USA in support of privacy of the vote for citizens with disabilities, much like there is pursuant to the Fiona Given vs Australia opinion by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
Were you aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act was used by a political consultant in Georgia to recommend closure of many polling places in heavily concentrated African American communities in the spring of 2018?[x]
Have you observed circumstances of human rights violations arising at polling stations where you wondered whether or not a person with disabilities was protected in his or her ability to cast a secret ballot?
[i] The American Bar Association identifies the USA as not having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. https://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/governmental_legislative_work/priorities_policy/promoting_international_rule_law/conventionontherightsofpersonswithdisabilities/
[ii] UN Chart of Member States depicting whether or not a Member State ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-15&chapter=4
[iv]CRPD Article 29 (Participation in political and public life) https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-29-participation-in-political-and-public-life.html
[vi] CRPD Article 5 (Equality and Non-Discrimination) https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-5-equality-and-non-discrimination.html
[vii] Blog by Renee Davidson, LWVUS https://www.lwv.org/blog/how-league-helps-ensure-voting-access-americans-disabilities
[viii] UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build, effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg16
[ix] The Declaration of Madrid outlined priority actions for Member States reaching out to include civil society in the implementation of the CRPD https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/about-us/expert-group-meetings/civil-society-participation-in-the-implementation-of-the-convention.html
[x] Charlotte Observer news source reported on a voting rights/ACA situation in Georgia https://web.archive.org/web/20180825151327/https:/www.charlotteobserver.com/news/nation-world/national/article217264695.html