The Election Commission celebrated Voters Day for the first time after they were established. The Chairman of the Election Commission insisted on the importance of an inclusive election and the strategies of the newly established Commission in getting the involvement of all marginalised groups in order to create an electoral process where no elector is to be left behind.
The following submission is respectfully made to the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, to be brought to the attention of the Constitutional Assembly, in promulgating a new Constitution for the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
This submission has been initiated by a group of civil society organizations and individuals promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, including volunteers from the 2015 ‘Enabled Elections’ campaign and facilitated by the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), who have been advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka and in particular their civil and political rights. It has been developed from a draft that was discussed at a meeting convened by CMEV at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) on February 8 2016, with the support of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the Northern Province Consortium of the Differently Abled, and finalized with the feedback of numerous disability and human rights advocates in Sri Lanka, and circulated for endorsement.
Download the submission in all three languages below.
In February 2016, dozens of participants representing disability rights advocates, disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) and other civil society groups convened in Colombo, Sri Lanka to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities in the electoral and constitutional reform process. Led by the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), the meeting launched an effort to develop and submit language to the constitutional reform committee to ensure that these rights are incorporated into Sri Lanka’s legal framework. This marked the first ever initiative of its kind.
At the request of CMEV and DPOs, inclusion experts from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems(IFES) provided technical advice on international standards and best practices for ensuring rights of people with disabilities are recognized in a country’s legal framework, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The international standards, provided in Sinhala, Tamil and braille, informed the civil society initiative by helping to translate international best practices on inclusion to Sri Lanka’s ongoing electoral and constitutional reform process. Many of the proposed standards were integrated into the final constitutional submission. These included language prohibiting the use of ‘unsound mind’ as a justification for limiting a citizens’ right to vote and run for office; establishing an independent council to advise government stakeholders on the rights of persons with disabilities; creating an Access to Elected Office Fund to provide accessible transport, sign language interpreters or other enabling conditions for candidates with disabilities; and explicitly promoting the political rights of women with disabilities.
“I consider this submission of a proposal to include the voice of the persons with disabilities in the constitutional reforms as a major leap… It would enable all of us to engage with the decision making process of the country more proactively while advocating to secure our civil and political rights.”
T.J Rukmal, Co-founder and President of the Enable Lanka Foundation
On March 4, 2016, following an inclusive consultative process, this informal network of disability advocates representing over 30 civil society and disabled people’s organizations delivered their newly-drafted disability rights’ language to Sri Lanka’s Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms. Through this and other efforts, IFES’ Improved Election Management Program continues to support USAID’s focus on advancing disability-inclusive development as part of a strengthened democratic process.
View the original article here.
Disability is not a disqualification for anyone in voting. No matter one couldn’t see or hear or make one’s way to the polling station without help, their right to vote remains the same.
CMEV as one of the prominent Sri Lankan election monitoring organizations that realized the importance of paying special attention to equality of access in elections pertaining to the democratization process, was able to co-convene the ”Enabled Election Campaign” in partnership with several other organizations as well as voluntary activists and experts, with the view to creating a conducive environment for all persons, focusing mostly on vulnerable and marginalized groups in the community prioritizing the persons living with disabilities in relation to the electoral process.
The island-wide campaign which was conducted last year, by the name ‘Enabled Election’ in tandem with the general Election 2015 was facilitated by CMEV whilst bringing forth an impact that involved more active participation of the persons with disabilities in voting at the election.
The purpose of the campaign was to follow up on the circular number PE 164/2015 issued by the Commissioner of Elections in May 2015 advising all the Assistant Commissioners to ensure that ‘reasonable Access’ is provided for voters living with a disability. The said campaign also became an eye-opener for the general public and the responsible state institutions regarding the rights and entitlements of the persons with disabilities and the difficulties faced by the persons with disabilities in their participation at the elections and in politics overall.
The initiative was instrumental in engaging with independent disability Rights advocates, civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations with inclusive mandates and journalists in the process of outlining the strategy for the campaign.
The campaign focused on three (3) key areas:
- Invoking awareness among persons with disabilities on their rights, entitlements and responsibilities in exercising their civic duties
- Lobbying with mainstream political parties to recognize the concerns of the community of persons with disabilities.
- Lobbying with other election monitoring bodies including international observers to include disability in their election monitoring activities
Significant outcomes of the campaign were: Drafting of a Manifesto to assert social, economic, political and cultural Rights of persons with disabilities and the task of presenting them to
- The President of Sri Lanka and other political party leaders
- A discussion with the Election Commissioner Mr Mahinda Deshapriya was held in order to follow up on the circular issued by the Elections Commissioner’s office in May 2015 to ensure that at Grama Niladhari level (village administrative division) persons with disabilities are informed about applying for special provisions to accessibility on elections day
- Launching of social media campaign through Enabled Elections facebook page and twitter
- Print media and electronic media features to communicate messages on the available provisions issued by the Elections Commissioner’s office to ensure persons with disabilities have ‘reasonable Access’ at polling stations
- Formulating accessible information and education material (braille flyers) for persons with disabilities on their Right to vote, accessibility provisions they are entitled to at polling stations and how to lobby for same
- Producing an informative video encouraging persons with disabilities, and their caregivers to ensure that their ‘voice is heard’ at the General Elections
- Two awareness raising workshops (Southern Province and Eastern Province) for leaders of Disabled Peoples Organizations, persons with disabilities and caregivers on the available provisions through the Elections Commissioner’s circular, and informative session on ‘how to vote’ and extraction of recommendations/suggestions from participants to inform Enabled Elections’ follow up action after the General Elections
As a continuation of the same initiative with a brand-new and more concrete approach that opens a wider window of opportunity for many other persons living with disabilities as well as for various disability advocates in Sri Lanka, CMEV wishes to organize a series of consultative meetings in national and regional levels with the guidance and active involvement of the International foundation for Electoral Systems.
The first national consultation meeting of the series will be held at the Auditorium of International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) on the 8th of February from 9:30 P. M. till 12:00 P. M. and will be open for the interested Sri Lankans living with disabilities and for the disability advocates with substantial knowledge and field experience in the inclusive development and electoral sector.
Download the report here.