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Appoint our members as judges, lawyers with disabilities tell ECOWAS Court

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By Nwafor Sunday

Association of Lawyers with disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN ) Thursday, visited Hon. Justice Edward Asante President of ECOWAS Court and other Judges, making case for the appointment of Lawyers with disabilities as Judges and speaking ill of the groups marginalization in the society.

In his presentation, the president of the association, Daniel Onwe ESQ, listed other reasons for coming to the court, noting that it was part of their on-going project, which is on advocacy for accessibility of the justice administration system to persons with disabilities.

Onwe stated that People with disabilities were not put into consideration in the scheme of affairs in the society.

Below is the full statement:

AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF ASSOCIATION OF LAWYERS WITH DISABILITIES IN NIGERIA (ALDIN), DANIEL ONWE ESQ. ON ALIDIN’S VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT AND JUDGES OF THE ECOWAS COURT ON 23RD OF JANUARY, 2020.

The President of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, My Lord Hon. Justice Edward Asante;

My Lords, the Hon. Judges of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice here present,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), we wish to express our profound gratitude to the President and Judges of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for granting us the privilege of this meeting.

As our name implies, ALDIN is the umbrella association of Nigerian lawyers, both at home and in diaspora, who have one type of disability or the other. Our objective is to champion the cause of persons with disabilities in general, and lawyers with disabilities in particular.  Our being here today is part of our on-going project, which is on advocacy for accessibility of the justice administration system to persons with disabilities. And this project is graciously being supported by the Disability Rights Fund (DRF).

Our association was founded in response to the fact that persons with disabilities are usually not put into consideration in the scheme of affairs in the society – hence their interest usually comes as an afterthought. This is why, for instance, public buildings are usually constructed with steep flight of steps, without considering that there are people on wheelchairs and crutches who would need to access those buildings. The modus operandi in our society does not contemplate that there are the blind, the deaf and persons with other forms of disabilities, who would require special formats of communication.

This problem is prevalent across the West African countries and has some serious human right implications. When public buildings and the environment are inaccessible to persons with disabilities, as a result of man-made architectural barriers, it violates their fundamental rights. These rights are:

Right to movement, contrary to Articles 12(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Right to freedom of association, contrary to Articles 10 of The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Right to dignity of human person, contrary to Articles 5 of The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

When there is no use of sign language at public functions and television programs, its is a violation of the freedom of expression of persons with hearing disability (the deaf) contrary to Articles 9 of The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

When public information is not made available in Braille and other formats accessible to persons with visual disability (the blind) it violates their freedom of expression guaranteed under Articles 9 of The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. There is also the widespread incidents of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

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These human right violations of persons with disabilities, give them cause of action before this Honourable Court against their respective countries in West Africa. Unfortunately, however,  the predicament of persons with disabilities becomes compounded when even the Court of justice, its practices and its procedures are inaccessible to them(persons with disabilities).

Our Courts of justice are neither just nor fair to persons with disabilities. Court buildings and environment are very inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities who come to the courts, either as counsel, litigants or witnesses face untold hardships. Persons on wheelchairs, for instance, can only access most courtrooms by they either crawling on the floor or being carried in the hand like babies. There are several blind persons and deaf persons who have defied all odds to become lawyers, but the courts have no assistive facilities to cater for their peculiarities.

The Article 4 of the ECOWAS Revised Protocol emphasizes the recognition, promotion and protection of human right in accordance with the provision of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right. And this also must apply to persons with disabilities.

In specific terms, we hereby humbly make the following requests:

Accessibility of Buildings/Environment: Elevators and ramps should be installed in the Court to make them accessible to persons with disabilities, whether, lawyers, litigants or witness, who need to approach the court for justice.

Provision of sign language Interpreters for the deaf/Assistive formats of communication for the blind: This will aid the communication and functionality of the deaf and the blind in the Court.

Parking Lots: There should be suitable parking lots, reserved and marked for the use of persons with disabilities to save them the hardship of walking too long distances when they come to court.

Appointment of Lawyers with Disabilities as Judges:

There are many lawyers with disabilities, who are academically, intellectual and otherwise qualified to be judges. We are therefore, strongly making a case for the appoint of lawyers with disabilities to the bench of the ECOWAS Court. This will send a strong message that the Court is poised to do justice and equity to all, irrespective of circumstance. This will also be a huge source of inspiration to other persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged persons not just in West Africa, but in the world. We can assure My Lord that persons with disabilities will give a good account of themselves on the bench.

Employment as Judicial Staff: If there are many persons with disabilities who are qualified to be judges, then it goes without saying that there are much more of them qualified to be employed as judicial staff. We, therefore, urge my Lord to consider the employment of persons with the disabilities. This will portray the Court as being non-discriminatory. It is pathetic when persons with disability are unemployed after striving and earning impressive qualifications despite all odds.

Practice Direction: It is imperative for your Lordship to issue a practice direction to cater for the peculiarities of counsel and litigants with disabilities. For guidance on this, we have attached a draft of our proposed Practice Direction for My Lords consideration.

The importance of the courts in upholding the fundamental right of persons with disabilities cannot be overemphasized, as the larger society looks up to the court for guiding example of what is just and right. Therefore, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice is strategically positioned to set the needed example for West African countries and their courts. And if, an American organization, such as DRF will be so concerned about the promotion of he rights of persons with disability in West Africa, nothing less should be expected from West African institutions.

Once again, my Lord we are grateful for this opportunity.

Thank you.

Vanguard

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