ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR DEAF PEOPLE
By Isaacs Mwale
As we commemorate the International Week of the Deaf this year under the theme “Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights”, it is important to reflect and ponder on the state of affairs currently experienced by Deaf people when they find themselves seeking justice at our courts today in Zimbabwe.
This year in particular has proved to be a very difficult year for Deaf people seeking justice at our courts as the unavailability of a Sign language interpreter at the Harare Magistrates Court, High Court and other courts in Harare has not been rectified since the beginning of this year and we are now approaching October. Accessing justice became tougher than other years due to the Covid-19 regulations and lockdown, which saw the temporary closure of the courts. Issues of accessing transportation to attend court, transportation costs and having the required documentation to pass through check points proved very challenging for PWDs as most of them are informally employed and they also rely on public transportation to take them from their domiciled locations to their areas of business.
As the situation currently stands, there is only one qualified Sign Language interpreter who is stationed at Bindura Magistrates Court. This means that there is only one interpreter to operate not only at the Bindura Magistrates Court but his services are also needed at the High Court, Civil Court, Rotten Row Magistrates Court and all the other Courts in Harare. This has resulted in a major back-log of cases involving Deaf people thereby effectively hindering their access to justice at the courts.
The unavailability of a Sign Language interpreter at the Harare Magistrates Court has also affected Deaf parties wishing to wed at the court. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Zimbabwe ratified in 2013, guarantees the right of people with disabilities:
• to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others; and
• to effective access to justice at all phases of the administration of justice, including at preliminary stages, such as initial investigations (Article 13 of the CRPD).
As the current situation remains Deaf people are being deprived of their right to access justice and the courts, which have a responsibility to administer justice, are now in breach of section 56 of the Constitution that promotes equality and prohibits discrimination. If the human rights of Deaf people are to be truly reaffirmed this situation has to be resolved as soon as possible. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has acknowledged these challenges being faced at the courts, in particular the absence of Sign Language interpreters and they have engaged DZT and other stakeholders to try and rectify this urgent situation.
Reaffirming Deaf People Human Rights in Zimbabwe
By Tinotenda Chikunya
The month of September is Deaf awareness month when we commemorate International week of the Deaf from the 21st to the 27th of September every year. It is the month when we also commemorate the International Day of Sign Languages on the 23RD of September. This year’s theme for the International Week of the Deaf is ‘Reaffirming Deaf people’s human rights’.
Persons with disability often have their rights infringed due to lack of reasonable accommodation in Zimbabwe. As a nation there is need to ensure that we uphold and promote the rights of the Deaf in all sectors in order to ensure that we foster inclusion of Deaf people.
Human rights are inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is entitled to because they are a human being. Human rights are universal and seek to benefit all human beings regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
Sign language is the core and key to the full enjoyment of Human Rights for Deaf People. According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe in Section 6, Sign Language is one of the 16 officially recognise languages and all institutions and agencies must ensure that all languages are treated equitably and take into account the language preferences of people affected by governmental measures or communications. This means that Deaf people have a right to use their language everywhere in Zimbabwe and Sign Language should be prioritised as much as other languages in order to ensure that we reaffirm these rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities also promotes language rights in Article 2 states that Sign Language is equal in Status to other Languages. Use of sign language brings equality to Deaf people.
Ensuring equality for Deaf persons entails ensuring that Deaf persons have access to education in Sign language as the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that language preferences of Deaf People should be taken into account therefore Deaf children must learn in Sign Language. The CRPD ensures the right to learn in Sign Language and promotes linguistic identity of Deaf people. As a nation we need to ensure that a Sign Language Syllabi is created for Deaf children in Primary and Secondary school and to ensure that all special needs teachers are trained in Sign Language in order for them to effectively communicate with Deaf children in resource centres.
The greatest barrier for Deaf people to participation is lack of access to information. When announcements are made at a local and national level , on issues that are of paramount importance to all citizens, Deaf people miss out on the Information. Information is packaged in inaccessible formats which will not have captions or Sign Language interpretation which results in Deaf people missing out on the Information. The CRPD Article 9 and Article 21 states that Governments must provide for accessibility to information and communication. Section 83 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that the state must encourage the use and development of forms of communication suitable for persons with disabilities in order to promote access to information for the Deaf community. The media industry is the greatest source of information for people therefore media information should be packaged in a way that is accessible to all people and they should take language preferences of persons with disabilities. Access to timely and accurate information enables Deaf people to make informed decisions and keep informed about what is happening around them.
In the private and public sector, Dead people do not meaningfully participate due to discrimination. There is no reasonable accommodation when people engage in various activities. Lack of inclusive infrastructure, lack of Sign Language interpretation and negative attitudes have resulted in Deaf people being left out of important activities. According to the World Federation of the Deaf. , it is necessary to ensure that the Deaf take up leadership roles in local and national processes in order for them to be able to advocate for their rights and be actively involved in decision making. The CRPD Article 5 states that no persons is supposed to be discriminated on the basis of disability and on Article 29 , government should promote an environment that ensures effective and full participation in political and public life.