The Disability Sector Collaboration Workshop concluded a productive two-day event held on 3-4 March at Mendana Hotel. It followed the launch of the UNDP Access to Justice Study Solomon Islands 2019 which highlights that people with disabilities (PWDs) are more pessimistic about justice services overall and reported lower levels of awareness, confidence in, and accessibility to different justice institutions. Further, the Study reveals that PWDs are less likely to have knowledge and understanding of their legal rights.
The People with Disabilities Solomon Islands (PWDSI) led workshop was supported under the Solomon Islands Access to Justice Project, funded by the Australian Government and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
At the opening of the workshop, Australian High Commissioner Dr Lachie Strahan affirmed Australia’s commitment to strengthening disability-inclusive development.
“Globally 80 per cent of people with disabilities live in developing countries and they often face negative attitudes, stigma, exclusion and discrimination,” he said.
“I am pleased to see that Australia supports a range of partners undertaking access to justice work that are committed to improving collaboration so that people with disabilities can participate in and benefit from development efforts on an equal basis with others.”
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Dr. Paul Mae, spoke about the importance of access to justice services for all citizens of the Solomon Islands and that the ministry strives ‘to promote and advocate inclusiveness in its approach of service delivery to be in line with international human rights standards.’ He encouraged all participants of the workshop ‘to make use of the opportunity to share ideas and strengthen partnerships in addressing access to justice in the area’.
The same sentiment was echoed by UNDP Resident Representative Levan Bouadze in his opening remarks. Mr Bouadze agreed that the workshop ‘provides the opportunity to discuss collaborative initiatives in the region and the Solomon Islands to include legal aid clinics and legal outreach and awareness for people with disabilities.’
A key objective of the workshop was to ensure that PWDs had a platform for representation and participation on issues concerning them, such as access to justice. The workshop also provided an opportunity for representatives from across the disability and justice sectors including Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) such as Rehabilitation, Ability Skills (RAS), Solomon Islands Deaf Association (SIDA) and the Blind Association, to enhance coordination across the disability sector and strengthen partnerships with relevant government agencies and NGOs. The diverse engagement was necessary given that disability is a multi-dimensional human rights and development issue.
This was facilitated through fruitful exchanges based on disability sector policy updates, access to justice challenges, inclusive practices in the Pacific region and an understanding of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Principal Legal Officer at the Public Solicitors Office, Kathleen Kohata, facilitated a discussion on the path forward to enhancing access to justice for PWDs. She emphasized that ‘the PSO is for the most disadvantaged persons of the Solomon Islands and not just financially speaking, but it is also about ensuring inclusion. The office should be for everyone, especially the most disadvantaged.’ The PSO is committed to restarting a legal clinic for PWDs and the UNDP Access to Justice Project will be supporting this.
The discussion which ensued centered on innovative approaches on operations, administration, collaboration, referrals and access to the PWD legal clinic to ensure the initiative’s impact and sustainability.
Vice-President of PWDSI Casper Fa’asala acknowledged the inclusive approach of the Access to Justice study, which resulted in some of the key findings presented in the recently launched report which are directly related to PWD and PWDSI. He emphasized that these partnerships form the reality of realizing “without us nothing will be for us” and highlights the meaningful statement of “leaving no one behind”.
The event concluded with consensus from participants on the ‘Hibiscus Commitment Statement on Disability Sector Collaboration’. Three key aspects of the commitment statement include the establishment of disability focal points for for enhanced coordination of issues relating to social inclusion; establish a taskforce for the strengthening of the legal clinic for PWDs and pursing collaborative efforts to progress ratification of the CRPD.