In April 2017, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) interviewed Abdelraouf Shanab, a Libyan disability rights advocate who participated in IFES' Disability Rights, Media, and Elections training from the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) curriculum. The transcript of the interview is below. It has been edited for clarity.
Hello, my name is Abdelraouf Shanab. I am a member of the organization Zaykom Zayna for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Zaykom Zayna started as a campaign launched by a group of persons with disabilities and disability rights activists in Libya known as the Working Group (WG). This WG was created based on recommendations emerged from a workshop conducted by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in collaboration with the Libyan High National Election Commission (HNEC).
The first activity of the WG was the launch of the Zaykom Zayna campaign, which targeted all groups of Libyan society to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities and to send a message that persons with disabilities [should] exist within Libyan society.
Following its creation, the WG also urged the legislative body (the General National Congress) at that time to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). After efforts of many institutions, organizations and groups advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, including the IFES-supported WG, the General National Congress [a political body formed by politicians from blocs that lost the June 2014 elections in Libya] ratified the CRPD in 2013 by issuing decision No. 2/2013 on the ratification of the [CRPD].
Following the ratification of the CRPD, the WG [decided to] develop the Zaykom Zayna campaign to become an organization, and in May 2015, the organization Zaykom Zayna for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was officially created in Libya. Zaykom Zayna is now an organization that works in the field, advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in Libya and urging Libyan authorities to enforce or amend the laws that are related to [disability] rights.
I think there is a lack of awareness…among persons with disabilities themselves about their rights. Many persons with disabilities do not know that there is a specific article in the CRPD that guarantees their political participation [Article 29]. They do not know also that the electoral law in Libya guarantees their participation in elections as voters or candidates.
Additionally, persons with disabilities in Libya have difficulty accessing information, as well as polling stations, during elections. This was one of our focus points during the previous electoral events in Libya. We worked with the HNEC to ensure that there were enough accessible polling stations [to serve voters with disabilities], and we are still working with the election commission to make sure that all the polling stations will be accessible in future elections.
We are also working with other organizations in Libya to increase the awareness of persons with disabilities about the electoral cycle.
This is a very important question. Indeed, both traditional and new media can play a very important role in transmitting information related to the electoral process to persons with disabilities wherever they are in Libya. However, in order to transmit information to all persons with disabilities regardless of their type of disability, media must be accessible to all people. I mean, media should use tools and techniques to transmit information to this group of the society. For example, TV channels should use sign language to make information accessible to Deaf people. News websites need to also be accessible to people who are blind in order to allow them to read and understand any information. Information produced by different media outlets, particularly those related to the electoral processes, must also be simple and understandable in order to be understood by persons with intellectual disabilities.
Through inclusive media seminars [supported by IFES], which we conducted in different cities around Libya targeting journalists, we have noticed that there is a lack of awareness among Libyan journalists about the rights of persons with disabilities. Journalists also do not know rights-based terminology related to disability and how they should use this terminology.
Libyan media are still dealing with the issues of persons with disabilities in the country from a charity approach, not from a rights-based approach.
I urge Libyan media to talk directly to persons with disabilities or to organizations that are working on issues related to persons with disabilities in Libya because they are the ones who know their rights, their duties and their issues. Libyan journalists should read about the rights of persons with disabilities and know rights-based terminology that should be used before writing any report about the issues of this group within society. Libyan journalists should also look at and deal with any issue that is related to persons with disabilities from different angles. They should not look at the issues of persons with disabilities from a charity approach rather than a rights-based approach. Finally, Libyan journalists should deal with persons with disabilities like any other citizens.