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Spread respect for the rights of people with disabilities

Valerie Karr, a PhD candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, studies international perspectives on the rights of persons with disabilities. Click here to read an opinion piece she recently published in Newsday on terrorists' use of mentally disabled women as suicide bombers.
Valerie Karr, a PhD candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, studies international perspectives on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Of all the deplorable tactics used by terrorists around the world, the attack in busy Baghdad markets last Friday, in which two women with mental disabilities were strapped with explosives and then blown up by remote control, shocked the world with its depravity.

While the specific disabilities of the women remain unknown - one was described as "crazy" and the other may have had Down syndrome - the moral floor has fallen out of the insurgents' claims to represent a mass movement, and the Iraqi government has rightly pounced on the attacks for their anti-al-Qaida propaganda value. But a deeper question, about the value or the disposability of persons with disabilities, must be addressed.

The Baghdad attacks aren't the first time persons with disabilities have been exploited and murdered for malevolent political ends. Between 1939 and 1941, the Action T4 program in Nazi Germany systematically killed between 200,000 to 250,000 people with intellectual or physical disabilities, mass murder in the name of "racial hygiene."

And sadly, the hideous exploitation of the women in Iraq doesn't appear to be an anomaly in modern Middle Eastern terrorism. Afghan security officials have reported of apprehended Taliban bombers who were mentally disabled - seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as "weapons of God."

Is this a sign that the number of willing suicide bombers is shrinking? More likely, it's simply another example of the cruel and the desperate turning against society's most vulnerable.

On this point, there's much the world community can do. Wide condemnation helps. Al-Qaida has shown itself responsive to public opinion: When al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahiri said the release of beheading videos in Iraq hurt their cause, these acts fell dramatically.

The international community has increasingly recognized the rights of persons with disabilities. In December 2006, the UN General Assembly passed the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. It aims to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy human rights on an equal basis with others, and it actively involved persons with disabilities in the negotiation process.

The convention specifically cites that no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, degrading treatment, and that legislation and policies should be instituted to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. The convention has been signed by 123 countries around the world, many in the Middle East.

In the heart of the Middle East, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Bin Abdullah Al-Missned of Qatar has pioneered efforts for the education of children with disabilities and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

Qatar's Shafallah Center provides comprehensive services and care to individuals with developmental learning challenges, their families and the community. It also recently sponsored a human rights education manual promoting action and advocacy based on the 2006 UN Convention.

Terrorists adopt - and abandon - their tactics strategically. One would hope the horror in Baghdad last week is the death rattle of a bankrupt movement out of options. But as long as there's a sense that the disabled are less than human, and that the horror inflicted at their expense can be justified politically, such attacks will continue.

Efforts to raise the acceptance of the disabled as full and equal citizens are essential not only for a fair and just world, but for removing the rationale for evil acts perpetrated for someone else's perverse cause.

This OP-ED was printed in the Feb 7, 2008 edition of Newsday.

Valerie Karr is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Health & Behavior Studies, Special Education, Intellectual Disability and Autism.Her dissertation focuses on the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the application of self-determination and quality of life theory at an international level.She recently co-authored a human rights education manual around action and advocacy of the rights of persons with disabilities titled "Human Rights. YES!"

Published Monday, Feb. 11, 2008

Spread respect for the rights of people with disabilities

Valerie Karr, a PhD candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, studies international perspectives on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Of all the deplorable tactics used by terrorists around the world, the attack in busy Baghdad markets last Friday, in which two women with mental disabilities were strapped with explosives and then blown up by remote control, shocked the world with its depravity.

While the specific disabilities of the women remain unknown - one was described as "crazy" and the other may have had Down syndrome - the moral floor has fallen out of the insurgents' claims to represent a mass movement, and the Iraqi government has rightly pounced on the attacks for their anti-al-Qaida propaganda value. But a deeper question, about the value or the disposability of persons with disabilities, must be addressed.

The Baghdad attacks aren't the first time persons with disabilities have been exploited and murdered for malevolent political ends. Between 1939 and 1941, the Action T4 program in Nazi Germany systematically killed between 200,000 to 250,000 people with intellectual or physical disabilities, mass murder in the name of "racial hygiene."

And sadly, the hideous exploitation of the women in Iraq doesn't appear to be an anomaly in modern Middle Eastern terrorism. Afghan security officials have reported of apprehended Taliban bombers who were mentally disabled - seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as "weapons of God."

Is this a sign that the number of willing suicide bombers is shrinking? More likely, it's simply another example of the cruel and the desperate turning against society's most vulnerable.

On this point, there's much the world community can do. Wide condemnation helps. Al-Qaida has shown itself responsive to public opinion: When al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahiri said the release of beheading videos in Iraq hurt their cause, these acts fell dramatically.

The international community has increasingly recognized the rights of persons with disabilities. In December 2006, the UN General Assembly passed the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. It aims to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy human rights on an equal basis with others, and it actively involved persons with disabilities in the negotiation process.

The convention specifically cites that no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, degrading treatment, and that legislation and policies should be instituted to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. The convention has been signed by 123 countries around the world, many in the Middle East.

In the heart of the Middle East, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Bin Abdullah Al-Missned of Qatar has pioneered efforts for the education of children with disabilities and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

Qatar's Shafallah Center provides comprehensive services and care to individuals with developmental learning challenges, their families and the community. It also recently sponsored a human rights education manual promoting action and advocacy based on the 2006 UN Convention.

Terrorists adopt - and abandon - their tactics strategically. One would hope the horror in Baghdad last week is the death rattle of a bankrupt movement out of options. But as long as there's a sense that the disabled are less than human, and that the horror inflicted at their expense can be justified politically, such attacks will continue.

Efforts to raise the acceptance of the disabled as full and equal citizens are essential not only for a fair and just world, but for removing the rationale for evil acts perpetrated for someone else's perverse cause.

This OP-ED was printed in the Feb 7, 2008 edition of Newsday.

Valerie Karr is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Health & Behavior Studies, Special Education, Intellectual Disability and Autism.Her dissertation focuses on the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the application of self-determination and quality of life theory at an international level.She recently co-authored a human rights education manual around action and advocacy of the rights of persons with disabilities titled "Human Rights. YES!"
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