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UN adopts resolution spotlighting disabled in conflict

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously adopted its first resolution putting a spotlight on the situation of people with disabilities caught in armed conflicts, urging protection and assistance for them.

The resolution was adopted about two months after the first-ever appearance before the council of a disabled person caught in conflict — 20-year-old Syrian refugee Nujeen Mustafa — who addressed members in late April from a wheelchair.

Mustafa said hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities already "were forgotten in times of peace" and were struggling to survive in Syria's long war where they "remain invisible." She urged the council not to forget the disabled and "to count us, because we count, too" — and she called for action, not words.

The resolution, sponsored by Poland and Britain, expresses serious concern at "the disproportionate impact that armed conflict has on persons with disabilities, including abandonment, violence, and lack of access to basic services."

It urges all parties in armed conflicts to protect the disabled and other civilians and prevent violence and abuse against them. And it stresses the importance of providing timely and accessible assistance "including reintegration, rehabilitation and psychosocial support, to ensure that their specific needs are effectively addressed."

Poland's U.N. Ambassador Joanna Wronecka said her country was "proud" to bring the "important yet overlooked issue" of disabled people in conflict before the Security Council "for the first time." Poland initially raised the issue of the disabled in conflict at an informal council meeting last year, and Wronecka noted that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to Nujeen Mustafa in his opening speech last week at the meeting of countries that are parties to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"We certainly hope that this landmark resolution will bring change for Nujeen and millions of other persons with disabilities," Wronecka said, stressing that Poland will continue efforts to ensure that the disabled "are not the ones left behind."

Britain's Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen called the resolution "a vital first step in the council's role in mitigating and better understanding the disproportionate impact that conflict has on persons with disabilities."

He said the resolution supports a key demand by Nujeen — "that persons with disabilities want to, can, and must participate and lead decisions which affect their lives." The resolution urges the 193 U.N. member nations "to take appropriate measures to enable the meaningful participation and representation of persons with disabilities, including their representative organizations, in humanitarian action, conflict prevention, resolution, reconciliation, reconstruction and peacebuilding."

It also recognizes "the need for timely data and information on, and analysis of, the impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities" — a goal stressed by Poland's Wronecka. In her council address in April, Mustafa said there is very little data on how many disabled people are in Syria and neighboring countries, which leaves them "invisible" when it comes to programs, policies and assistance.

Mustafa, who now lives in Germany, said people with disabilities are a resource, not a burden, and should participate and be represented in all parts of the Security Council's work because they know best the risks and challenges they face and their needs.

"Nothing about us, without us," she said. "Otherwise, we continue to remain invisible." Robert Mardini, the International Committee of the Red Cross' U.N. representative, said disabled people in conflicts "face disproportionate difficulties accessing basic services and because of this are in vulnerable situations and at a greater risk of violence and abuse."

"We in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement witness this day in and day out on the ground," he said. Mardini said the resolution adopted Thursday stresses that the disabled "must be able to access services they need on an equal basis with others," and he called the measure "a good step towards ensuring better protection for people with disabilities."

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