Zambia Is Pioneering a New Approach to Criminal Justice for People with Disabilities

Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a landmark international treaty in the pantheon of human rights. On paper, Article 13 of the convention guarantees equal and effective access to justice, and Article 14 prohibits deprivation of liberty based on disability. But in reality, the most marginalized people with disabilities—those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities—rarely get equal access to justice.

Instead, they are discriminated against at almost every turn, whether by police, lawyers, judges, or prison staff, most of whom lack the training to engage with or accommodate persons with such disabilities. As a result, people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are at higher risk of getting caught in discriminatory justice systems in which they are treated differently than others—discriminated against, stigmatized, even ignored. Once in the system, some are simply forgotten and never get out.

In Zambia, people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities are at a heightened risk of being wrongly arrested and detained for noncriminal behavior. If they misunderstand police questioning or are misunderstood by police, unintended consequences may result, from inaccurate testimony to unnecessary punishment and confinement. The absence of community-based support services only compounds these issues.

But things are changing for the better.

In the video above, we discover how Zambia is breaking new ground by reforming the way in which its criminal justice system treats people with disabilities. A consortium of nongovernmental organizations, led by the Lusaka-based Paralegal Alliance Network, has been collaborating with the Zambian government in an innovative partnership that includes the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Mental Health Users Network Zambia, the Prisons Care and Counselling Association, the Zambia Federation of Disability Organisations, the Legal Resources Foundation, and the UK-based Prison Reform Trust.

Their research, report, and recommendations, supported by the Open Society Human Rights Initiative and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, are pushing the country to fundamentally alter the disability rights landscape in Zambia for the better, improving policy and practice not only for people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, but for all people coming into contact with the justice system.

Learn More:



is better to know different history around us

Interesting video and thanks for highlighting the predicament of persons with mental/intellectual disabilities. Action should be taken

As a practicing lawyer, dealing with some criminal cases of persons with mental and intellectual disability, I also experienced the discrimination against my clients by 'legal professionals'. Therefore, I strongly agree on what highlighted in this video. Protecting their fundamental human rights is tremendously vital. I hope this movement would expand all over the world, particularly among legal practitioners who sometimes misunderstand themselves as ones perfectly know everything related to law.
Thanks for sharing it and I hope we c

I have witnessed my relatives who could not be accepted by their own parents, and they got taken care of by my parents. Even in our own home, there were just too many "secrets" about these people's behavior and we were told to normally stay away from them. We are a Christian Family, and Love for one another was repeatedly preached to us. But this segregation of these people made me feel that something wasn't fair.
And when I learned that I had epilepsy, I was left with very few people who knew about it and could still accept me near to them. I felt segregated, and I remembered the fate of those relatives in my childhood days. Zambia has to continue with these changes that will make us (social victims) to completely feel part of the society and eligible citizens. Thank you for this publication, Open Society.

Human rights violations may be happening in other parts of the world not in Zambia only. People with disabilities are also human beings. We need equal treatment in service organizations and especial legal systems to provide justice to all.

Thats great,and commendable.I suggest the advocates must bravely sustain their action to the letter.

Thank you for highlighting this issue, Louise and colleagues

Thanks to Open Society Foundation. We are grateful as Ugandan to hear the voice the Marginalized people with mental health problems and intellectual disabilities being hard. Zambian must immolate the efforts of mental health service users invlovement in pushing the issues that affects them directly, this depicts a sign of inclusiveness

Together we should make an advocacy to community about the rights of people with disabilities socially, politically and even economically. For example in education not only are enrolled at schools but also to ensure that they are accessing learning. Therefore the community should understand that to empower people with disabilities in education is to empower community for development.

Add your voice