No Budget or Implementation: Rouhani Government Fails to Implement Disability Rights Law
People with disabilities and activists in Iran signed petitions and held several rallies in 2019 to protest the government’s unlawful refusal to allocate a budget for the implementation of the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled.
According to Article 30 of the law, which was ratified by Parliament in May 2018, the government of President Hassan Rouhani is required to include an independent line in its annual budget, separate from the Welfare Organization’s general budget, allocating a specific amount of state funds for the implementation of the new disability rights law.
In August 2019, a group of activists met in the presidential office and submitted a petition with some 10,000 signatures to As’hagh Jahangiri, President Hassan Rouhani’s first deputy, and communicated to him their grievances and demands.
“By failing to allocate sufficient funds to implement Iran’s new disabilities law, the government has shown its disregard for its domestic and international obligations to the country’s disabilities community,” an Iranian disability rights activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
According to State Welfare Organization (SWO) estimates, implementing the law would require a minimum of 12,000 billion tomans ($3.6 million). However, only 1,100 billion tomans ($330,000)—less than one-tenth of the estimated amount—was allocated in the government’s annual budget.
Moreover, “this same insufficient amount has yet to be paid to the State Welfare Organization six months after the start of the Iranian new year [March 2019],” an unnamed disability rights activist told the state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency.
Member of Parliament (MP) Homayoun Hashemi, a member of the legislature’s Disability Protection Faction, said in an interview with the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency that the government had no excuse for its failure to implement the law.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to the disabled and those in need,” he said, “the lack of sufficient funding is the first excuse used by authorities, which I believe is not an acceptable justification because there is a budget for everything else.”
Noting that the Planning and Budget Organization has also not attempted to provide funding for the law, he added, “When it comes to the disabled and people in need, however, they say there is not enough budget, and that’s not acceptable at all.”
Mohammad Nafariyeh, deputy director of the SWO’s Department of Rehabilitation, announced on August 26 that the Planning and Budget Organization has promised to pay 30 percent of the allocated budget by September 22.
However, emphasizing that the 12,000-billion-toman budget was estimated “prior to recent inflation,” he added that even if the total allocated funds are provided, they would not be enough to properly implement the new law.
“This year’s SWO estimate for implementing the disability law is several times as high as last year,” he said. “For instance, the cost of rehabilitation equipment has doubled. The cost of hygienic items such as linen, bandages and so on has also doubled. On the other hand, the need for funding in order to increase subsidies for day and overnight rehabilitation centers has not been met and the organization has to provide the difference from its current budget.”
Rouhani Government Violating Domestic and International Laws
The Rouhani government’s failure to allocate funds for the implementation of the country’s new disability rights law is unlawful. Article 30 of the law explicitly states a required independent budget for its implementation.
In Iran, all laws must be implemented immediately after they’ve been ratified by Parliament and approved by the Guardian Council. If legislators determine a need for some or all of the articles of the law to be implemented gradually, they must set a timeline and include it in the text of the law.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the Iranian Parliament in 2009, governments are obligated to exhaust resources to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected.
Paragraph Two of the CRPD’s Article 4 recognizes that some rights such as employment or inclusive education will be gradually enforced, but in these cases, governments are required to commit resources in the form of a well-planned budget.
To date, the Iranian government, and particularly the Planning and Budget Organization, has violated the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled [passed in March 2018], the 2019 national State Budget Law, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In addition, while reviewing 2019’s budget bill, Parliament had approved a clause noting that the pension of people with disabilities registered with the SWO or the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee must be increased by 20 percent. However, due to the lack of adequate funding for the two organizations, these registrants are still receiving the same pension as last year.
Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization, announced the 20 percent-increase in disability pensions via Twitter on September 4, 2019, without acknowledging a five-month delay or clarifying how and when the delayed pension would be paid to people with disabilities:
“Since the start of the new administration…the pensions of families registered with the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the SWO have multiplied 3 to 6 times,” he wrote. “But the good news is that this month, the pensions of the families registered at the two organizations will be increased by 20%.”
The Iranian Disability Rights Campaign responded, “[You must] apologize to the members of the Relief Committee and the SWO! Nobakht has cleverly attempted to cover up the government’s breach of its obligation to pay the 20% pension increase and presented this violation of law as an act of charity towards families in need.”
Although the SWO and Relief Committee’s pension funds have increased substantially since the Rouhani administration took office in 2013, this increase was only achieved through the implementation of the Targeted Subsidy Law. In spite of this increase, pension payouts remain at their minimum and are insufficient to support the needs of families. At 53,000 tomans ($15.90) monthly per person in 2013, this amount had only increased to 160,000 tomans ($48.00) in 2018 despite hyperinflation and the near-collapse of the country’s local currency due to sanctions.
Protesting the government’s failure to implement the new disability rights law and a related 2015 regulation, the Disability Rights Campaign launched a petition in April 2019.
Addressing the president, the petition was signed by around 10,000 people with disabilities and their supporters during various gatherings in 35 Iranian cities. The physical petition was eventually unveiled in the presence of state media and two MPs. It states:
“Emphasizing the equal rights of all the citizens of Iran (as stated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) and affirming the necessity of equal opportunities for citizens with disabilities as with other groups of society in order to achieve the ultimate goal of a life with dignity combined with social welfare, and to replace the pension-based approach, which is temporary and superficial, with a disability empowerment movement, we firmly call for a practical platform for the inclusive participation of people with disabilities in the state-wide decision-making and capacity-building processes to implement the articles of the CRPD, and we explicitly demand funding for the full implementation of the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled, as well as the full implementation of the 2015 regulation to reduce social harm caused by financial and cultural poverty as well as a lack of awareness with regards to [the rights of] millions of citizens with disabilities.”
A group of people with disabilities also gathered in front of the Presidential Office on the first day of Iran’s Government Week on August 24, 2019, to demand the provision of sufficient funds and the implementation of the new disability law.
Two weeks later, on September 7, nine members of the Disability Rights Campaign met with MP Fatemeh Saeedi and her adviser, as well as First Vice President As’hagh Jahangiri to present an open letter and the physical copy of the petition.
Part of the open letter reads:
“As you know, the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled was promulgated by the Honorable President on April 28, 2018, but more than a year later, its bylaws have not yet been approved by the government, and no steps have been taken to implement and fulfill the valuable goals of the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Citizens with disabilities [in Iran] have always faced discrimination and a growing number of obstacles in maintaining their livelihoods, [and accessing] medical treatment, rehabilitation, accessibility, education, employment and housing. Given the current economic circumstances, their condition is worse than ever. Following the honorable administration’s plan to introduce the new bill and its ratification by the Islamic Assembly, citizens with disabilities were hopeful that many of their problems would be resolved or minimized for the first time as a result of the full implementation of this law. However, with less than a tenth of the budget allocated by the Planning and Budget Organization for full implementation in 2019, the law is not yet in force.”
Representatives of the deaf community and people with intellectual disabilities also outlined specific issues faced by their communities. In previous years, the needs of these groups were often pushed to the peripheries of disability-related meetings because discussions were often limited to addressing the problems of the blind and those with physical disabilities.
In the September 2019 meeting, disability rights activists presented the following demands:
– More governmental focus on statistical and economic policies in order to explore effective ways to improve the lives, employment and health of people with disabilities; [policies] such as rehabilitation insurance, loans, health insurance, etc.;
– Ensuring employment and the livelihood of the deaf community, [meeting] the need to teach sign language in schools, [addressing] the issues with sign language in state media news programs as raised by the deaf community, and [responding to] their request for a professional examination of sign language [used in state media], as well as consultation with deaf people who specialize in sign language;
– [Focus on] urban traffic and accessibility, an assessment of the satisfaction rates of citizens with disabilities with regards to urban accessibility and public transportation (BRT and Metro);
– Addressing the needs of people with intellectual disabilities who are less likely to defend their citizenship rights, and have their voices heard by official authorities;
– Applying positive discrimination towards citizens with disabilities and paying serious attention to disability-related statistics in the country in order to determine the annual budget.
“It is the duty of the government to ensure the well-being of a community of people that have various physical limitations with proper planning and economic coordination,” stated As’hagh Jahangiri in response to the demands. “And this is certainly a duty of mine and the government. Now that the new disability rights law has been passed, it must be implemented and one of the duties of the government is to implement all laws, as stated in the Constitution.”
He also pledged that “within the next two months, the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled and its bylaws would be communicated to relevant organizations. And if any administrative “difficulties” arise while the bylaws are being amended, they would be addressed “as soon as possible.”
“I will personally pursue the implementation of the disability rights law,” he added. “Our goal is to allocate part of the budget for the improvement of the conditions of people with disabilities.”
Jahangiri ended his speech by promising to start, within two to three days, official discussions on the needs of people with disabilities with the head of the SWO and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare.