BEIRUT — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the Lebanese authorities to “do more to ensure that people with disabilities and the elderly can vote freely and with dignity,” a few days before the May 15 legislative elections.
Here's what we know:
• HRW questioned in a statement the ability of people with disabilities to vote “in safety,” noting that 10 to 15 percent of the Lebanese population has a disability and that the country has the oldest population in the Middle East. In previous elections, “serious obstacles” to voting were noted for these people, due in part to the fact that polling stations are often located in buildings without disability access or on higher floors.
• In 2018, “instead of improving accessibility, the Ministry of Interior had assigned police officers and members of the Civil Defense to carry people with special needs to the floors. Not only did these people feel humiliated, but some of them later suffered complications as a result,” Sylvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities (LUPD) is quoted as telling HRW. She also, the rights group says, regrets that, when people were carried, party volunteers took advantage of this to try to influence their voting intentions.
• Furthermore, HRW states that according to the LUPD, little or no information is available about voting for people with intellectual, visual or hearing disabilities, which prevents them from making informed political decisions. While Lakkis notes that progress has been made in the runup to Sunday's vote, including some polling stations being located in more accessible locations, the LUPD president believes this will only benefit “a small number of people” in the country.
• HRW also notes the lack of responsiveness of the Interior Ministry on the matter, adding that it contacted the ministry about this issue in April.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that older and disabled people can vote freely and with dignity,” the statement continued, calling on the authorities to make voting assistance “a primary criterion for enhancing the political participation" of people with special needs, “instead of just taking cookie-cutter measures.”