Amid Anxiety, Human Rights Should be a Priority

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

December in midtown Manhattan brings tourists, holiday lights, and time with friends and family. The year’s final month also celebrates two important global human rights events: The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, and Human Rights Day on December 10.

Recent events make us realize how important it is to include planning to meet the needs of  people with disabilities in emergency and conflict situations. And human rights as a concept has taken on particular meaning and urgency in the last few weeks.

In recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Human Rights Watch issued a  news release on people with disabilities in conflict situations. Governments, donors, and aid agencies are overwhelmed with many competing priorities during emergencies. Yet it is  essential to make sure that the needs and concerns of people with disabilities are not lost in the shuffle Continue reading


Perpetual Self-Renewal

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

In the season finale of his recently released Netflix mini-series, Master of None, writer and comedian Aziz Ansari grapples with the tendency to become complacent, what John Gardner characterized as lack of self-renewal. Month three of my Fellowship at Human Rights Watch brings new opportunities to work on disability rights in the context of emergencies and conflicts, but also gives me time to pause and ponder.

Increasingly, I am able to work on assignments with an eye toward what I find exhilarating and frustrating. Desk-based research, something my future promises a great deal of, can at times be isolating and requires that I constantly keep the bigger picture of a project or task in mind. On the other hand, advocacy strategy and writing media articles or press releases allows me to synthesize a narrative from many different sources, while collaborating with internal teams and external partners. As I note these preferences, I also question how my future career will unfold. Continue reading

Brave in the Attempt

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

Disgust, then sorrow, and finally anger flashed across my face. I blamed this deluge of sudden emotions on a New York Times article—the white lettered headline, framed against a colorful rug and pair of shackled feet, declared “The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa.” This piece, authored by Benedict Carey, draws upon research by Human Rights Watch to document the use of chains and shackles for people with psychosocial disabilities throughout West Africa.

A deep stigma toward disability coupled with a lack of resources and cultural beliefs around mental health conditions have contributed to the conditions for widespread abuse in West Africa. According to the article, “At last count, Liberia had just one practicing psychiatrist. Niger had three, Togo four and Benin seven. Sierra Leone had none.” To fill the lacuna created by lack of formal medical treatment, religious retreats, known as prayer camps, are seemingly the only options for many families. These camps range from small family-run outlets to large, elaborate operations, often reflecting the personality and vision of the head pastor. Continue reading