Participants: Eric Rosenthal (Executive Director, Disability Rights International), Sofía Galvan Puente (Mexico and Central America Programs Director, Disability Rights International), Raquel Jelinek (Inclusión Interamericana), Maria Veronica Reina (Partnership on Disability Development)
Topics: Rights of Children, Disabilities
On October 28, 2010, Disability Rights International (DRI) shared the stories of Jorge and Julio, two autistic teenagers living in horrifying conditions in a hospital for the disabled in Paraguay, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Their stories were told during a hearing on the status of children with disabilities in the Americas, in effort to highlight the conditions faced by children with disabilities face living in the Americas, and also highlight a situation in which IACHR intervention was effective. The hearing, requested by DRI, Inclusion Interamericana, and Global Partnership on Disability Development, addressed the status of children with disabilities in the Americas generally, as well as specifically examined the situation in Paraguayan and improvements made in the system over the last several years.
The petitioners began by addressing the status of children with disabilities in the Americas, focusing specifically on the rights of children with disabilities living in institutions. Sofía Galvan Puente of DRI stressed the importance of protecting the right of children with disabilities to live within communities, stating that one is never so disabled that they cannot live in a community. Puente discussed some of the provisions in the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Specifically, Puente addressed the importance of Article 19 of the UNCRPD which protects the “equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community” because the petitioners felt strongly that this was a “core idea” of human rights for those with disabilities. She raised Article 23 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to the attention of the Commission, which also recognizes a disabled child’s right to “active participation in the community.” Puente expressed her hope that the Commission would begin to actively utilize the UNCRPD. Commissioner Orozco replied that the Commission recently used the UNCRPD in a decision not yet published.
The petitioners also discussed the substantial improvements made by Paraguay in this area as a result of the IACHR request in 2003 to the Paraguayan government which called on the government to adopt measures to improve the situations of those with disabilities living in a particular institution that was in a poor condition. As a result of living in unsanitary conditions and solitary confinement in one such institution, the mental conditions of Jorge and Julio worsened substantially. As a result of the IACHR’s intervention, as well as an agreement signed between DRI and the Paraguayan government, the two boys were able to leave the institution and live within their communities. Consequently, the conditions of all of those living in similar institutions, as well as disabled individuals throughout Paraguay, improved. While work must still be done in Paraguay to improve the conditions for children with disabilities, the petitioners considered the changes very encouraging, indicating that they hoped to see similar changes in other countries in the Americas as well.
Raquel Jelinek of Inclusion Interamericana discussed the importance of social awareness on the rights of children with disabilities. Their approach to social awareness is one of “nothing about us, without us” indicating the focus placed on including individuals with disabilities and the families of individuals with disabilities. They believe that it is important for the world to “hear the voices of the families of those with disabilities,” and as a result, have incorporated the families of individuals with disabilities into their work on social awareness.
Eric Rosenthal, DRI’s Executive Director, made two requests of the IACHR. He requested that the IACHR create a special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and that this special rapporteur conduct a study regarding children living in institutions. Commissioner Pinheiro, who led the meeting, recognized the value of a special rapporteur focusing on the issue of disabled persons, but made clear that the Commission would not be creating any more rapporteur positions until funding was available. The Commissioners expressed their willingness to assist the petitioners through other mechanisms available to them, including the way in which they assisted in Paraguay in 2003 and by instructing existing rapporteurs to incorporate a focus on children with disabilities into their positions. Commissioner Pinheiro also noted that the IAHCR has already begun to prepare a report with UNICEF and OHCHR on children living in institutions.
While most countries in the Americas have signed and ratified the UNCRPD, countries in the Americas still require improvements to be made in regards to the rights of all people living with disabilities. In addition to its work in Paraguay, DRI has done specific reports on the conditions faced by individuals with disabilities in Peru, Mexico, and Argentina. All of these reports highlight serious human rights violations against people living with disabilities, indicating that many countries in the Americas still have obstacles to overcome in order to fully comply with the UNCRPD.
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