[ENG / ESP] Audiencia con personas defensoras que trabajan en América Latina sobre los derechos de las personas con discapacidad

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Hearing with Women Human Rights Defenders working on the rights of people with disabilities in Latin America

On Monday 25 April 2022, I met with a group of Women Human Rights Defenders working on disability issues from Chile, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador. Though spanning five countries and working on a range of disability issues I heard striking similarities in the stories they told about the risks and challenges that they face.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) obliges states to “consult and actively involve persons with disabilities” in decision-making processes (Article 4.3). Yet, most defenders spoke about the failure of their respective governments to properly listen and engage with them and their colleagues. They said that those with lived experience on disability issues were often shunned by their governments in favour of so-called ‘experts’, who in reality, may have little personal experience with disability issues.

Some WHRDs at the consultation told me how, even when they were invited to Government consultations, they found them to be inaccessible. HRDs with disabilities living in rural or remote areas have few options of gaining access to these meetings, because both transport and internet cafés often can’t accommodate people with disabilities. HRDs with psychosocial disabilities said that they are sometimes ignored or disregarded; in particular, showing tiredness or expressing vulnerability at consultations is often pathologized as instability or weakness.

As with human rights defenders everywhere, defenders of the rights of people with disabilities come under threat from their own Government and other actors for their legitimate human rights work. On WHRD who worked with an international media outlet to expose the conditions of her country’s mental health institutions said she was accused of lying and making false statements, and sent intimidating messages. Though she continues her work, she makes sure that others accompany her for security.

I heard repeatedly how disability rights are often dealt with in a silo; separate from the rest of the human rights community. Sometimes HRDs working on disability rights feel side-lined by mainstream human rights groups and their intersecting identities ignored. One defender told me how the human rights organisation she worked for had to close down due to the serious threats they received for their work on sexual and reproductive rights, particularly around abortion and disability. Another WHRD spoke about the challenges that indigenous people with disabilities face, having to advocate for inclusion in both national and traditional power structures, and facing discrimination in both.

I plan to continue to work with Human Rights Defenders working on the rights of people with disabilities, and I want to support those who find themselves at risk. If you are a HRD working on disability issues and would like to contact the mandate, please get in touch.


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