COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES CONSIDERS INITIAL REPORT OF PARAGUAY
16 April 2013
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today completed its consideration of the initial report of Paraguay on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Presenting the report, Juan Esteban Aguirre, Permanent Representative of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that thanks to democracy in Paraguay much progress had been made in promoting the enjoyment of rights by persons with disabilities. Recent developments included the better coordination of civil society and its full involvement in all relevant processes, and the establishment of the National Human Rights Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities in 2012. Paraguay worked to remove all barriers facing persons with disabilities in daily life so they could enjoy their basic rights under national and international law. The Ministry for Public Health and Social Welfare had set up free health services for persons with disabilities, and a Department had been established for persons with special educational needs.
Committee Experts said that the Convention had clearly contributed to a paradigm shift in Paraguay with regard to the rights of persons with disabilities, and raised issues concerning the situation of women and children with disabilities who were subjected to domestic violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation, the confinement of persons with disabilities in special establishments and hospitals, and awareness-raising campaigns and activities informing persons with disabilities of their rights under the Convention. Committee Experts also asked questions about the voting rights of persons with disabilities, measures to promote inclusive education for children, and steps taken to improve accessibility and access to health and rehabilitation services.
In concluding remarks, Silvia Judith Quan-Chang, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Paraguay, thanked the delegation for its frankness and said that she hoped that the Committee’s final observations would help Paraguay to continue to provide assistance to persons with disabilities.
Juan Esteban Aguirre, Permanent Representative of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for their observations and questions, and said that the delegation had taken note of all the comments which it had received.
The delegation of Paraguay included representatives from the Directorate General for Human Rights, the National Body for the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (SENADIS), the Department of Technical Cooperation and Inter-institutional Relations, the Department for Inclusive Education, the Institute for Social Wellbeing, and the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 September, when it will hold a general discussion on women and girls with disabilities.
The initial report of Paraguay (CRPD/C/PRY/1) can be read here.
The Committee’s public meetings are webcast live and can be watched via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Presentation of Report of Paraguay
JUAN ESTEBAN AGUIRRE, Permanent Representative of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report of Paraguay, said that democracy in Paraguay had made it possible to make a lot of breakthroughs and a lot of progress had been made. Civil society was coordinated and took part fully in decisions reached thus far. Paraguay’s aim was to not only set out key progress achieved but also too underscore the challenges it faced. This open-ended and frank dialogue would make it possible to move forward. Since the submission of the initial report great progress had been made. The establishment of the National Human Rights Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities at the end of 2012 was highlighted. The first equality and non-discrimination plan was being implemented in the civil service in Paraguay. For the State, persons with disabilities were subjects of law; nonetheless Paraguay acknowledged the number of barriers they faced in daily life when enjoying their basic rights under national and international law. Paraguay was pooling efforts so that these obstacles and barriers may be done away with, including those relating to accessibility.
Paraguay underscored the setting up of a relief centre called Accessible Communications for Deaf Persons, which sought to counteract the limiting factors in society to exercise one’s right to information and communication, particularly for persons with disabilities. In spite of many efforts in addressing access to justice, to comply with article 12 of the Convention, there was a need to amend existing legislative measures. A change in paradigm must go hand in hand with policies to raise awareness, and all of society had to participate in that change. To date there was no record of persons who were victims of trafficking of persons with disabilities. To overcome barriers, the Ministry for Public Health and Social Welfare had set up free health services. On education, Paraguay had a department for the education of persons with special educational needs. Paraguay continued to make efforts to introduce public policies in terms of human rights of persons with disabilities to provide full enjoyment of rights for these persons.
Questions by Committee Experts
SILVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHANG, the Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur, said the Committee’s analysis was carried out jointly with input from civil society organizations, in particular persons with disabilities’ organizations from Paraguay. It was clear that the Convention provided a paradigm shift. Paraguay should adopt as soon as possible legislation to stop discrimination based on disabilities. The Committee wished to know what measures had been adopted to guarantee the right to vote of persons with disabilities, as well as more information on accessibility to the electoral process, and to what extent the State party had ensured that all persons with disabilities had an identity document from their birth. Another area requiring attention was the situation of women, girls and boys with disabilities, which were often exposed to situations of violence and left very vulnerable. There was not yet enough information on the current status of women, girls and boys with disabilities in the State party. The Committee had received information that women with disabilities were exposed to trafficking, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. The Committee was concerned that forced sterilisation may have been carried out on women and girls with disabilities, particularly those in institutions. It hoped that during the dialogue Paraguay would be able to provide more information on the situation of these persons in shelters and hospitals, depriving them of their liberty.
Ms. Quan-Chang said the Committee wished to have more information on measures to increase coverage of inclusive education at all levels across the country. What measures were being taken to ensure that persons with disabilities had dignified living conditions? On monitoring, the Committee noted the creation of the National Secretariat for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, the Committee was concerned that the Secretariat had been tasked with monitoring independently, although it did not comply with the Paris Principles.
In further questions, Committee Experts said that it was essential for countries to enact laws prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities. According to information available it appeared that the State had not carried out a single action programme that addressed multiple discrimination against women and children with disabilities. Were there any plans to change this?
Other Experts enquired as to what kind of concrete initiatives were taken by Paraguay in supporting the involvement of organizations of persons with disabilities and how was this carried out in a way that was really involving those groups; what concrete initiatives were being taken to secure the rights of children with disabilities to express themselves; how was Paraguay dealing with the rights of women and girls with disabilities and how did it intend to move forward with this in the future. Were women and girls with disabilities in Paraguay aware of their rights?
Experts also enquired as to how the National Human Rights Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities was dealing with gender in policies that it had begun to draft and how women with disabilities were being involved in drafting these policies. How was the State party protecting boys and girls in the country, particularly those with disabilities, from sexual abuse and trafficking? If a person with disabilities in the country faced discrimination, which effective legal remedies were at his or her disposal at the moment? Was there information on how many indigenous persons lived with disabilities in the country and what policies had been designed to ensure that their rights were guaranteed?
Had Paraguay done anything to make sure that any future development of national accessibility standards conformed to internationally recognised standards to prevent conflict and incompatibility? Information at hand showed there was a major difference between persons with disabilities in the capital and the situation of persons with disabilities living in various regions of the country. How did public campaigns address the situation of women and girls with disabilities?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation of Paraguay, in response to questions and comments, said that a serious problem it faced was the lack of statistical data, which would allow for programming and indeed appropriate budget allocation. That had improved in the 2012 National Census. On the issue of accessibility, physical accessibility standards had been drafted. These were being used and this had led to the presentation of a draft law on accessibility, which was almost ready. It provided for a mechanism for the monitoring of these standards. On the communication norms, Paraguay did not have any specific standards yet, though there was talk of it generally. On participation of organizations for and of persons with disabilities, the process regulating the law was the first step.
The National Council for Disabilities had used many inputs to take steps and measures to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities. On the point of legal capacity of persons with disabilities, the delegation noted that there was a real gap to be bridged and there was still a need to improve aspects related to discrimination in the Civil Code. On children with disabilities, a commitment was made jointly to improve the situation and deal with problems in this sector. With regards to discrimination the secretariat of the civil service had established a basic framework for equality and non-discrimination policies in the civil service.
With respect to questions relating to women and children with disabilities and trafficking in persons, in one particular shelter for women, four women with disabilities had been hosted between the ages of 17 and 40. An eleven year-old boy with a disability was also living in the shelter with his mother. There was a national policy to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. The Ministry for Women was the only public institution that had a shelter to care for victims of trafficking in persons. The objective was to gather validated information pertaining to women victims of domestic violence. At the present time there were registers present in each institution and crimes were established in the criminal code. Concerning the participation of persons with disabilities and access to information they had received on the upcoming elections, the coordinating electoral committee and the other bodies involved in the legal system had coordinated accessible campaigns.
The national development plan of early childhood provided for the strengthening of existing comprehensive services and educational services for other areas in the community. The plan also meant the extension of classrooms and support centres for inclusive education. In response to a question on identification cards, the certification process of persons with disabilities had been underway for five years, but the issuing of cards was something quite new. Statistics showed that over 1,200 persons with disabilities provided services within the civil service. The law did not refer to any type of specific disability - it was open to all persons with disabilities. In that regard, the secretariat of the civil service together with another body regulated standards and this was done with State bodies as well as associations of persons with disabilities. The Ministry for Public Health and Social Welfare with the Support on the Pan-American Health Organization was organising community-based rehabilitation services.
There were major challenges on legal capacity and the lack of law against all forms of discrimination. The core problem boiled down to statistics and data and bringing actions to rural areas.
Questions by Committee Experts
In the second round of questions, Committee Experts asked whether the State had taken into consideration any actions to incorporate the disability issues in a general perspective to date, with respect to the Millennium Development Goals? Were any initiatives taken to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in political life, in running for office, public office, parliamentary office and the like? Was there any process whereby funds were awarded to various bodies working with persons with disabilities and what follow-up or assessment was carried out as to the awarding of funds and whether they were in line with the objectives set by civil society for persons with disabilities?
Was there a possibility of detaining a person on the grounds of a disability in Paraguay? The right to physical integrity was an important right. Were any measures taken to implement this right and were persons with disabilities protected against forced treatment? Was there any body or organization that monitored this right specifically? Another Expert asked to know more about the national plan to prevent and eradicate sexual exploitation of boys, girls and adolescents with disabilities.
Further questions asked by Experts included what kind of concrete initiatives were taken to make sure that no one was deprived of their legal capacity regardless of disability? What were the required amendments of the Civil Code of Paraguay, referred to by the delegation? What types of actions were carried out by civil society organizations? What specific actions had been adopted by the torture preventive mechanism as regarded persons with disabilities that had been interned in neuro-psychiatric institutes or in criminal institutes in the capital?
Response by the Delegation of Paraguay
JUAN ESTEBAN AGUIRRE, Permanent Representative of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said once again that Paraguay faced many challenges, stressing the issue of statistical data. Answering questions would be a challenge for the delegation. Essentially, Paraguay was grateful for the many contributions. These were issues it would be tackling.
The delegation said that it was heartbreaking to see what persons with disabilities sometimes experienced, and expressed its frustration at the pace at which Paraguay had been implementing measures to improve the life of persons with disabilities. It was stressed that the parents’ role was vital when it came to dealing with everyday issues facing children with disabilities. Paraguay had the will to find sustainable solutions to the problems of persons with disabilities, particularly children. The Convention had helped Paraguay in its efforts, especially in terms of gathering information about persons with disabilities and identifying areas where more work was needed. Despite the frustration felt about the speed at which measures had been implemented, the general sense in Paraguay was that it was moving in the right direction to protect and promote the rights of all persons with disabilities.
Appropriate terminology was being incorporated into the Civil and Penal Codes, which still used pejorative terms referring to persons with disabilities, and Paraguay was well aware that the situation needed to be improved in that respect. Regarding awareness-raising activities, the delegation said that special guides for journalists had been compiled to inform them about the correct terminology to be used when referring to persons with disabilities. Furthermore, workshops had been carried out to look at the care protocols for persons with disabilities in public institutions. Concerning the campaign aimed at preventing motorbike accidents, which had produced many persons with disabilities in the past, the delegation clarified that the campaign tried to ensure that helmets were worn at all times. Positive results had already been reported and the campaign was not seen in a negative light.
In response to the question about persons with disabilities putting themselves forward as candidates in the elections, the delegation said that there was no legal obstacle or discrimination in that respect. In fact, in the forthcoming election a large number of candidates with disabilities were standing for office.
Applicable legal provisions for obtaining identity documents had been made for persons with disabilities and there was no discrimination in that regard. The competent governmental departments issuing documents had taken measures to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities and to facilitate access to their premises.
The delegation stressed that the sterilisation of persons with disabilities was not an official policy in Paraguay. On the contrary, Paraguay recognized equality of opportunity and the right to reproduction for all and, to that end, it had put specific programmes in place for the social integration of all its citizens.
According to data provided by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare, 180 persons with disabilities were in institutions and there was a psychiatric unit with eight beds. Authorization was required for all persons checked into such institutions. Moreover, stays in psychiatric institutions were regularly reviewed and there was a law in place to ensure that. Community-based homes had also been established for psychiatric treatment. The psychological state of the person concerned and the facilities available in their home were also taken into account. The main concern was to ensure that the person was properly reintegrated in society. Regarding senior citizens with disabilities, there were pensioners’ homes where they could have access to psychiatric analysis. There were also one or two private units which senior citizens could use. Since February 2010 a unique public service for the rehabilitation of boys and girls with psychiatric problems was operating and offered specialized treatment. In addition, in March 2013 a Neurological Centre for children had been set up in the Children’s Hospital. Regarding staff training, a project had been set up to provide workshops and training to health staff. The programme was currently being developed to include training for staff dealing with children.
Regarding the complaints procedure, complaints about discrimination or abuse were received by the relevant bodies and the competent courts and were followed closely. To promote the legislation and bring it in line with the Convention, a preliminary draft was being discussed on the good treatment of children and adolescents, with the aim of improving the situation of that segment of the population. The programme for street children was listening carefully to what the children concerned had to say about the issues affecting them.
Regarding statistics about indigenous persons with disabilities, there was no reliable data on that group and the issue had to be examined as a matter of urgency. An Institution for the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been set up and that body also dealt with indigenous peoples. Concerning the questions about the murder of children in remote areas, the right to life was guaranteed by Paraguay’s Constitution for all inhabitants throughout the country without discrimination.
In order to alleviate poverty, Paraguay had established a social improvement programme aiming to improve the quality of life and targeting in particular families which had persons with disabilities. Regarding legislation which would protect persons with disabilities, a recently passed law allowed sufficient autonomy for coordination with other competent bodies to combat discrimination. The law stipulated that measures would be taken to deal with complaints about anyone suffering discrimination because they had a disability, and an investigation would be carried out into all alleged cases of human rights violations. Sentences would be handed down and fines could be imposed if such violation was found to have occurred.
Human rights indicators were considered by courts as a valuable input in helping and protecting persons with disabilities. A fair trial must ensure equal access to justice, which included the use of translation and interpreting services. The suppression of violence against women was central to the set of new measures taken by Paraguay, which was focusing in particular on the prevention of violence against women. Steps that had been taken included setting up regional centres which would receive women victims of violence, and establishing a hotline which women victims of violence could use for urgent assistance and advice. A specialized unit dealing with gender violence had also been established. The systematic collection of data and statistics was used to monitor the entire situation of the enjoyment of rights, including the rights of women. Public policies were being monitored to ensure that the data collection system was constantly being improved.
A Care and Prevention Centre for domestic violence was in place to provide psychological and legal advice and assistance to women and children who had suffered domestic violence. Concerning gender discrimination, public programmes and plans had been designed and would be implemented gradually. The input of civil society organizations would be taken into account with regard to the gender perspective.
Regarding the question about the Ministry for Women, the delegation said that a Department for Disabilities was being created within that Ministry. Similar plans were underway for creating a specialized department within the Ministry for Children. The process was not easy, especially when it came to cross-cutting issues.
Concerning the Millennium Development Goals, there was concern that the discussion taking place in New York was too broad, when it should have been more focused with fewer and more specific, attainable goals.
The delegation also said that recommendations about the monitoring and prevention of ill treatment in institutions would be implemented through a series of measures. The input of civil society organizations was positive and seen by Paraguay as an important contribution to the whole process.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
One Committee Expert said that the opening statement by the delegation was touching and relevant to the interactive dialogue and had shown that Paraguay was moving in the right direction. The Expert said that nothing had been said about HIV/AIDS, despite statistics showing that infection rates in Paraguay were 0.25 per cent. Was anything being done to address HIV infection of persons with disabilities?
Another Expert said that yesterday’s question about the lack of credibility given to testimonies and complaints made by women with disabilities had not been answered by the delegation. There were specific reports suggesting that women with disabilities were not being taken seriously by the police authorities whenever they went into a police station to file a complaint. What was Paraguay doing to tackle that issue?
Regarding accessibility standards on information and communication, the lack of such standards was a matter of great concern, said an Expert. Measures had to be taken to implement accessibility and communication standards. Developing national accessibility standards compliant with internationally standards had to be given immediate attention. Also, what steps had been taken to make disaster risk reduction programmes and services more disability inclusive?
On the issue of accommodation, an Expert pointed out that persons with disabilities could not defend themselves except through their lawyer, which placed severe restrictions on their representation in court. Were there any plans to bring the relevant laws in line with the Convention?
Another Expert asked what was being done to create more employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Also, to what extent were persons with disabilities actually involved in the planning and implementation of relevant projects and what was being done to ensure that persons with disabilities were not just being used as token committee members?
An Expert asked whether tourism sites in Paraguay were accessible to persons with disabilities. What measures had been taken to improve accessibility of public buildings such as theatres and concert halls?
A Committee Expert stressed the importance of education for persons with disabilities and the need for establishing inclusive pre-school institutes which provided both physical and pedagogical access to children with disabilities. An inclusive main schooling system was equally important. The Committee was aware that Paraguay had taken steps to create an inclusive education system but there was no information on measures taken since 2008. The Expert also wanted to know about employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the private sector. What space was given by Paraguay to non-governmental organizations to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment in the private sector?
Concerning international cooperation, an Expert asked to what extent Paraguay was engaging with non-State actors, such as civil society organizations, academics, trade unions and the private sector. Also, to what extent did Paraguay cooperate internationally on Article 33 of the Convention and how did that relate to the independent mechanism?
Response by the Delegation
In response to the question about employment in the private sector, the delegation said that assistance was given to employers who employed persons with disabilities. Further, there were several organizations which worked to boost the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector. On the question about education, the delegation said that the Ministry of Education had started carrying out early learning services aiming to prepare youngsters for school so that they would be well prepared for schooling. Regarding the use of Braille voting slips, persons with disabilities were in charge of the preparation of such voting slips and no cases of “secret vote” had occurred.
Paraguay was working closely with international organizations and now there was better coordination. Civil society received a lot of assistance from international organizations, particularly in terms of funding received for specific projects. Decentralization was underway and services were being improved, so that persons with disabilities would have access to the necessary services in their own communities.
Concerning health matters, a “health and wellbeing” project had been designed in collaboration with the Unit for Family Health and local health councils to include persons with disabilities. Regarding the question about HIV/AIDS, Paraguay had a specialized institute participating in the national programme to combat HIV/AIDS, and provided free medical attention, hospitalization and assistance to all without discrimination. The Institute for Tropical Medicine included a ward for HIV/AIDS patients.
The delegation had taken note of points raised with regard to efforts to combat violence against women, which it took very seriously. The information would be transmitted to the Government, and the Human Rights Department would be involved in the intensification of efforts to tackle related issues.
In response to the question about inclusive education, the delegation said that Paraguay was in a transitional period with a new relevant law in place which needed time to bear fruit. Therefore, progress would be gradual. Nevertheless, a National Commission was looking closely at school curricula and was currently considering ways of fostering inclusive education.
SILVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHANG, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Paraguay, said that the Committee was grateful for the dialogue with Paraguay and thanked the delegation for its clarity and frankness. She hoped that the Committee’s final observations would further help Paraguay in its efforts to continue to assist persons with disabilities.
JUAN ESTEBAN AGUIRRE, Permanent Representative of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for their observations and questions and said that the delegation had taken note of all the comments which it had received. Specific answers would be provided to the questions asked by Committee Experts which had not been fully answered.
At the end of the meeting, a short video was shown about the human rights of persons with disabilities.
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