COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES CONSIDERS INITIAL REPORT OF ARGENTINA
20 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today completed its consideration of the initial report of Argentina on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Presenting the report, Silvia Bersanelli, Director of the Observatory of Disability of the National Consultative Commission for the Integration of Persons with Disability, said that since the fall of the military dictatorship, Argentina had initiated a process of strengthening different aspects of its human rights policy. According to the 2010 census, the percentage of people living with a disability (visual, auditory, cognitive, motor) was almost 13 per cent of the population, or about 5.5 million Argentines. Argentina recognized disability as a human rights issue and the time had come to put an end to the stigmatization and marginalization of persons with disabilities. Argentina had been setting up policies and practices which were in the interest of social justice since 2003. It ratified the Convention in 2008, submitted its report in 2010 and since then had continued to make progress in implementing it.
The Committee thanked the delegation for its report and noted that legislative measures taken in Argentina since 2009 had made a major difference to the lives of persons with disabilities. Experts asked questions about the situation of children with disabilities, especially in relation to inclusive education, the protection of the rights of women with disabilities, the implementation of the Convention at federal and at local level and the harmonization of implementation practices and policies across the country. Expert comments focused upon the terminology used in Argentine legislation to describe persons with disabilities and issues of harmonization of the country’s Civil and Criminal Codes with the Convention.
In concluding remarks, Ana Peláez Narváez, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Argentina, said that the Committee had noted the difficulties that Argentina was facing in its implementation of the Convention and expected that the State party would reform its legislation at federal and at provincial and local levels to ensure that the country’s laws were in conformity with the Convention.
Ms. Bersanelli, in initial concluding remarks, said that several problems remained which needed to be addressed and solved. She stressed that Argentina was firmly committed to significantly improving the situation of persons with disabilities and that it hoped to do that by working closely with civil society, which had to be fully involved in discussing and implementing public policy and public action.
The delegation of Argentina included representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of National Health, the National Commission for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (CONADIS) and the Permanent Mission of Argentina in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will consider the initial report of Hungary (CRPD/C/HUN/1).
Chairperson of the Committee
RONALD MCCALLUM, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the Argentine delegation and said that he was looking forward to a constructive interactive dialogue, which was being webcast live via www.treatybodywebcast.com.
Report of Argentina
The initial report of Argentina can be read via the following link: CRPD/C/ARG/1
Presentation of the Report
SILVIA BERSANELLI, Director of the Observatory of Disability of the National Consultative Commission for the Integration of Persons with Disability, said that since the fall of the military dictatorship, Argentina had initiated a process of strengthening different aspects of its human rights policy. According to the 2010 census, the percentage of people living with a disability (visual, auditory, cognitive, motor) was almost 13 per cent of the population, or about 5.5 million Argentines. Argentina recognized disability as a human rights issue and the time had come to put an end to the stigmatization and marginalization of persons with disabilities. Argentina had been setting up policies and practice which were in the interest of social justice since 2003. It ratified the Convention in 2008, submitted its report in 2010 and since then had continued to make progress in implementing it.
Awareness-raising on the Convention focused in particular on issues such as accessibility, education and employment. A communication campaign costing 25 million pesos and focusing on the same areas had resulted in three widely-broadcast televised features. The 2011 campaign was launched under the slogan "The biggest obstacle is the indifference and the best tool is information". The purpose of this campaign was to promote action in three areas: disability and employment, disability and education and disability and accessibility. It was broadcast particularly during sports games and through a programme called "Football for All". In 2009 a law was adopted on the democratization of political representation, transparency and fair elections. It implied a significant step in promoting the political participation of persons with disabilities. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has launched a program on access to justice for persons with disabilities. In addition, the Law on Access to Information states that persons with disabilities must have access to the Internet.
There had been significant progress in the promotion of the implementation of the rights and participation of persons with disabilities in political processes. Argentina was also working to guarantee the safety and protection of persons with disabilities who were at risk in situations of armed conflict and humanitarian disasters. In addition, the Government had taken an initiative for the dissemination of national activities aiming at providing information and raising awareness on the Convention. The newly created Government body the ‘Observatory for Disabilities, which was responsible for the implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol, early this year launched its second national survey on disability, in addition to a second nationwide census due in 2013. The Head of Delegation acknowledged that a lot needed to be done to continue and intensify efforts to implement the Convention and expressed the hope that Argentina would take further steps in that direction.
Questions from the Experts
ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Argentina, said that the meeting was an opportunity for the delegation to reflect on its report and that there was a long road ahead to ensure that all the rights of persons with disabilities in Argentina were fully respected. She thanked Argentina for all the information it had provided to the Committee. In 2008 the Committee had seen the beginning of a broad process of policy which deserved the Committee’s appreciation and satisfaction. Several legislative measures taken in Argentina since 2009 had made a major difference to the lives of persons with disabilities. For example, a number of legislative measures had had a significant impact on the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms by persons with intellectual disabilities.
The Rapporteur expressed concern over certain inconsistencies observed in terms of the existing laws since the ratification of the Convention or in terms of the current law of Argentina. For example, the prohibition and lack of legal standing, guardianship and wardship for persons with disabilities were still very much a reality. In any event, the Committee was grateful that the contradiction between the national legal system and the obligations arising from the ratification of the Convention had been addressed in the country’s initial report and in the replies to the list of questions that the Committee had raised. Argentina had placed the Convention on a higher rank and had recognized the need to align its civil code with the paradigm set up by the Convention, which showed that the country had the political will to fully implement the Convention.
The Rapporteur asked for more information about measures taken by the State party to deal with issues of segregation of persons with disabilities. She also asked what kinds of community services were offered by the State and whether those included social and labour programmes targeted at the communities concerned. There was a complete lack of, or incomplete, information on certain questions that had been put to the delegation. For example, children with disabilities were not discussed in the delegation’s replies nor were most indigenous groups with disabilities. The monitoring of accessibility was not given any attention either. Also noted was the lack of agenda perspective, with respect to implementation and progress made since the ratification of the Convention.
Given that there were 30 indigenous populations in Argentina, what mechanisms were there to make the rights of persons with disabilities cross-cut with the rights of indigenous populations, an Expert asked. What was Argentina doing to address the legal inconsistencies which had been pointed out by the Committee? Was the National Advisory Committee an independent or a governmental entity and what exactly was its role? Did it have a role in the drafting of the national report which had been submitted to the Committee? Was there a national disability plan in place to address issues of accessibility?
Another Expert noted that it was exciting to see that democratic developments were going hand in hand with the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities in Argentina. He wanted to know how children with disabilities were involved in policy making and legislative reports. The same question was asked in relation to persons with intellectual disabilities and persons with psychosocial disabilities. Was Argentina at the national and federal level supporting organizations of persons with disabilities financially so that persons with disabilities could influence policies in the country?
How many of the buildings used by public bodies were accessible to persons with disabilities and were there any plans to improve accessibility of public buildings? Another Expert asked whether Argentina was in conformity with the universal rules of accessibility. Was monitoring taking place and were sanctions applied?
Did the government of Argentina have plans to implement the human rights model in its disability policy?
Argentina’s law provided some protection to the reproductive rights of women with disability but there seemed to be poor implementation of that law. What steps had the Government taken to overcome the barriers that impeded women and girls with disabilities from realizing their reproductive rights?
One Expert noted that it was alarming that Argentina continued to use terminology which reflected the medical model. What progress had been made in terms of moving more quickly towards harmonization? Also, what was Argentina doing in order to clean up and standardize the language used to describe persons with disabilities?
Another Expert said that the Committee was concerned about air travel for persons with disabilities, because it had received reports that persons in a wheelchair travelling alone in Argentina had to purchase two tickets. What was the Government doing to enforce compliance with the Convention in that respect?
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said Argentina had been working with the Federal Commission For Persons With Disabilities in order to promote the tackling of cross-cutting issues and to forge a close relationship with the provinces. Nevertheless, the autonomy of the provinces had to be respected. Progress on issues concerning indigenous populations had been slow but Argentina wished to continue to make progress in that respect. Regarding the political system, the Federal Commission was a practical and strong means of working with the provinces. The proposal to create provincial observatories was important because it would create provincial synergies.
In accordance with the national constitution, the provinces had to make sure that their own constitutions were in line with the federal law, otherwise action could be taken against them. The practice of guardianship was seen as discriminatory in all cases and so the mental health law in the country was being reviewed to address the issue of how persons with disabilities were dealt with in terms of guardianship.
Regarding multiple discrimination, Argentina was one of very few countries in Latin America which had a national institute against discrimination. Argentina had only recently begun to develop its human rights policy and that involved the need to raise awareness in terms of what a human rights-based approach meant in terms of drafting laws.
Regarding the issue of accessibility, the delegation recognized that Argentina had a lengthy history of combating problems with inaccessibility. Awareness-raising was the priority of the Government at the moment. It was important to ensure that municipal and provincial areas changed their building standards, which involved changing people’s mindset and mentality. Concerning the law on the media, between now and December changes would have to be made to ensure that all persons had access to media and communications available through the use of new technologies. Argentina believed that persons with disabilities should have free of charge access to media, and the Government had recently been heavily involved in that process. More importantly, however, it was important for the Argentine people to become more aware of those issues and that was the Government’s priority.
In response to the question on air transport, a delegate said the Government was not aware of a policy which required passengers with disabilities to purchase two tickets. There may have been isolated incidents but it was not a widespread policy of airline carriers. On the contrary, there was a policy in place which aimed to provide help to persons with disabilities travelling by plane. In addition, a new programme was being prepared with the aim of making public buildings in provinces and municipalities more accessible to persons with disabilities.
Argentina did not confine itself to the medical approach but, on the contrary, was working very hard with a clear aim in mind to build respect for human rights and create an appropriate social framework for persons with disabilities. The Government had further plans for awareness-raising campaigns and it had also introduced training programmes which promoted use of the correct terminology in communications when referring to persons with disabilities. The Government was not working in isolation but, rather, it was working jointly with the civil society on that matter.
Regarding the question about reproductive health, there was a working group in place in which non-governmental organizations also participated and work was being done on issues relating to sexual and reproductive health.
The delegation acknowledged that only 38 per cent of women were in executive posts, which was low, as was the percentage of persons with disabilities participating in the political life of the country. The situation was being examined closely and the aim was to empower persons with disabilities to enable them to stand for election and become State officials.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert noted again that the civil code was in breach of the Convention, but said that he was pleased that the delegation had acknowledged that. While in the new civil code there was a clear shift in the right direction, nevertheless he remained concerned that restrictions to the full recognition of legal capacity of all persons with disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities and psychosocial disabilities, remained. Also, the mental health law, to which some important changes had been made, was still not fully compliant with the relevant articles of the Convention. He also expressed concern that children were placed in the same institutions as adults, which was unacceptable.
Another Expert asked what the Advisory Committee had done to monitor the implementation of accessibility rules in the State party, including in all the provinces? She also wanted to know what provisions had been made so that accessibility standards, which were part of the national plan, would be followed up on in the provinces. Turning to the bill for the harmonization of codes in Argentina, how had the Government involved civil society in the process of drafting that bill? Another Expert pointed out that the report made extensive use of terminology which ran counter to the principles of the Convention and said that there was a lot in the report which showed that many practices in Argentina ran counter to the Convention.
Concern was expressed by another Expert about the Argentine criminal code. The situation of persons without legal capacity had to be reviewed and support had to be provided to ensure that the basic rights of persons with disabilities were respected in criminal proceedings. It was also necessary to rethink the types of violence suffered by women with disabilities, especially those placed in institutions. Also, what domestic policies were being applied to train legal personnel to ensure that persons with disabilities had reasonable accommodation in judicial procedures?
What specific national measures had Argentina taken regarding persons with visual disabilities, persons with hearing problems, and persons with multiple disabilities? An Expert pointed out that legal recognition of sign language had been pending since 2000. What measures was the Government taking to ensure that sign language was going to receive legal recognition?
Was there a plan to review the law on education which stipulated that children should attend mainstream schools “as far as their capabilities allowed them to do so”? Also, how did Argentina measure the quality of education in inclusive education and what were the indicators of those measurements? An Expert noted with satisfaction that Argentina was making progress in the area of education for persons with disabilities so that they could obtain employment and become full citizens, and requested more information on the work that was being done to facilitate the integration of blind and visually impaired children in society.
Regarding the employment quotas established for persons with disabilities, what were the legal consequences for employers who did not respect the four per cent employment quota for persons with disabilities?
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said that, regarding the questions about education and the integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools, only nine per cent of children with disabilities attended special schools based on statistics drawn from the recent census of 2010. She added that the data which the delegation had used covered the whole country and all age groups of children in education, whether mainstream schools or special institutions.
Concerning Higher Education, there were special grant programmes for students with disabilities and special scholarship programmes for children from indigenous populations. Progress had been made in terms of making university environments more accessible to persons with disabilities and university budgets had increased significantly since 2004. Also public universities had been established in the most vulnerable areas of the country.
Inclusive education was a matter to which Argentina attached a great deal of attention. The delegation asked the Committee to clarify what the definition of “inclusive education” was. The transition from segregated to inclusive education was not a matter of introducing new policies but, rather, was dependent upon a number of cultural changes which needed to be made at the same time. The difference in how different Provinces implemented inclusive education was accounted for by the fact that Provinces in Argentina were autonomous. The Committee could provide further guidance on this matter so that obsolete, segregated education systems could be transformed, not only in Argentina but also in other countries. The delegation also clarified that assistance was provided to persons with hearing impairments in education.
Regarding the recognition of Argentine sign language, the Government had the political will to tackle the issue and ensure that sign language received full legal recognition but there was a specific procedure which needed to be followed. Certain Provinces had already recognized sign language and even provided training for people to learn for sign language at University level.
The current reforms of the Civil Code provided a good opportunity to examine the institutions of wardship and guardianship, which had been in existence for decades. Non-governmental organizations were being consulted in the process to ensure that the voice of the civil society was heard. A delegate conceded that the current bill continued to contain the idea of the limited capacity of persons with disabilities, as the Committee had pointed out, but the issue was still very much under discussion and was not set in stone. It was hoped that very soon there would be a draft Civil Code which would be much closer to the provisions of the Convention.
In accordance with the Mental Health Act, a group of lawyers had been set up in 2011 which were working at the first instance level in order to strengthen the defence system and improve access to justice of persons with disabilities. Since it was established the body of lawyers had taken action in connection with 1,600 cases through 24 national civil courts with competence in issues relating to family law. The delegation also clarified that Argentina did not have express rules preventing access to justice by women with disabilities and women were on an equal footing with other members of society who also had access to legal defence.
In response to the question about the terminology used in the Criminal Code when referring to persons with disabilities, the delegation said that the use of the term “idiot” in connection with abortion was due to the fact that the Criminal Code dated back to 1921. However, the Criminal Code was currently being carefully examined and reformed and the comments of the Committee had been taken into account. Argentina was the first country in Latin America to ratify the Optional Protocol. A number of draft bills relating to that Protocol were still being debated. In October Argentina was due to go through its universal periodic review, after which further information would be provided on progress made on relevant matters.
In accordance with the Civil Code, a declaration of insanity could be reviewed, which meant that a decision could be revised. The Mental Health Act had a new paradigm and was rapidly applied in the country’s courts. The Convention was also being applied along with the new Mental Health Act. Argentina was working with the Universities revising the text books to ensure that the Convention was taught properly in Higher Education. In addition, courts and justice officials, including judges and lawyers, were being trained on how to implement the Convention. Moreover, a new publication on access to justice would be published in November that aimed to provide further information on the matter. Recognizing the need to explain the Civil Code to the nation, Argentina had set up a webpage with information. The webpage also gave the public the opportunity to express their views on the Civil Code reform and discuss its provisions in a public forum.
In April 2010 a National Unit on Mental Health had been set up to replace the previous body of national co-ordination. The budget of the new National Unit had increased significantly in recent years and now stood at 38 million pesos. There were also programmes targeting infrastructure, facilities and equipment at local level. Just recently 65 such projects had been approved across 19 provinces. The number of persons living in specialized hospitals and other facilities had reduced significantly in the past few years, which was a good sign. All the above demonstrated a shift from specialist disability hospitals to networks providing health services and rehabilitation in the community.
It was also clarified that terminology used was terminology included in the Civil Code. Since the Convention was ratified the Government was making conscious efforts to do away with terminology, which no longer reflected the country’s current legislation, but that reform was an ongoing process.
Follow-up questions from the Experts
The Country Rapporteur noted from the response of the delegation that there appeared to be major differences between the criteria applied to disability status. She asked whether there were still jurisdictions which continued to apply a classification based on the assessments of the disabilities or deficiencies. How many certification bodies existed in the country? Did each Province have a separate Commission granting such a certificate? She also said that the Committee was interested to know how Argentina dealt with persons who had visual and hearing impairments and whether the governments of the Provinces were putting in place any specific programmes for those persons.
The Expert was pleased to see that there was no discrimination on the basis of sex or age when it came to access to the justice system but asked what the situation was with regard to persons with greater vulnerability and how Argentina was tackling issues of multi-discrimination. The delegation was asked about Government plans to amend the electoral law so that it was not the person in charge of the polling station which had to provide assistance to persons with disabilities.
Another Expert repeated his question about children being detained in the same facilities as adults, which had not been answered by the delegation, and asked whether Argentina was doing anything to tackle that issue. Regarding the question of violence against women, an Expert asked for confirmation that persons could submit a complaint on behalf of somebody else if the latter was a person with disabilities.
The delegation’s response to employment questions had not been sufficient, an Expert complained, asking what measures were being taken, other than using the court system, to help persons with disabilities in the field of labour.
Regarding inclusive education, had any follow-up studies had been carried out on graduate students from Universities going on to have successful career?
An Expert asked once again whether there were strategies in place concerning access to Higher Education for persons with disabilities. Regarding inclusive education, another Expert asked what the Government could do to promote inclusiveness in Higher Education and to make sure that the autonomy of universities did not stand in the way of compliance with the Convention.
Response by the Delegation
It was clarified that children were not detained in the same facilities as adults. Moreover, Argentina was working closely with other International and Regional Organizations such as the United Nations and MERCOSUR to develop good practices.
Concerning the question about compliance with the single disability certificate, the delegation said that Argentina had recently started working on the matter bearing in mind the international functioning definitions of disability, although it also acknowledged that more work needed to be done in that area. It was hoped that a single disability certificate would become available soon. To that end training was provided to the provincial boards and there were clear signs that progress was being made in that respect.
The delegation said that there was both a State policy for employment and a public policy on the quota system for employment. Since 2011 there had been a national directory for the employment of persons with disabilities across the country. In addition to existing employment programmes, significant tax and other incentives were provided to firms for the employment of persons with disabilities. Argentina recognized that employment had to be inclusive and accessible on the open market, both in the public and the private sector. The Government was aware that persons with disabilities were facing difficulties when seeking employment but help was available to them through employment offices throughout the country. In addition, there was a protected web shop system in which the standards were very close to those of the Convention.
Regarding the system of assisted voting, it was clarified that persons with disabilities who were not in a position to vote, for example persons who were visually impaired, could approach an officer at the polling station for help or somebody chosen by them could accompany them and help them to vote. However, the issue was still being debated at Government level.
Support was currently being provided to person with visual and hearing impairments and Argentina was committed to working even harder to provide more help and support to that group of persons with disabilities. Concerning the question about blind persons who could not be guardians, a legal amendment had been carried out more than 20 years ago and so the information that the Committee had received on that matter was not up to date.
A protocol for inclusive education was being developed at the moment and a finished copy would be sent to the Committee. Argentina was aware of the differences between segregated and inclusive education and was currently working on doing away with all types of segregation in education.
The Observatory for Disabilities had been provided for by Article 33. It was not a closed system nor was it in violation of the principle of independence. In its short life it had always been independent and very effective in the decisions it had made. It had specifically made efforts to include non-governmental organizations of persons with or without disabilities in the process and the input of civil society was taken very seriously.
The delegation said that State universities had had a disability programme in place for the past seven years and that, despite the self-management and autonomy of universities, all Higher Education institutions in the country were expected to comply with the clauses of the Convention. Autonomy could not stand in the way of compliance with the Convention, which was fully in force as a fundamental human right for private and public universities alike. In addition, Argentina promoted the integration of persons with disabilities into universities by means of scholarships available to them. Also, special facilities were available to persons with visual impairments in university libraries to allow them full access to bibliography.
ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Argentina, thanked the delegation for their interactive dialogue with the Committee, which had been conducted in a relaxed yet constructive manner. She said that the Committee had noted the difficulties that Argentina was facing in implementing the Convention. The Committee expected that the State party would reform its legislation at federal but also at provincial and local level to ensure that the country’s laws were in conformity with the Convention. The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern at Argentina’s approach to the decisions taken by all persons with disabilities about their own lives and said that persons with disabilities should have more control over important life-changing decisions.
SILVIA BERSANELLI, Director of the Observatory of Disability of the National Consultative Commission for the Integration of Persons with Disability, thanked the Committee for their comments and questions and said that several problems remained which needed to be addressed and solved. She stressed that Argentina was firmly committed to significantly improving the situation of persons with disabilities and that it hoped to do that by working closely with the civil society, who had to be fully involved in discussing and implementing public policy and public action.
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