Dec. 3 was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which has been celebrated every year since 1992 – exactly 10 years after the U.N. General Assembly decided on the World Program of Action for Disabled People.
Each year the day has a different theme.
This year it focused on “The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Dignity and justice for all of us.”
As it states on the U.N. Enable Web site, “Since its beginning, the United Nations has been committed to the realization of universal human rights for all, including the rights of persons with disabilities.”
The site continues, “2008 is a significant year for taking action to make this commitment a reality: the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, legally binding instruments,as well as the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).”
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a 31page document comprised of 50 articles related to the rights of people with disabilities, including: equality and nondiscrimination; accessibility; living independently and being included in the community; employment; education and so forth.
The convention was ratified by Nicaragua on Dec. 7, 2007 – giving Nicaragua a full year to implement some of these measures, which it is legally obligated to do, so that people living here with disabilities could see some change. Yet a year later, much criticism remains within Nicaragua’s disabled community.
In an article published Oct. 14 in the daily La Prensa, David López, president of the Association for the Visually Impaired of Nicaragua, demanded that the government implement the convention as it’s bound to do by law.
He lamented that the government still “sees people with disabilities as sick, as objects of philanthropy and international solidarity.”
With the new law, López said, the community of people living with disabilities “wants to be seen as subjects of rights and protagonists in our own development.”
López noted that there have been some advances in disability issues, but said “these small advances” have occurred in an uncoordinated and sporadic manner.
“They start a program and finish it and everything stops there,” he said. “We want (the government) to create legal and political conditions aimed at the inclusion of people with disabilities in different government programs.”
Shortly after this article was published, Nicaragua also signed the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is an international treaty that establishes two procedures aimed at strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the convention.
The first of these procedures allows individuals from signatory states to bring complaints of rights violations before a committee that has the authority to investigate “serious or systematic violations of the convention.”
The real question is whether this convention will ultimately make any difference in Nicaragua and to Nicaraguans with disabilities.
Maybe the committee will be inundated with claims from Nicaragua, but it’s doubtful. I suspect that most Nicaraguans with disabilities haven’t even heard of the convention or the legal recourse available to them through the committee.
Still, just in signing the convention, Nicaragua seems to be heading in the right direction. Theoretically the signing and ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol gives Nicaraguans with Disabilities more rights and a new platform to air their grievances.
Some countries, most notably the United States, haven’t even signed the convention, so hopefully Nicaragua’s ratification is an indication of its willingness to work toward change. But a lot remains to be done, and only time will tell how deep Nicaragua’s commitment is.
Craig Grimes lives in Matagalpa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.