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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers the initial report of Honduras

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

31 March 2017

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Honduras on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In the presentation of the report, Olga Alvarado, Under-Secretary of State for Social Inclusion of Honduras, said that the rights-based approach to improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities was a national priority of the new Government, which adopted in 2013 the policy on social inclusion for persons with disabilities.  It was estimated that between 11 and 15 per cent of the population were persons with disabilities and in 2016, about $10 million had been allocated for their care and support.  The Constitution had been translated into Braille, the national anthem had been translated into sign language, and sign language had been legally recognized in 2013.  The “Honduras for All” programme was an integrated system of social protection which had started in 2016 and through which the public policy on disability was being implemented.  It assessed the needs and capacities of persons with disabilities in a multidisciplinary way and empowered them to participate in their own development. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended Honduras for depositing the instrument of ratification of the Marrakech Treaty on 29 March, and the progress made in the legislation to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.  But, pejorative terminology and anachronistic institutions such as guardianship and substituted decision-making still existed in the law.  They inquired about the protection from disability-based discrimination in the law, and the protection from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination for indigenous people, and for women and children with disability.  Experts noted with concern the very high level of violence in Honduras, including by organized crime gangs; it particularly affected remote, rural and indigenous communities, where the majority of persons with disabilities lived.  Women with disabilities were at extremely high risk of gender-based violence.  Persons with psycho-social disabilities were placed in psychiatric hospitals for long periods of time as a security measure, while forced hospitalization and limiting of legal capacity was legal, Experts noted and asked when those provisions, which were in violation of the Convention, would be repealed.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Alvarado said that Honduras was aware of the challenges and noted that addressing some of them required a paradigm shift, for example in matters of substituted decision-making and limitations of legal capacity.  Efforts must be redoubled to ensure accessibility in all spheres, and there must be a focus on persons with disabilities with additional vulnerabilities.  Support to persons with disabilities was a moral imperative and one of the values of the Honduran society, and it was striving to bring about an inclusive Honduras, “Honduras for All”.

The delegation of Honduras included representatives of the Secretariat for Development and Social Inclusion, Prosecutor General, Secretariat for Justice and Human Rights, Secretariat for Labour and Social Security, Secretariat for Education, Directorate General for Persons with Disability, and the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, 3 April, when it will start its consideration of the initial report of Canada (CRPD/C/CAN/1).

Report

The initial report of Honduras can be read here: CRPD/C/HND/1.

Presentation of the Report

OLGA ALVARADO, Under-Secretary of State for Social Inclusion, said that persons with disabilities had been largely invisible for many years, adding that the new Government had made the rights-based approach to improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities a national priority.  The law on equity and comprehensive development of persons with disabilities had been adopted in 2005 to promote their full social inclusion and participation.  The policy on social inclusion of persons with disabilities had been adopted in 2013; it was human rights and gender-based, multicultural and multi-ethnic, and it addressed issues of life cycle, universal design, inclusive community-based development, and decentralization.  The policy aimed to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoyed the full scope of their rights to foster the social transformations necessary to achieve respect for their inherent dignity and access to social opportunities in conditions of equality, respect for difference, full integration and absence of discrimination.  In recent years, Honduras had adopted a series of public policies for the protection of vulnerable persons in all stages of life, including the policy on social protection, as well as policies on the integrated development of early childhood, on the elderly, and on youth and adolescents.

Honduras had signed up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; it was in the process of aligning national strategies with the Sustainable Development Goals and in this process, persons with disabilities were involved as agents of change and not only beneficiaries.  It was estimated that between 11 and 15 per cent of the population were persons with disabilities.  Reiterating the firm commitment to the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities and to taking active steps to promoting their active participation in society, Ms. Alvarado said that in 2016, about $10 million had been allocated for the care and support of persons with disabilities.  Honduras was harmonizing its laws with international obligations, particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, and was in the process of amending the penal code to prohibit the denial of reasonable accommodation.  The Constitution had been translated into Braille, the national anthem had been translated into sign language, and sign language had been legally recognized in 2013.

The “Honduras for All” programme was an integrated system of social protection which had started in 2016 and through which the public policy on disability was being implemented.  It assessed the needs and capacities of persons with disabilities in a multidisciplinary way and empowered them to participate in their own development.  In cooperation with civil society, steps were being taken to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, by improving accessibility to polling stations.  Following the 2007 Supreme Court decision, the Brasilia regulations regarding access to justice for vulnerable people were being implemented, which included persons with disabilities.  Honduras had been a part of the Central American network for inclusive education since 2013 and it had in place the master plan to ensure accessibility to universities in accordance with international standards.  The programme “With the Job You Live Better” promoted the employment of persons with disabilities to enable them to establish and support families.  On 29 March, Honduras had deposited the instrument of ratification of the Marakech Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.

Questions from the Committee Experts
 
CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Honduras, commended Honduras for depositing the instrument of ratification of the Marrakech Agreement yesterday, and the progress made in the legislation to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.  Pejorative terminology could still be found in the country’s law, such as “crazy”, or “insane persons”, while the statistics on the number of persons with disabilities were not accurate as the latest census had taken place in 2004.  The Committee would examine the difficulties of persons with disabilities in relation to threats to the right to life, including by organized crime gangs; the challenges in codifying supported decision-making; and the right to education and transition from special to inclusive education.

Committee Experts asked the delegation to inform about measures taken to protect children with disabilities and support their families, awareness raising campaigns to raise the profile of persons with disabilities and their rights and how persons with disabilities had been involved therein, and the concrete measures to be taken to increase accessibility to public transport.  What was being done to ensure that children with disabilities were not exposed to corporal punishment as a consequence of their behaviour?

How were women and girls with disabilities protected from violence?

The central Government had donated about $512,000 to the 2016 Telethon and the National Congress about $64,000 even though the image of persons with disabilities portrayed by Telethon aimed to incite pity and charity, which was degrading and contrary to the human rights approach to disability.  Why did the Government continue to invest into an organization which had been decried by persons with disabilities for applying practices which were contrary to the dignity of persons with disabilities?

Was disability-based discrimination clearly defined in the law, and were indigenous people, as well as women and children with disabilities protected from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination?  Honduras was a mountainous country – how accessible was the public transport system and how easy or difficult was it for persons with disabilities to move around the country?

A total of 217 complaints for discrimination had been filed with the component authorities, but it was not clear how many had actually been filed by persons with disabilities themselves or by members of their families. 

How was the implementation of accessibility standards monitored, what were the sanctions for non-compliance, and how was universal design integrated into training of engineers and architects?

An Expert noted with concern the very high level of violence in Honduras, particularly in remote, rural and indigenous communities, where the majority of persons with disabilities lived.  Women with disabilities were at extremely high risk of gender-based violence.  What measures were being taken to address this situation and protect persons with disabilities?

How were women with disabilities protected from multiple discrimination on the basis of disability and on the basis of gender?

It seemed that the approach to disability was still medically-based which was contrary to the principles of the Convention; what steps were being taken to transition to a social model of disability?  Would the definition of disability be brought in line with the Convention?

In terms of the implementation of the Convention, what were the short-term and long-term priorities, how much would their implementation cost, and where would the money come from?

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked why the Department for Persons with Disabilities had been moved from the Ministry for Human Rights to the Secretary of Development and Social Inclusion. 

Response by the Delegation

In response to questions on the situation of children with disabilities, the delegation said that a national policy for the prevention of violence against children and young people had been adopted in February 2003.  It had been prepared with the involvement of civil society and children, and was being implemented through the National Institute for Children.  The public prosecutor and the special prosecutor for human rights investigated all cases of sexual violence and abuses against children with disabilities; all such cases were referred to social workers, and if necessary protective measures were taken, such as provisional guardianship or placement of the child in a shelter.

In combatting violence against women, special focus was given to women with disabilities. Yesterday, 29 March a programme had been launched to improve the economic situation of women, and to provide comprehensive services to Honduran women.

With regard to the legislative framework, the delegation said that the entire legislation of the country had been reviewed to identify laws that needed to be brought in line with the Convention.  The review found the use of pejorative terms and the existence of anachronistic institutions such as guardianship.  A new criminal code was being prepared, which would also see harmonization of terminology and criminalization of discrimination, including on the grounds of disability. 

In order to remove barriers to access to justice for vulnerable persons, a commission had been created for the implementation of the Brasilia regulations regarding access to justice for vulnerable people.  The 2005 law on disabilities would also be brought in line with the Convention, which had been ratified in 2008.

The delegation explained that there were three institutions in Honduras, the National Institute for Statistics, the National Centre for Information on Social Services, and the National Council for Education, which were closely connected in collecting data and information.  A special focus was on data concerning education of persons with disabilities.  A training programme for sign language interpreters was being discussed with universities.

Municipalities were drafting their own policies for persons with disabilities in order to ensure their full inclusion in society, in consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. 

In 2015, the Secretariat for Labour and Social Inclusion had conducted many visits to public and private companies to raise awareness about the right to work of persons with disabilities, the prohibition of discrimination, and the provision of reasonable accommodation.  Incentives were in place to support the employment of persons with disabilities, and quotas had been adopted in both the public and private sector.  Positive actions had been promoted to support the self-employment of persons with disabilities, particularly women, and training was being provided to strengthen their technical and management capacities.  Measures had been put in place to prevent the harassment of persons with disabilities in the workplace. 

The issue of disability in Honduras was of paramount importance, and all persons with disabilities and representative organizations of persons with disabilities were invited to join and participate.  The consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations was essential and the Directorate for Disabilities never adopted a tool or a policy without it. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert stressed the importance of self-advocacy by persons with disabilities and asked whether children with disabilities had their own representative organizations and if so, how they were involved and consulted.

All people must be a part of the society and be included on an equal basis with others and the delegation was asked about the realization of the right to live in a community of persons with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities.  What measures were being taken to provide community support services, including personal assistants, to enable persons with disabilities to live in a place of their own choosing?  How would independent living arrangements be provided to persons with disabilities, with necessary support services?

Persons with psycho-social disabilities were placed in psychiatric hospitals for long periods of time as a security, and forced hospitalization and limiting of legal capacity was allowed.  What plans were in place to repeal those provisions which were in violation of the Convention?

Experts reiterated concern about the impact of gang violence on persons with disabilities and asked how persons with disabilities could seek protection and safety; for example, how could a wheelchair-bound person with disabilities access a police station, were sign language interpreters available there, and how accessible were hotlines.

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Honduras, asked how Honduras would approach the updating of the legislation and bring it in line with the provisions of the Convention.  The country Rapporteur reminded the delegation that the Committee had already developed case work on the Telethon and had advised against practices promoted by this organization.  With regard to the removal of the notion of guardians, would Honduras amend its civil code to introduce the facility of supported decision-making?  Many complaints received in 2016 related to the lack of access to justice – what actions were being taken to create adequate access to the judiciary for persons with disabilities?   Were there any organizations dealing with returning migrants with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in communities?

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, said that the law on legal capacity was not in line with article 12 of the Convention and asked about plans to repeal laws which restricted legal capacity on the basis of impairment.  The Chairperson also stressed the obligation of States to take positive action to change the paradigm and enable practitioners to offer support in decision making which did not restrict the autonomy of persons with disabilities.  Was any research being conducted on this issue?  How many persons were under guardianship, and had the number increased or decreased since the ratification of the Convention?  How many persons with disabilities were detained on grounds of impairment and did they have the right to legal aid and the right to challenge the detention?  Violence against disabled persons was a great concern for the Committee, and Ms. Degener asked for data in this regard, particularly violence against women and girls with disabilities.  What mechanism was in place to monitor providers of services to persons with disabilities?

Response by the Delegation

The “Better Life” programme had improved the situation of persons with disabilities in extreme poverty, poverty and vulnerability.  In 2016, 178 accessible housing units had been built for persons with disabilities and this activity would continue.  Family doctors and medical staff paid house visits to persons with disabilities who were immobile.  The first centre for comprehensive leisure activities for persons with disabilities had been put in place in Lempira, and it offered activities such as gardening, cafeteria, and others.  Issues concerned with tackling the challenges in transportation and accessibility for persons with disabilities were prioritized in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Turning to the situation of children with disabilities, the delegation said that the child, adolescents and family code established a protection mechanism for children in vulnerable situations, and stressed the obligation of the State to protect those children on the principle of non-discrimination.  The law defined protection measures that could be employed, including fines of family members or legal guardians in order to stop undesirable behaviour towards the child, placement of the child with extended, foster or adoptive family, and as the last resort, temporary placement of the child in a State institution.

A reform process was underway to repeal pejorative terms that remained in the legal system, especially the institution of guardianship, in order to bring them in line with the Convention.  Those reforms would become a draft law, to be discussed and adopted by Congress.  Congress had before it a draft amendment to the law on the inclusion of persons with disabilities that was proposed by civil society; it would also include a number of issues that the Committee Experts raised, such as denial of reasonable accommodation, supported decision-making, and others.  The prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability would be addressed by the ongoing reform of the criminal code.

Persons with disabilities could file complaints for rights violations directly to the Public Ministry, which had a sign language interpreter to help the process.  Victims of sexual abuse and exploitation received special care and comprehensive support for their recovery; there were no statistics on the victims, but disaggregated data collection was starting in 2017. 

The statistics showed that 5.8 per cent of the prison population - 924 individuals - were persons with disabilities: motor, sensorial, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.  All persons with disabilities deprived of liberty had the right to legal aid and representation.  Measures were being taken to improve health care provided to incarcerated persons with disabilities, particularly in the two detention facilities which held the highest number of disabled inmates.

The national system for health care had been transformed to bring it closer to the communities, and particular attention was being paid to the provision of services to persons with disabilities.  Telethon, a private foundation created 20 years before the adoption of the Convention, provided rehabilitation services to several thousand persons with disabilities.  The way it conducted its awareness, publicity and fundraising campaigns was not the matter of the Government, said the delegation, noting that Telethon had adopted a rights-based approach to disability.

With regard to the economic situation of persons with disabilities, a delegate said that the law adopted in 2009 provided for support to self-employment of persons with disabilities, while a small revolving fund was available through the Ministry of Labour.  Persons with disabilities could access credits at low interest rates through a solidarity bank.  Public transport was free of charge for persons with disabilities. 

On persons with disabilities and disaster and humanitarian emergency situations, the delegation said that Honduras had a legal framework in place to mitigate impacts and risks of natural disasters which prioritized vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, elderly, children and persons with disabilities.  A 911 HN system, a hotline, was currently being studied; it would be accessible by persons with disabilities through the use of a numeric system to identify themselves and the dangerous situation they were in.  The system was expected to be in place by September 2017.

The rights of migrant returnees with disabilities were ensured.  Through the Migrant Returnee Services, the State of Honduras was maintaining the Solidarity Fund which had been put in place to promote and support the reintegration of returning migrant workers, including those with disability.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Taking the floor in the final round of questions, a Committee Expert stressed the importance of political participation for persons with disabilities and asked the delegation to explain how political participation and participation in the electoral process was realized in Honduras.  Were there any restrictions of civil and political rights based on disability, for example through deprivation or restriction of legal capacity?

The delegation was asked about concrete examples of the implementation of the affirmative action promoted by the Convention, such as tax incentives for example, to increase the employment of persons with disabilities.  What other regulations were in place and how were public and private companies sanctioned for non-compliance with those regulations?

The budgetary allocations made per child for inclusive education did not seem to be sufficient.  Could the delegation comment?

Another Expert remarked that the law decreed the obligation of public and private institutions to ensure that all information and services provided to the public were accessible to all persons with disabilities.  How was this law being implemented, what was the percentage of television channels and programmes provided with subtitles or sign language, and how many public and private websites were accessible?  What were the sanctions for non-compliance?

Were professionals in the health sector adequately trained to provide sexual and reproductive health services and information to women and girls with disabilities?

How was the denial of reasonable accommodation sanctioned?  Which measures were in place to support independent living of persons with disabilities, including in remote and rural areas?

The 2012 law on education did not embrace the concept of inclusive education – what was guiding the provision of inclusive education in Honduras?  What was being done to ensure that sign language was adequately used in education and was available to students who needed it? 

Rehabilitation seemed to be left in the hands of non-governmental organizations, noted an Expert, and asked the delegation to explain the system in place.

How were the living standards of persons with disabilities ensured, particularly those who had never worked?

What kind of State support was provided to families and parents of children with disabilities, particularly those on the Autistic spectrum, and was early detection of disabilities available in the communities?

The delegation was asked about the support and organization of sporting activities for persons with disabilities, including those with psycho-social disabilities, and whether Honduran sports persons with disabilities participated in international sporting events.

CARLOS ALBERTO PARRA DUSSAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Honduras, asked the delegation to elaborate on how inclusive education could be achieved given the lack of sign interpreters and the closing of a number of schools throughout the country, including the closing of the sign interpretation school.  The national health insurance did not provide full coverage for prosthetics or medical devices.  The country Rapporteur noted that the last census had taken place in 2004, during which data on disability had not been collected – when would the next census take place and would it include questions on disability, thus ensuring the collection of data which was indispensable to understand the situation of persons with disabilities in the country, and on which to base policies and interventions.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, urged Honduras to abolish substituted decision-making, and to pay focused attention to women with disabilities.

Response by the Delegation

On inclusive education, the delegation said Honduras was in the process of consultation with persons with disabilities on this issue, which would be followed by the drafting of the necessary legislation to start the transformation towards inclusive education.  The national plan for education 2017-2030 focused on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal seven on education.  Honduras was cognisant of the need to strengthen the current budgetary allocations for the education of children with disabilities and to institutionalize the inclusive education programmes that it was implementing with other stakeholders. 

The Government was working with the University of Honduras to develop guidelines for a university degree on disability issues and was looking into reviving training of sign language interpreters.  Honduras was lamenting the closure of the Model School which had been an innovative programme, a private sector initiative, and was looking into extrapolating and replicating lessons learned.

The National Institute for Statistics had a website on which it provided data on persons with disabilities, which had been collected in 2013.  The data was broken down by region, type of disability, capacities, and other relevant criteria.

In 2013, an office had been created for the political rights of persons with disabilities; the office oversaw the enjoyment of those rights and promoted active political and public participation of persons with disabilities on an equal footing with others.  The office was also working on issues of accessibility to polling stations, which were usually located in schools.  There was active use of information and communication technology to communicate with persons with disabilities with regard to their political and electoral participation, and concrete measures were being taken to support the participation of persons with disabilities in elections.  Honduras was hoping that the 2017 general elections would take place with full participation of persons with disabilities.

Concluding Remarks

OLGA ALVARADO, Under-Secretary of State for Social Inclusion of Honduras, said that Honduras was aware of the challenges and that addressing some of them required a paradigm shift, for example in matters of substituted decision-making and limitations of legal capacity.  Efforts must be redoubled to ensure accessibility in all spheres, and there must be a focus on persons with disabilities with additional vulnerabilities.  The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development included the goal of ensuring by 2030 access to appropriate basic services and this would guide the efforts of Honduras in increasing accessibility.  Support to persons with disabilities was a moral imperative and one of the values of the Honduran society, and it was striving to bring about an inclusive Honduras, “Honduras for All”.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the information provided in the dialogue.

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