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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with Disabilities examines report of Chile

GENEVA (1 April 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded the examination of the initial report of Chile on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 
 
Presenting the report, Heidi Berner Herrera, Under-Secretary for Social Assessment at the Ministry for Social Development, stated that the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 had led to the adoption of new policies and legislation to bring the domestic legal framework in line with Chile’s new international commitments.  The Law on Persons with Disabilities sought to adopt a rights-based approach and to combat discrimination against that population.  A 2009 law had established a human rights institution for the protection of human rights of all residents of Chile, while another 2012 law had provided legal mechanisms to combat discrimination.  The Government was focused on programmes encouraging public agencies to ensure inclusiveness, and on providing equal access trainings.  Measures had been taken for the training of the judiciary personnel, while new legislation would seek to eliminate architectural barriers and improve accessibility. 
 
During the interactive dialogue which followed, Experts praised Chile as one of the Latin American countries with the highest level of human development.  They, nonetheless, raised various issues of concern, including the still remaining pejorative terminology in the Chilean legislation, accessibility of public areas to persons with disabilities, violence and cruel treatment against persons with disabilities, institutionalization of such persons without their consent, and the treatment of women with disabilities.  Experts also wanted to know more about the concept of “reasonable accommodation”, role of organizations of persons with disabilities, combating negative stereotypes, disaster risk reduction, and the using of telethons for charity campaigns to help persons with disabilities.  Other issues raised included teaching of the sign language, access of persons with disabilities to the labour market, their participation in political life and steps taken by the State party to eliminate poverty among that population.
 
Ms. Herrera, in concluding remarks, said that the goals of the Convention guided the work of the Government of Chile.  Significant progress had been made all the while a number of challenges remained.
 
In conclusion, Silvia Judith Quan-Chang, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Chile, thanked the delegation for their responses and the information they provided.
 
The delegation of Chile included representatives of the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Disability Service, the Judicial Assistance Agency of the Metropolitan Region, the National Institute for Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will next meet in public on Monday, 4 April at 3 p.m. to start its consideration of the initial report of Slovakia (CRPD/C/SVK/1).

Report
 
The initial report of Chile can be read at: CRPD/C/CHL/1.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
HEIDI BERNER HERRERA, Under-Secretary for Social Assessment at the Ministry for Social Development, said that her country had made systematic efforts to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities through the adoption of legislation and the design of policies, including a national action plan for persons with disabilities, which set forth standards for the inclusion and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.  In 2004, a national survey had shown that persons with disabilities amounted to 12.9 percent of the population, 58.2 percent of whom were women.  The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 had led to the adoption of new policies and legislation to bring the domestic legal framework in line with Chile’s new international commitments.  The Law on persons with disabilities sought to adopt a rights-based approach and to combat discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It saw the establishment of a national disability service, which aimed to enable persons with disabilities through inclusion policies and programmes. 
 
A 2009 legislation had established a human rights institution for the protection of human rights of all residents of Chile, and a 2012 law had provided legal mechanisms to combat discrimination.  Law 20895 of January 2016 had established the Under-Secretary for Human Rights, as well as an inter-ministerial committee for human rights.  More recently, the Government had adopted, in March 2016, a law on citizenship.  In 2014, Chile had set up an advisory committee on the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, which included members of organizations of persons with disabilities.  The establishment of the Disability Under-Secretariat by the Government illustrated its commitment to the issue. 
 
In 2015, a second national disability survey had been carried out, which saw a change in conceptual frameworks in terms of the development of policies for social inclusion and non-discrimination.  It resulted in the designing of the national plan for persons with disabilities and took into account a number of parameters from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Health Organization.  That survey had shown that disability was closely connected to the aging of the population and income levels, with a greater prevalence among women.   The gender dimension was the key, Ms. Berner Herrera said, bearing in mind that more than 70 percent of those caring for persons with disabilities were women. 
 
The Government was focusing on programmes encouraging public agencies to ensure inclusiveness, and on providing equal access trainings.  The survey had also shown the need for an education reform which would ensure greater access by persons with disabilities.  The Congress was currently debating a bill that would establish a system of guarantees for children’s rights.  A bill had been recently signed to establish an Ombudsman for children.  Measures had been taken for the judiciary as well, including training of justice personnel, while new legislation would seek to eliminate architectural barriers and improve accessibility.  Chile was committed to implement the provisions of the Convention, and to ensure the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities, concluded Ms. Berner Herrera. 
 
Statement by the National Human Rights Institution of Chile
 
ROBERTO GARRETON, Member of the National Human Rights Institution of Chile, stated that the institution had become operational in 2010, and was recognized as having “A” status by the United Nations Coordinating Committee.  It was fully independent, and four of its eleven members were representatives of the civil society.  He noted the need for more data collection on disability issues.  Disability continued to be considered a form of legal incapacity when it came to exercising rights, which was partly due to the fact that the legislation was grounded in the 1804 Napoleon Code.  Law 10584 (2012) governing the rights and duties of patients allowed for the sectioning of a person against his or her will and with only an opinion of one judge.  The legislation did not adequately respect the rights and wishes of the patients in terms of surgery.  Serious barriers continued to prevent the public participation of persons with disabilities. 
 
Statement by the Country Rapporteur
 
SILVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHANG, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Chile, said that Chile was one of the Latin American countries with the highest level of human development.  The Civil Code dating back from 1857 was still in force, but the full legal capacity of persons with disabilities had been recognized.  Statistical data on persons with disabilities came from a survey carried out in 2004, and a new survey had been carried out in late 2015.  The outcome was that there were still barriers facing persons with disabilities.  There was a high proportion of persons with disabilities in institutions or in the streets, and they were not taken into account in the survey.  The Rapporteur referred to the importance of accessibility in a wide range or areas, including in the media and on the Internet.  It was a matter of concern that television broadcasts were largely inaccessible to persons with hearing impairs or deaf persons.  The telethon campaigns had reinforced the stereotype that disability was a physical matter and was thus simply a matter of rehabilitation.  There were cases of violence, abuse and cruel treatments against persons with disabilities at the hand of police officers, some that even led to death.  What measures had been taken to investigate and prosecute those cases?  The Country Rapporteur was concerned that the law governing the rights and duties of patients was still in force, which was along with other legislation allowing persons with disabilities to be institutionalized without their consent, contrary to the Convention. 
 
Questions by Experts
 
Raising the issue of definitions, an Expert was concerned that Chile had retained some pejorative terminologies defining persons with disabilities, including in the Civil Code, and encouraged Chile to fully adopt a human rights-based approach to disability.  The Expert regretted that the initial report of Chile referred to the “prevention of disability”, which was in contradiction with the letter and spirit of the Convention.   
 
Turning to accessibility, another Expert asked for information on Chile’s measures and affirmative actions to strengthen access to employment and education for persons with disabilities.  What was Chile planning to do to improve accessibility of information to persons with visual impairment?  Experts raised questions regarding architectural accessibility in Santiago, including at the airport, in hotels, public transport and public administration facilities, as well as in cultural and historical sites.  Experts welcomed the national accessibility plan adopted by Chile, and asked for information on human, technical and financial resources allocated to its implementation.    
 
With regard to discrimination, Committee Members welcomed the Equal Opportunity and Social Inclusion Act, and asked how court decisions on cases of disability-based discrimination were being implemented in practice.  What monitoring mechanism ensured that the provisions of that law were implemented?  An Expert asked whether deaf persons could be deprived of their legal capacity.  Experts asked for information on cases of discrimination filed before the antidiscrimination body. 
 
Question was asked about inter-sectoral and multiple discrimination, particularly against indigenous women with disabilities. An Expert noted that Chile’s current President Michelle Bachelet was the former head of UN Women, and asked a number of questions regarding Chile’s efforts to address the needs of women with disabilities. 
 
Experts raised a number of questions on the role of organizations of persons with disabilities in Chile, and on whether the Government was encouraging, supporting and cooperating with them.  Did organizations of persons with disabilities play a role in monitoring the implementation of legislation?
 
The delegation was asked whether the concept of “necessary accommodation” or “necessary adjustment” in Chilean law was the same as the concept of “reasonable accommodation” as defined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
 
Experts referred to Chile’s telethon campaigns, and noted that this promoted a charity-based approach to disability.  They asked what measures were in place to combat negative stereotypes against persons with disabilities in the media.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
With regard to definitions, a delegate said that the law referring to “prevention of disability” had been replaced by Law 20422, which was in line with the Convention and with a human rights-based approach.  The Government was trying to identify pejorative legal provisions in order to repeal them.  A 2014 study had found outdated language in 61 pieces of legislation.  Reviewing those provisions was taking time, a delegate said. 
 
The recent national disability survey had been conducted in line with the standards of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  That survey was conducted very recently, which was why its results could not be included in the State party report or the answers to the list of issues. 
 
Chile had in place Act 20500 on Citizen Participation, which obliged all public services to have in place civil society counsel.  That meant that all Ministries had to ensure civil society participation in policy-making.  The Government was supporting civil society projects in relation to disability issues through a number of public funds, and bearing in mind the necessity for equal coverage of all the territory.  The National Disability Service was a consultative council which advised on policies and funding of disability policies.
 
The delegation explained that the telethon was a foundation focused on the rehabilitation of children with disabilities, through a therapeutic and charity approach.  The campaign sought to raise awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities.  A delegate fully agreed that the telethon had to address those issues with respect, and efforts had been made to ensure that a rights-based approach was strengthened.  The Government was providing support to telethon’s rehabilitation centres. 
 
Questions by Experts
 
With regard to disaster risk-reduction, an Expert referred to the recent earthquake that had struck Chile and asked what measures had been put in place to address the needs of persons with disabilities, in terms of their access to information, evacuation and assistance.  Another Expert asked whether Chile had a free smartphone application to address the need of persons with hearing impairment during natural disasters.  Were persons with disabilities involved in the elaboration of disaster risk-reduction plans and programmes? 
 
Another Expert regretted the lack of information in Chile’s initial report on the situation of persons with psychosocial disabilities.  It seemed that 20 percent of those persons depended on internment.  There was also no data on people placed in private centres, the Expert regretted, asking whether children were being separated from adults.  Were those places monitored by independent bodies?  An Expert regretted the absence of national mechanism in charge with monitoring and inspecting places of detentions, including psychiatric hospitals, in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 
 
When would Chile ensure that its policies on forced institutionalization were in line with the Convention?  When would the practice of forced sterilization of children be abolished in law? 
 
Question was also asked on whether the State provided services to persons with disabilities in remote areas and small islands.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The delegation stated that equal opportunities for people with disabilities were guaranteed also by the Law on disability.  The Children Act contained a section on disability, stating that that could lead to discrimination. No care or service could be refused on that basis and a person with disabilities could not be deprived of any sexual or reproductive rights. The Discrimination Act also contained a list of elements of discrimination.
 
The delegation explained that the notion of necessary facilities used in Chile was identical to the one on reasonable accommodation in the Convention.  Over 10,000 public buildings had been inspected, and just over 40 percent of them reached the minimum standards which, however, did not necessarily correspond to the modern requirements for accessibility anymore, acknowledged the delegation.  It was intended that at least all the entrances and exits of public buildings be made easily accessible. New universal accessibility standards also took into account the need to allow for the autonomous mobility of the persons concerned. The previous standards considered only the adaptation of entrances and access routes, the delegation said.  Moreover, any residential building had to be adapted, and managers and owners had  three years to adhere to new standards; the same was the case for schools and courts.  Thus, the construction or modernization of courthouses systematically took into account accessibility for people with disabilities.
 
There were public transport accessibility standards concerning mainly the metropolitan area of Santiago de Chile.  The delegation informed that 87 percent of the buses were equipped with devices for people with disabilities and stops were also developed. However, a lot remained to be done in that regard in other cities.  Finally, at the leisure level, walks were organized in national parks with audio guides.  Some subway stations had  so-called audio descriptions for people with vision problems.
 
The law provided for the use of sign language on television.  In cases of natural disaster, for example, it was planned that the distribution of live news bulletins be dubbed.  That language was recognized as an informal natural language. The skills were admittedly still missing regarding interpretation, and the Government was planning to launch an interpreter training programme.  Libraries should provide materials in order to facilitate the accessibility of their premises.  The justice sector planned to implement a remote interpretation system.
 
Regarding  prevention of disaster risks, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, which were common in Chile, individual fact sheets allowed to manage emergency situations and respond in a timely manner so that effective aid could be provided. Those fact sheets allowed to identify persons with disabilities when organizing relief and reconstruction. In addition, prevention videos were shot; subtitled or dubbed in sign language, they included essential recommendations that needed to be known.  The importance of the visibility of disabled people was essential, especially in a country with a complex geography, the delegation emphasized.
 
In 2015, a programme of access to justice, which developed legal assistance, had been launched.  It covered the entire country, including the far south.  That programme allowed for disabled women to regain custody of the children they had been denied. The delegation recognized that the Civil Code was still discriminating in that regard.  Many lawyers were examining its reform, so that people with disabilities would not be discriminated in that regard any longer.
 
Chile had begun the closing of psychiatric hospitals and the de-institutionalization of  "chronic patients" interned for life.  That policy was bearing fruit with numbers coming down, reaching up to 75 percent of patients concerned.
 
Questions by Experts
 
An Expert asked whether Chile planned to teach sign language to the parents of deaf children.  
 
Questions were also raised regarding the respect of labor law, social responsibility of companies and the inclusion of people with disabilities.
 
An Expert asked if the implementation of specific provisions for people with disabilities regarding the Sustainable Development Goals would be planned.  
 
Another Expert asked how the State planned to provide training for teachers in Braille and sign language, and suggested that an official recognition of that language might be useful.  
 
In terms of participation in public and political life, what measures were being taken in favor of people living at home, because they could not usually exercise their right to vote?
 
One Expert inquired about budgets granted to specialized educational institutions and inclusive schools.  The report showed a larger number of students with disabilities in the specialized institutions.  Another Expert believed that individualization of education was a key factor of an inclusive training system.
 
The Expert also asked about the accessibility of cultural sites across the country.
 
How was Chile acting in favor of the elimination of poverty among the people with disabilities?
 
An Expert raised the right to have a family under the Convention, noting that a significant number of disabled mothers had lost custody of their children, because we tended to think they were not able to be mothers, which was a problem that also concerned naturally disabled fathers.   She stressed that the specific case mentioned by the rapporteur in her introduction - the case of a disabled woman threatened to not have custody of her unborn child - was far from being exceptional.  The Expert asked if the disability fund  was able to cover all needs, especially the possibility to receive personal assistance.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The delegation stated that the Marrakech Treaty ratification process would be completed in the near future.
 
Measures had been taken to ensure the right to vote of persons with disabilities. The delegation acknowledged that the use of the Braille alphabet could be improved in that regard.
 
According to the delegation, the education reform in Chile was a unique opportunity to improve the rights of disabled children.  Consequently, in recent years the number of disabled students in higher education had doubled. The Law on Inclusive Education prohibited exclusion of students on the basis of specific needs for specialized education. School integration programmes had been implemented in the network of conventional institutions.
 
The enrolment rate of students with disabilities in the conventional network was growing, even though a majority of them were still attending special schools. Language interpreters for hard of hearing children were provided in schools. In universities, a programme to help access to information and communications technology had been implemented, the ultimate goal being to reach all students with disabilities. A focus group was currently looking at training teachers to teach students with disabilities.
 
The delegation assured that sterilization followed requirements to obtain prior consent of the person concerned.  Every patient had to give assent at every stage of the process.  The person was unable to do so, any invasive treatment should be subject to the opinion of an ethics committee.
 
The Senate was currently considering a draft amendment to the Law on discrimination in the workplace, in order to take account of disability.  The new text would have new terminology, such as deleting the term "mentally retarded" in favour of a  "person with a mental disability."
 
Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals, the delegation said that Chile expected more detailed information from the United Nations.  In any case, the participation of civil society would be essential, particularly when defining indicators and targets.
 
On the issue of the integration of indigenous peoples, there were talks about creating an institution that would work towards the goal, which was yet to be developed.  The proportion of people with disabilities stood at around 19 percent in those populations, a figure almost equivalent to the entire adult population.
 
The delegation indicated that Chile was not opposed to the possible official recognition of sign language.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
HEIDI BERNER HERRERA, Under-Secretary for Social Assessment at the Ministry for Social Development, paid tribute to the contributions of civil society and to the National Human Rights Institution, which had helped steer the debate.  She assured that the objective of the Convention guided the Government of Chile in all the work it did, and expressed her confidence that a number of achievements had been made, although a number of challenges still remained, concerning persons with disabilities. The creation of the Ministry of Women and Equal Opportunities would enable women, particularly disabled women, to evolve independently. Another important challenge was to raise awareness of disability issues in order to end prejudice.
 
SILVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHANG, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Chile, thanked the delegation for the frank answers and the information it provided.

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