LIMA – A mixture of pride and nostalgia takes hold of Dorcas Guillermo when she recalls the campaign that culminated in the landmark 2012 law protecting the rights of disabled people in Peru – an achievement she and other activists view as endangered by a push in Congress for new legislation on the question.
“They want to overturn the law and I feel it as a political machination (that) ignores the decision and opinion of disabled people and their families,” she tells EFE.
Dorcas, 50, fears that she and thousands of other Peruvians with disabilities stand to lose hard-fought rights if Congress passes the bill meant to replace the 2012 legislation, Law 29973, which originated as a citizens’ initiative.
Critics of the bill now before Congress point out that it was drafted without any input from disabled people, violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Peru ratified in 2007.
“I hope Congress returns this text to the committee so there can be a genuine consultation with disabled people,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Rios Espinosa said in an interview with EFE.
Last October, he said, HRW sent a letter to the then-chair of the relevant congressional committee, Mirtha Esther Vasquez, reminding her of the requirement for prior consultation, but the message went unanswered and unheeded.
“They don’t want to listen to us,” Center for Empowerment of People with Disabilities co-founder Silvia Carrasco told EFE.
Carrasco, the mother of a 21-year-old son with Down syndrome and a 17-year-old diagnosed as autistic, said that the final draft of the bill was only published on Feb. 5, three days before the committee approved the document, which is more than 200 pages long.
“It has been very difficult to comprehend it,” Agustina Condoris, whose son is disabled, acknowledged to EFE.
Condoris, a resident of Lima’s poor Villa Maria del Triunfo neighborhood, said she is “very worried” about the push to pass the legislation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the approaching general elections.
The bill implies “significant regression in various areas,” HRW’s Rios said.
For instance, the proposal envisions scholarships for disabled students, but in a departure from current practice, it would tie eligibility to the severity of the disability.
Those deemed to have only “light” disabilities would be excluded.
Such a “purely medical” categorization scheme is not consistent with the UN Convention, because “capability is a relational concept,” Rios said.
“If we’re going to have to determine who would be eligible, we must do a psycho-social evaluation,” he said.
Another major objection to the bill is that it would diminish the legal autonomy of disabled people who suffer from psychological issues.
In Law 29973, Peru has some of the world’s most advanced legislation on the topic, requiring prior consent from the patient for any kind of mental health treatment.
“But now the new text foresees that a person can be hospitalized involuntarily for reasons of therapeutic necessity and this has been pointed out as a measure that violates the rights of disabled people,” Rios said.
The consensus of disabled people and their advocates is that instead of replacing Law 29973, Congress should improve it, mainly by taking steps to enforce it.