8 April 2015
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 April considered the initial report of the Dominican Republic on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Homero Luís Hernández Sánchez, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that the Government pursued policies to respect the rights of persons with disabilities in recognition of the fact that they had been excluded for centuries due to taboos and prejudice. Inclusion meant placing a person at the centre of the policy and giving priority to the most vulnerable. The National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS) had seen its budgetary allocations almost double and had carried out progressive work in many areas, including launching a national development strategy
In the ensuing discussion, Dominican Republic was commended for recognizing sign language as an official language and for establishing a bureau for children with disabilities. Committee Experts asked for information on how discriminatory provisions in legislation and in practice were tackled and requested disaggregated data on persons with disabilities in the country. Questions were also asked about training on disability issues for the police and judicial officers. The right to inclusive education and the accessibility of schools, hospitals and other public buildings were also raised. Experts asked about medical treatment of persons with disabilities, including protection from forced treatment, social safety nets and employment. Measures to prevent the institutionalization of children with disabilities and support them to live in a family setting were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Silvia Judith Quan-Chang, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic, thanked the delegation and civil society for engaging with the Committee and noted that technical assistance was available to the State party to assist it in implementing the Convention.
Magino Corporán Lorenzo, Director of The National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS), in concluding remarks, said the State party saw in the Convention a basic document that placed all human beings at the centre of attention and ensured that all citizens could play a part in the development of the country and enjoy the fruits of it.
The delegation included representatives of The National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS) and the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Mongolia (CRPD/C/MNG/1).
The initial report of the Dominican Republic can be read here: (CRPD/C/DOM/1)
Presentation of the Report
HOMERO LUÍS HERNÁNDEZ SÁNCHEZ, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the current situation in the Dominican Republic was rather different from the one described in the initial report. The Presidency of the Republic had expressed its outmost will to support persons with disabilities and the Government pursued its policies recognizing that that for centuries there had been an exclusion of disabled persons based on taboos and prejudice. The belief was that inclusion ought to place a human being at the centre of policies and give priority to the most vulnerable.
The ratification of the Convention in 2009 had strengthened the protection of persons with disabilities in the Dominican Republic and led to the adoption of a national development strategy. A consultation process on the implementation of the regulations was underway. The values of inclusion were being promoted, which was a major undertaking given the predominant culture of exclusion. The civil, criminal and labour codes were being adequately harmonized. There was a delay in terms of developing statistics, said Mr. Sánchez, but the 2010 census had included questions on disabilities as had the 2013 household survey. As more information was gathered there would be better opportunities for the planning and implementation of new policies.
The Governmental entity overseeing public policies in the area of persons with disabilities was the National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS), and during the first three years of its existence its budgetary allocations had almost doubled. Children, and in particular children with disabilities, were given the utmost priority. Particular attention was paid to the children with disabilities who were considered the most vulnerable, such as children suffering from Downs Syndrome and autism. A bureau for children with disabilities was recently created which brought together all the relevant actors in the field. An awareness-raising campaign on persons suffering from autism was conducted earlier this month.
Following centuries of discrimination of persons with disabilities cultural elements had to be taken into consideration, said Mr. Sánchez, for example, many persons with disabilities still did not have identity documents. However, efforts were being made to publicize such issues and work with families to assist their disabled members. A recent success story was the formation of an orchestra of 129 persons, all of whom had a disability. Accessible tourism was a keystone in the national strategy and the Government worked very closely with the private sector in that regard. Increasingly segments of beaches were deemed accessible. The Government hoped that the Republic would soon be free of the scourge of having a large part of its population unable to read and write. It perceived culture and sports as major avenues for inclusion and promoting the active lifestyle of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities, if given a chance, could provide inspiration for the rest of the country, concluded Mr. Sánchez.
Questions from Committee Experts
SILVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHANG, Committee Member serving as the Country Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic, welcomed the information provided by the State party in the initial report and in responses to the list of issues and noted that civil society organizations had also provided shadow reports to the Committee. She asked how the Dominican Republic was replacing discriminatory measures in existing laws with appropriate provisions to enable persons with disabilities to freely express their will, and emphasized that a legal definition of disability was essential.
How many sentences had been handed out for discriminating persons with disabilities, the Expert asked, also enquiring about training for police officers and court staff and progress made in making public transport and access to major tourist sites accessible.
Did the Dominican Republic plan to ratify the Marrakech Treaty, which would facilitate access of blind people to books, and were schools, hospitals and libraries accessible to persons with a visual impairment, the delegation was asked.
On children, an Expert asked whether there were any plans to remove boys and girls with disabilities from institutions and whether adults would continue to be held in such places. Given that 97 per cent of all services to the disabled seemed to be provided in urban areas, how as the Government supporting persons with disabilities in rural areas? The delegation was also asked to comment on reports of medically-unapproved treatments of children with autism being carried out in the Republic.
The media did not do enough to promote positive images of persons with disabilities, said an Expert, asking what had been done to raise public awareness about disabilities in mass media?
On employment, Experts asked about measures to help persons with disabilities find decent jobs, and support for persons with disabilities who had irregular migrant status, particularly those of Haitian descent. What was being done to ensure that reasonable accommodation was a standard across all fields of disability, not just in the labour market? In which way were organizations of persons with disabilities involved in the development of policies on their own rights?
An Expert requested clarification on the percentage of persons with disabilities in the State party because two different numbers – seven and 13 – had been used by the State party in recent years. The official recognition of the Dominican sign language by the State party was also commended by an Expert who asked about training for interpreters and translators.
The issue of the implementation of disability-related legislation was raised by an Expert who asked if every piece of relevant legislation have to go through CONADIS. The importance of monitoring mechanisms was emphasized by the Expert. Were there any provisions on inter-sectional discrimination in relevant legislation, an Expert asked. Was the State’s intention to harmonize all laws, with the view of bringing them in line with the Convention? What measures or indicators had been developed to measure progress in the implementation of the Convention, an Expert enquired. Were there any sanctions for discrimination on the ground of disability?
There were reports of discouraging practices in the Bank of Reserves which reportedly denied its services to blind persons and persons in wheelchairs. If that was a systemic issue, what was the State party doing to eliminate such kind of banking problems?
Measures to protect and empower women with disabilities were enquired about by an Expert who also expressed concern that not all gender-violence units were accessible to women and girls with disabilities.
The State party was commended for having established a bureau for children with disabilities by an Expert who asked how training for the entire bureau’s staff would be ensured, and how civil society organizations were involved. He also asked how it could be ensured that children with disabilities were not abused through forced begging.
What measures was the State party taking to mainstream disability in the national development goals, in the run-up to the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals asked an Expert.
Responses from the Delegation
With regard to the harmonization of domestic legislation with the Convention, a delegate said considering the separation of powers within the State, The National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS) had issued a favourable opinion on the recognition of the sign language, which was submitted to the Senate. There was belief that progress could be made in that regard. Technical and vocational training were provided to ensure that persons with disabilities were employable and a proposal on the employment code had been submitted to the tripartite commission, he added. While there were some imperfections, there were campaigns in place to promote the knowledge of the Convention and the rights of persons with disabilities.
There were two advisors with disabilities in the Chamber of Deputies, which was considered to be a significant victory for the civil society. Civil society now could make significant contributions from the Congress itself.
The State party was doing what it could to promote the involvement of persons with disabilities in the economy, culture and politics. Since the beginning of the 1980s, efforts had been underway to develop an inclusive framework.
The banking system had to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, which was something CONADIS was working on. Persons with disabilities were, economically speaking, a large market for the banks, and should not be ignored.
There had been a number of agreements between CONADIS and local authorities, who had been included in the equality plan, a delegate added.
Answering the questions on the media and awareness-raising, a delegate noted that an agreement with the public broadcasting agency was reached in which it would make a weekly broadcast containing stories of persons with disabilities and the various issues which they faced. A brochure to education people to use the proper terminology when referring to persons with disabilities had been distributed across the country, and best examples and practices from the Dominican Republic had been shared with neighbours in the Caribbean region. There ought to be a regional campaign, commented a delegate.
In 2014, some 35 interpreters for sign language had been trained, and it was hoped that funds would be found to continue with such trainings in 2015. The interpreters’ association was very active in cooperating with groups of the deaf. Messages from the President which were broadcast via mass media were interpreted through a sign language interpreter, it was noted.
Reform of the Labour Code was underway through a tripartite commission; the goal was to bring the law in line with the Convention. Parity indicators were in place to compare persons with and without disabilities in a wide number of areas.
Between six and eight inclusion projects proposed by civil society organization from across the country had been approved. Civil society organizations regularly lobbied for balanced governance and undertook many initiatives, and ought to receive credit for that.
Regarding the reported discrepancy between the figures from the 2010 census and the 2013 household survey, the delegation responded that persons with disabilities had been included in both exercises, and the difference was likely due to technical reasons.
On accessible tourism, a delegate explained that a raft of accessibility initiatives was expected as a part of the national strategy. Many tourism professionals with disabilities could find employment in hotels and CONADIS was working with hotel associations on the dignified treatment of persons with disabilities. The colonial area of Santo Domingo was being rehabilitated, and accessibility was one of the concerns in that process. There were 181 tourist locations running training courses currently, he noted.
Special literacy programmes ought to be drawn for both the deaf and the blind communities and the State party was currently running late on both, said a delegate. However, in an emergency situation a person would need to be able to communicate as interpreters could not be hired on an ad hoc basis. Both the State and private sectors could do more in that regard to achieve a quality leap forward .
A major goal of the Dominican Republic was the move towards collective happiness and that could only be inclusive in nature. Only once everybody enjoyed equal rights could the Dominican Republic be a happy country, commented a delegate.
Questions from Committee Experts
An Expert asked what special attention was given to the protection of persons with disabilities in emergency situations. Measures to protect vulnerable migrants with disabilities, especially those of Haitian descent, were asked about.
Concerning access to justice, Experts asked a number of questions. Were there any training courses for the judiciary on the implementation of the Convention and were students in law schools acquainted with the Convention? Could a definition of independent living in the Dominican Republic be provided? If there was no free interpretation for deaf persons, how could their access to justice be guaranteed? What activities were being conducted by the women and family unit of the Supreme Court to provide vulnerable women and girls with disabilities with access to justice?
What initiatives and campaigns were taken to ensure that there would be no occurrences of forced sterilization of children and adults with disabilities asked an Expert. How were girls with disabilities protected from incest?
How were children with disabilities, especially autism, protected from experimental medical treatments and what was the State party doing to prevent patients in mental hospitals from receiving electro-shock treatments, which amounted to torture, asked an Expert.
Had the Dominican Republic complied with the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to carry out the immediate registration of children with disabilities, so that they could have access to services?
Responses from the Delegation
In the Dominican Republic, all persons were entitled to free development of their personality without hindrance by others, the delegation emphasized. All persons were born free and equal, according to the Constitution, and discrimination on any ground was prohibited. Persons with disabilities ought to enjoy the same rights and opportunities in all areas of life.
A community-based programme of development was in place, which was mobilizing grassroots communities aimed at reaching persons with disabilities in the most remote and rural areas. The “Coming out of Hiding” programme was a call to the whole of society, with the goal of forging an inclusive agenda for municipalities. The programme was one of the Government’s landmark achievements as it was ending the isolation of persons with disabilities and allowing them to blossom and actively contribute to society. A collective, cross-cutting response was essential. The community-focused approach meant that that Government worked step-by-step, not neglecting any communities, to ensure large scale mobilization. There would never be sufficient funding for such programmes, financial costs had to be kept down and creative ways of implementing it were continuously sought.
Regarding discriminatory laws the delegation stressed that repeal of discriminatory provisions had been one of the main achievements of the anti-discriminatory legislation. It did not have any information on how many judgments had been handed out for cases of discrimination.
There were no objections to the ratification of the Marrakech Treaty and it was moving in that direction confirmed a delegate.
Concerning accessibility in hospitals, schools and other public buildings, a delegate said that national standards on accessibility were being defined. The involvement of the private sector and engineering professionals was important and their input was sought.
Regarding dignified work a delegate described two programmes: one to fight poverty and another to promote solidarity. It was unable to assess the number of people with disabilities who were covered by family health services. The State party was very keen to ensure civil society participation in the two programmes.
Concerning the national emergency plan, a delegate explained that a proposal on accessibility clauses in emergencies had been submitted to relevant bodies and CONADIS had been involved in the preparation of the national emergency plan. One provision was to include sign language in all official announcements and use pictograms in information materials. Psycho-social disabilities were also taken into account. CONADIS had also worked with the World Vision to develop a programme to identify housing zones in areas that were vulnerable to natural disasters, so that they could be included in national evacuation plans.
A national technical commission on access to justice for persons with disabilities had been established. The awareness-raising process covered both pre-trial phase and the phase of execution of the sentence, as well as all stages in between. Both physical and cultural obstacles were being identified. Courts in the Dominican Republic had sign language interpretation available for persons with a hearing impairment. There were interview centres for vulnerable persons who had been victims of violent crimes. Free legal assistance was provided to persons with disabilities who were not in a position to pay for it. Judges hearing cases in courts should consider processes unconstitutional unless the rights and the full legal capacity of persons under guardianship were taken into consideration.
Responding to the questions about support for persons with disabilities who were migrants, particularly persons from Haiti, the delegation stated that the freedom of movement, transit and exit was guaranteed for all who found themselves on the Dominican territory and regular services were provided in such cases.
Concerning efforts to avoid the institutionalization of children with disabilities a delegate described the family care programme which aimed to ensure that all children had a possibility to live in a family setting. The authorities were seeking ways to combat the severance of links between parents and children due to the latter’s institutionalization. Placement within a family was the priority.
On the protection of women and girls with disabilities, especially from all forms of violence, a delegate said the recent establishment of the advisory board for children with disabilities brought together all relevant actors with the view of providing appropriate public policies. That approach included victims of domestic and other forms of violence. CONADIS was working together with the board on awareness-raising initiatives. A national road map until 2017 on prevention of violence against children and adolescents was being drafted. The road map would take an inclusive approach, it was noted.
To protect people with disabilities from experimental medical treatments a delegate explained that there were strict provisions against the use of any human being in such experimental treatments and an inter-disciplinary body was in place to address such issues. Medical treatment could only be provided with the voluntary agreement of the individual concerned. Prior consent was necessary for sterilization to take place, and it had to be signed by the patient. The right to personal integrity was guaranteed: no individual could be submitted to punishment, torture or harmful procedures which could lead to a loss or impairment of their physical or mental integrity. All courts fully applied those provisions. As for the measures applied by courts when a person was declared as having a psycho-social disability the delegation said that their rights were fully protected and if further protection was needed, it was guaranteed by both the Constitution and the courts.
Comprehensive efforts were underway in the Dominican Republic to combat smuggling and trafficking in human beings, including those with disabilities, a delegate noted.
Questions from Committee Experts
An Expert stressed the importance of having proper statistics on persons with disabilities, saying it was unclear whether the authorities were asking the right questions in the census, and whether the seven per cent figure was really accurate. What was the State party doing to provide disaggregated data, and were persons with disabilities involved in the process?
While the State party had embraced international cooperation, the Expert asked what steps had been taken to ensure that such cooperation was inclusive of persons with disabilities. How did the State party ensure the proper use of resources provided through international cooperation? There seemed to be quite a serious lack of social safety nets for persons with disabilities, which was a matter of concern, she commented.
Only 31 of recently surveyed 51 new schools had ramps in place, and only half of those were of appropriate steepness. Very few school bathrooms were reported to be large enough to accommodate students in wheelchairs. Why had the State party not ensured that the newly built schools met the minimum accessibility standards, asked an Expert.
What percentage of students with disabilities were part of the inclusive education system, an Expert asked. Did the law set out the right to inclusive education for all children with disabilities, and was segregated education considered discriminatory? How did the State party ensure that inclusive education system was in place?
Experts also asked about the adoption of children with disabilities, the custody rights of families who had children with disabilities, the participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process and special considerations for children and adolescents with disabilities in the food provision programmes.
The very low figure cited in the report of the number of persons with disabilities living in poverty was doubtful said an Expert, asking about plans to amend poverty measurement structures when it came to persons with disabilities. She also asked whether persons with disabilities who were of African and indigenous descent faced double discrimination and what was done to support them.
Responses from the Delegation
Regarding illiteracy rates a delegate said that statistics were indeed important when it came to public policy planning and investment. The household survey of 2013 had showed that 23 per cent of persons with disabilities over the age of ten were illiterate. The “Learn with you” programme aimed to overcome that, through a different teaching methodology. Deaf persons were the largest group suffering from illiteracy.
Concerning accessibility in schools the delegation explained that the school education inspection system dated back to more than 50 years, and there were barely any provisions for oversight of accessibility. CONADIS was working to ensure that architects and planners took into consideration the needs of persons with reduced mobility; CONADIS was also visiting and inspecting premises to make sure that the requirements were adhered to.
All persons had the right to education on equal footing, with no discriminatory limitations. There were legal provisions for inclusive education, which ensured that persons with disabilities enjoyed access to education like anyone else. With regard to steps taken by the Dominican Republic on children remaining in the custody of their families, a round table on childhood, which had just been established, was working to ensure inclusion for children with disabilities.
In order to qualify as a candidate for political office a person had to have been a member of a political party for no less than two years, and a minimum one third of candidates on the list had to be women.
Answering questions on the treatment of persons with disabilities who were of African or indigenous descent, the delegation stated that preserving indigenous populations was an important struggle in the entire Caribbean region.
MAGINO CORPORÁN LORENZO, Director of The National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic (CONADIS), stated that the Dominican Republic was committed to its cooperation with the Committee and was fully behind the task of implementing the Convention. Dominican society saw in the Convention a basic document for placing all human beings in the centre of attention and ensuring that all citizens could play a part in the development of the country and enjoy its fruits. The State party would appreciate support for the accessible tourism event which would take place in the Dominican Republic in July, he noted, adding that invitations to participate had been extended to the Caribbean, Latin America and all friends around the world.
SYLVIA JUDITH QUAN-CHENG, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic, thanked the delegation for all the replies and the dialogue which she hoped would be useful for the country. Particular thanks were extended to the representatives of the civil society organizations and all who had provided the Committee with information. Ms. Quan-Chang reiterated that technical assistance was available to help the implementation of the Convention.