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Where They Are Now Series: El Salvador and Post-CRPD Ratification

April 1, 2011

When Togo ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on March 1 of this year, the country became the 99th State Party to incorporate the human rights treaty into its national framework.  For a country like Togo that has a fairly recent history of political strife and a challenged human rights record, committing to this Convention could be the opportunity to provide significant change for its people.  Only one month into the ratification of the Convention, little can be said as to the progress that ratification will bring to the small West African country.  And although ratification in itself is a big feat, the implementation of the treaty’s core principles of equality remains to be seen.

While we will have to wait and see how Togo uses the CRPD to advance its disability rights structure, countries like Togo can look to some of the first State parties to ratify the treaty, such as El Salvador, to reflect on how three years into ratification can begin to shift the environment for people with disabilities to live in more just and equal societies.  

Before ratifying CRPD, El Salvador had a long history of disability rights awareness in their country, but lacked the framework to enforce its disability laws and policies.  For example, the Consejo Nacional de Atención Integral a la Persona con Discapacidad (CONAIPD) or National Council for Comprehensive Care for People with Disabilities, was set up in 1993 as a governing body of disability issues in El Salvador.  However, despite the Council’s early roots in the disability movement in El Salvador, the effectiveness of the Council has been challenged since they were not empowered with enforcement mechanisms to implement their recommendations. 

El Salvador had also already established its own disability rights law in 2001.  This national legislation ensured equal opportunity for people with disabilities, access to education, and the opportunity to work.  It also included mandated quotas and hiring procedures for larger businesses.  Regardless of this ambitious legislation, El Salvador struggled with enforcement and faced scrutiny from the international community for not ensuring these rights.

With the scrutiny of CONAIPD and failure of the government to enforce domestic laws, El Salvador’s CRPD ratification in 2007 came at an ideal time for its citizens as an opportunity to strengthen existing laws within the country and promote the significance of supporting equality and access for people with disabilities.  In 2008, El Salvador composed a comprehensive CRPD implemention plan.  In 2011, in its most recent report to the United Nations on its implementation efforts, El Salvador conveyed successes in accessible infrastructure building and advancements in disability census data.  By engaging with the international community on this treaty, El Salvador has learned to more effectively provide services and guarantee the rights of their citizens with disabilities.

Of course, like many countries, El Salvador is in its own unique place on the journey towards realizing the full spectrum of human rights for people with disabilities.  In 2008, First Lady Ana Ligia Mixco Sol de Saca (also previous President of CONAIPD) raised unaddressed issues of an aging population as the country hosted the XIV Conference of First Ladies.  Accessible infrastructure, although increasing, still has a long way to go to meet the expectations of the Convention to provide equal access and thereby support the independence of people with disabilities.  With these examples in mind, it is imperative that El Salvador persist in its work to incorporate the key principles of the CRPD.

In continuing its international engagement, current Salvadorian First Lady Vanda Pignato has, much like her predecessor, continued El Salvador’s conversation on disability issues as Secretary for Social Inclusion for the country.  The Social Inclusion Secretariat (SIS) was created in 2009 to ensure that the interests, demands and rights of the most vulnerable population groups are taken into account in public policies in all government instances.  Key Salvadorian government officials, like Pignato, have met with leaders in disability rights in the United States, such as Judy Heumann (Senior Advisor for International Disability for the U.S. State Department), with both countries paying respective visits in 2011, to further the progress on disability issues. 

In January 2011, El Salvador issued its 81 page report to the U.N. detailing the work they had done to successfully implement the treaty and further showing a dedication to disability rights and commitment to the ratification of the CRPD.  Since ratification of the treaty in 2007, El Salvador is well on its way to creating a strong foundation for enforcing and upholding the rights of people with disabilities.  I hope to see Togo interacting with its U.N. partners such as El Salvador to reflect on how their country can mirror similar successes as they join a seat at the table of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Further, I hope the United States will ratify the Convention so it can expand its role in assisting countries to build a successful framework for disability rights, a partnership which has been successful in guiding El Salvador and can likely play a tremendous role with the newest ratification of Togo.    

For a full report of El Salvador’s implementation progress (currently available in Spanish only), please visit http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/futuresessions.aspx. For more information on the CRPD, please visit www.usicd.org.

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