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Lawyer discusses disability rights

Shannon O'Brien | Friday, October 26, 2012

Erick Acuña Pereda delivered a presentation yesterday in the Eck Hall of Law discussing the challenges and obstacles facing regional human rights systems to incorporate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a treaty adopted in 2006.

 Acuña is currently a researcher for the Peruvian Working Group of the Ibero-American Network of Experts on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. His lecture was sponsored by the Notre Dame Law School’s Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Acuña started by explaining the importance of having certain laws to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

“According to a report by the World Health Organization this year, there are more than 4 million people with mental disabilities throughout the world, and seven percent of these people live in developing countries,” Acuña said.

“I think it is so important to discuss this topic because whether you work in a public institution or a civil society we should always try to take into account the disability approach either by public policy, litigation or workshops, and know that people with disabilities should have a voice and should be part of it and be included.”

While in law school, Acuña said he first became interested in the issue while choosing his thesis topic.

“I wanted to research about certain groups that are in a situation of vulnerability, but I wanted it to be a new topic that hadn’t been talked about before,” he said. “After talking with my professor and researching, I ran into indigenous people, African American people, migrants, and women and children, but then I read about people with disabilities.”

Acuña said he was struck by the lack of literature on the topic.

“What struck me the most was that there is almost nothing written on it,” he said. “They are suffering a lot and there are injustices regarding their disabilities, so that’s why I thought
it was a really important topic to write about.”

Acuña said there is a major difference between the medical approach and social approach to the CRPD.

Prior to the CRPD, the medical approach defined disabled people as mental patients with abnormalities of body structure, appearance or function of an organ or system. However, after the CRPD the entire dynamic and climate of the discussion of the rights of those with disabilities changed, he said.

“Before the adoption of the CRPD, people with mental disabilities were considered very ill and therefore needed to be cured be medical care,” Acuña said. “The old definition of those who are mentally disabled has a very negative connotation and made it seem like these people were different from everyone else and needed protection.”

Acuña also discussed the right to legal capacity that he said is, “the most important pillar of the CRPD treaty.”

The right to legal capacity bans the practice of guardianship for those with mental disabilities. Under the CRPD, it says there shouldn’t be substitution of decisions, he said, but instead there should be support in helping those with mental disabilities make decisions.

“With this right to legal capacity, they can make their own decisions and their own mistakes, just like everyone else does,” Acuña said.

Finally, Acuña analyzed the approaches of the Inter-American, European, and African legal systems to those with mental disabilities.

He said under the CRPD, “states have the moral obligation to make everything that they can to actually create a situation where people with mental disabilities can fulfill or exercise their right of any convenience.”

Contact Shannon O’Brien at sobrie12@nd.edu