The public apology issued by Mexican authorities to a Mexican man for failing to protect his rights in violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) is an important step toward recognizing the protecting the rights of people with disabilities, the International Commission of Jurists (“ICJ”) said today.
The unprecedented public apology was issued on 4 October 2021 to Arturo Medina-Vela, who has an intellectual disability, acknowledging the Mexican government’s failure to protect his rights in terms CPRD in compliance with a October 2019 communications decision of the CRPD Committee (CRPD/C/22/D/32/2015).
“The International Commission of Jurists welcomes the public admission of wrongdoing against Medina-Vela by the Mexican authorities. Medina-Vela and similarly situated persons with disabilities in Mexico have for too long been treated as second-class citizens with discriminatory parallel legal regimes and processes applied to them,” said Professor José Luis Caballero-Ochoa, ICJ’s Commissioner.
“The Mexican authorities’ public recognition of its obligations to domesticate the CRPD Convention and ensure access to justice for all is to be applauded though there is lot more work to do before the equality promised by the CRPD is made a reality”, he added.
Medina-Vela, who had been charged in 2011 with stealing a vehicle, was, as a result of special procedure adopted in Mexico in relation to persons with disabilities, never given a chance to testify or refute the statements of the police officers who arrested him. He did not receive summons’ to attend the legal proceedings pertaining to his charges, no information was provided to him in accessible formats and was not granted permission to appoint a lawyer of his choosing after repeated requests. Without providing any procedural accommodations to Medina-Vela, a Court found that he lacked legal capacity to stand trial and therefore committed him to a medical facility for four years.
The CRPD Committee found that Mexico had violated a range of Medina-Vela’s rights, including those protected under Articles 12 and 13 of the CRPD, and had in failing to recognize and safeguard his legal capacity failed to recognize persons with disabilities as “as persons before the law with equal standing in courts”. The Committee therefore recommended that Mexico provide Medina-Vela with an effective remedy and make a public acknowledgment of the violation of his rights.
Echoing its Concluding Observations to Mexico (CRPD/C/MEX/CO/1), the Committee also made a range of more general recommendations to Mexican authorities including carrying out “close consultation with persons with disabilities and the organizations that represent them” to “make all necessary amendments to the criminal law” to bring Mexican law in line with the CPRD.
Articles 12 (Equal Recognition before the law) and 13 (Access to Justice) of the CPRD requires a paradigm shift in the legal recognition of the autonomy and legal capacity of persons with disabilities. Recognizing the magnitude of legal reform required globally to give effect to these rights, in August 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities issued International Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities. The ICJ was consulted in the drafting of these principles and has formally endorsed the Principles.
In July 2021, the ICJ wrote to various Mexican authorities (legislative, executive and judicial authorities) seeking information on the implementation of Mexico’s obligations in terms of the CRPD, as further specified by the Principles. In particular the ICJ expressed concern about the seemingly sluggish responses by Mexican authorities to Concluding Observations of the UN CRPD Committee (CRPD/C/MEX/CO/1) and a Communications decision by the Committee pertaining specifically to access to justice for persons with disabilities (CRPD/C/22/D/32/2015). As yet, the ICJ has only received an answer from the judicial authorities.
During the public apology ceremony on 4 October, Mexican authorities committed explicitly to complying with the broader recommendations made by the CRPD Committee including by working with international organizations, civil society organizations and persons with disabilities to revise its laws, practices and procedures.
At the same event María Sirvent, the Executive Director of Mexican human rights organization Documenta, who provided support to Medina-Vela, indicated that this is simply the “first step on a long road” towards widescale legal reform needed to vindicate the rights of persons with disabilities in Mexico.
“[In Mexico] prejudice against persons with disabilities is ingrained. They are treated as objects of treatment rather than rights holders. People with disabilities are in prisons without knowing of the charges against them and without access to legal representation. What is required is profound modifications in Mexican law and practices in the justice system. All legislation must be reviewed to ensure compliance with the standards established by the CRPD,” said Sirvent.
The ICJ will continue to work with Documenta to support the profound modifications to laws and legal practices in Mexico required by the CRPD in terms of the CRPD Committee’s recommendations and to ensure the full realization of the rights of persons with disabilities.
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