Media Center

Press Release


  June 1, 2008

The lack of jobs and the conditions of poverty and extreme poverty under which many persons with disabilities live, as well as lack of adequate health care and the need for stronger policies to assist them, rank among top concerns for civil society groups across the Americas.

These and a host of other problems were articulated by representatives of civil society groups from around the hemisphere as they gathered today in Medellín, Colombia, with high-level government officials from Organization of American States (OAS) countries and with the organization’s Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza.

Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando Araújo chaired the “dialogue” between heads of delegation and civil society, in which represented groups registered their concerns about discrimination targeted at various categories of persons throughout the hemisphere. They also called on the Member States to take the necessary steps to fully honor commitments they had assumed in the relevant areas of concern.

The dialogue took place as part of the lead-up to the OAS’ 38th regular General Assembly session, which opens Sunday evening in the city of Medellín and concludes on Tuesday.

In remarks at the end of the session, Secretary General Insulza expressed satisfaction with the exchange between the states and civil society. He thanked the civil society representatives for their participation, and commended the Member State representatives for listening to the concerns and recommendations put forth by civil society.

Responding to one particular concern, Insulza said he was particularly pleased that youth had featured prominently in the General Assembly. In keeping with this year’s General Assembly central theme of Youth and Democratic Values, he said, the hemisphere’s youth were also very well represented in a number of the pre-Assembly forums, including in an exhibition of some 38 innovative projects by young entrepreneurs, under the purview of the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT).

As regards issues affecting persons with disabilities, Wilfredo Guzmán, of the World Organization for Persons with Disabilities (Latin America Region), recommended measures aimed at ensuring the human rights of those represented by his group are fully respected. He noted as well that democracy cannot be strengthened if persons with disabilities continue to be left out of their countries’ development. And, Guzman further argued, vast majorities of persons with disabilities lack proper access to health care and other basic facilities.

María Victoria Fallón, speaking for the Interdisciplinary Group for Human Rights, renewed the call for removal of barriers to the effective exercise of human rights, calling for measures and action for the universal application of the regional human rights system, and for the Inter-American Human Rights Courtand the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to be autonomous. Fallón also called for a mechanism whereby victims can get justice and proper restitution.

Meanwhile, recommendations put forward by Paola Ortiz, of the National Network of Afro-Colombian Youth, Students and Professionals, highlighted the need for more of the hemisphere’s Afro-descended citizens to be accorded a greater level of involvement in the General Assembly and other OAS processes as well as in the hemispheric Summits and in the Inter-American Human Rights Court and Commission. She also urged the OAS Member States to step up approval of the preliminary draft inter-American convention against racism and all forms of discrimination and intolerance.

In other remarks, the Member State delegations—among them those of Mexico, Belize, Brazil, United States, Canada and Venezuela—detailed important initiatives undertaken by their respective governments and states to redress major problems and concerns the civil society groups had mentioned in their comments.

And, in her own contribution to the dialogue, Trinidad and Tobago’s Foreign Minister, Paula Gopee-Scoon, touched on civil society’s invaluable contribution by way of feedback and expertise with respect to the hemispheric agenda, in the interest of the citizens of the Americas. The Trinidad and Tobago Minister underscored civil society’s collaboration towards strengthening democratic governance, integral development, human rights promotion and protection, and multidimensional security, among other key issues. Gopee-Scoon furthermore assured the dialogue participants that as hosts of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April next year, the Trinidad and Tobago government remains firmly committed to fully engage civil society from the nations of the Americas.

Reference: E-209/08