Assistant Secretary General Speech


June 9, 2020 - Washington, DC

Mr. Anderson Santanna de Oliveira, President of the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (CEDDIS),
and Vice-presidents of the Committee, Mr. Mariano Godachevich and Alicia Loza,

Honorable National Authorities on Disability of the Member States

Distinguished Delegates of the Permanent Missions to the Organization of American States,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder of the extremely critical role governments play in strengthening our health systems and communities. We come together today to promote the fight against discrimination of people with disabilities in the region and to express the commitment of the Organization of American States and its Member States, to ensure that all citizens of the Americas are able to reach their full potential.

Since its inception, the OAS has always expressed its concern for citizens who are in particular vulnerable situations of and exclusion in the Americas. The fight against exclusion is a priority in the hemispheric agenda as we recognize that the development of the region will not be possible without the recognition that ALL citizens are able to have a right to education, health, work, access to information and justice, to mention a few.

Our region has been known to have some of the highest socioeconomic disparities worldwide, often leading to insufficient access to quality health services and to high mortality particularly for vulnerable groups.

According to a recent study from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) published in 2012, more than 12% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean have disabilities. Many of these persons belong to groups in situations of vulnerability such as women, older persons, persons in poverty, migrants, and indigenous peoples, among others. Poverty, armed conflict, urban violence, gender violence, and the lack of preventive policies and timely action have a strong impact on these figures. Significant causes of exclusion include our societies’’ negative perceptions of persons with disabilities.

To reduce the gap caused by discrimination, OAS Member States have been steadfast in their work to adopt and implement legally binding specialized instruments to protect the rights of groups in vulnerable situations. For example, within the OAS, the Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (CIADDIS), the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance have been adopted.

As indicated in the Practical Guide to Inclusive Rights-Focused Responses to COVID-19 in the Americas, published by the Department of Social Inclusion of the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, the COVID-19 pandemic brings forth important challenges at the national and regional levels. However, it also offers a new opportunity for us to unite as a region to defend the values of democracy, security, human rights and integral development.

In the present context vulnerable groups find it even more difficult to access and benefit from health care policies due to structural barriers of inequality, such as lack of access to hospitals, health goods and technologies, information and transportation, to name a few. It is imperative that OAS Member States bolster their efforts to fulfill the commitment derived from our Inter-American Convention to “adopt the legislative, social, educational, labor-related, or any other measures needed to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities and to promote their full integration into society ”.

In this vein, the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity has convened this Meeting of National Authorities on Disability in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, in line with its objective to provide support to Member States in formulating strategies to combat inequality and promote social inclusion. This event offers an opportunity and space for public policy decision makers to jointly analyze how COVID19 has impacted persons with disabilities in their countries, to share relevant information and best practices, and to generate collaborative initiatives to be able to provide the best care to persons with disabilities during the pandemic.

The OAS recognizes the importance of the coordination and integration of efforts at the multilateral level. I strongly believe that the exchanges during this meeting will help to facilitate the planning and implementation of public policies and actions, to ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against when exercising their rights during the pandemic, and that they are included in the formulation of the political response to confronting this pandemic.

Rest assured that the Organization of American States will continue to work hand in hand with governments and civil society organizations, to support Member States in their efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities are on an equal footing with others, including through the promotion of legislative reforms in this area, providing training to raise social awareness and strengthen public entities; holding campaigns aimed at generating a culture of positive perception of persons with disabilities; promoting the mainstreaming of disability in all our work areas; executing social inclusion projects on various topics, among other actions, in order to guarantee “more rights for more people”. Thank you for honoring us with your presence in this important forum that will surely contribute to ensure successful results for the development of our hemisphere.

In the end, the citizens of the Americas want to be able to live meaningful lives, and to thrive in secure democracies in which there is respect for their basic human rights, security, access to health, food, and shelter. We are committed to fostering and facilitating initiatives that address inequality at all levels in our hemisphere.