Human Rights and Organisations of Disabled Persons in Costa Rica

Despite positive changes in Costa Rica's social policies, disabled people still are denied certain rights to participate in all aspects of society. Internet publication URL:

Seminar on Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities
from a North and South Perspective
Stockholm, Sweden 23 August, 1998

Dr. Federico Montero, Chairman of the Costa Rican Disability Association

Although Costa Rica has been characterised for respect and promotion of human rights and has developed a good democratic system since the 1940’s, Costa Rica has not really carried out all the practical actions necessary to ensure that disabled people enjoy and participate in all aspects of society.

The organisations for disabled people have more resources on the organisational level than the organisations of disabled persons. This is a result of a traditional model where parents of disabled children, politicians and service clubs like the Rotary and Lions take initiatives along with other charity organisations for the benefit of disabled people. Usually members of organisations for disabled people are persons with political influence and economic status, whereas members of organisations of disabled persons generally do not have political influence and economic status. Therefore the organisations for disabled people have much more power than the organisations of disabled persons.

When speaking of the situation in Costa Rican it is not fair to talk about Costa Rica as a country isolated from the rest of Central America. It is important to talk in the context of the whole Central American region. The situation of Nicaragua directly effected Costa Rica especially during the period of the Sandanist revolution in the late 1970’s. The situation of disabled people in Nicaragua before the revolution was bad but during and after the revolution the people that became disabled directly due to the war or as a consequence of the war had a very different situation from the people who were disabled before the revolution. These disabled people were practically considered national heroes and were given all the opportunities possible to develop and strengthen their own organisations. They took part in the political meetings and discussions. The situation in Nicaragua has changed drastically since then but the Sandinist process did effect the situation of the disability organisations. Their experience and their contact with disability organisations of persons with disability from other countries has left an important and hopefully permanent contribution to the acquisition of a political conscienceness related to disability. It was interesting to see that there were some Vietnam veterans and veterans from other wars from the United States that were working along with the organisations of persons with disabilities. Now the the situation in Nicaragua is very different and the situation for persons with disabilities is also quite different and that implies that politics is directly related to the situation of disabled people. With this I am trying to demonstrate that when governments have the desire and disposition to improve the situation of disabled people, the situation can change dramatically. Nicaragua is a good example of how the political situation can effect the situation of a particular group. With this I am not defending the Sandinist revolution, I think that it had something to do with the political situation at that moment.

In Costa Rica we have many instances to defend human rights such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and different regional human rights institutions. Our concept of human rights is sometimes very limited and people in general do not have a real concept of what human rights really means. We are trying to organise conferences and discussions and activities related to human rights and disability so that disabled people will have the opportunity to study the concept of human rights. This will obviously help them to fight for the real achievement of human rights.

In Central and Latin America human rights have been constantly violated by the most cruel methods such as torture and inhumane confinement. Unfortunately confinement is still a method of treating disabled people in Latin America. There is a tendency, to create special institutions for the elderly. In going back in the history we see that almost every small community has had a place to put the elderly and sometimes even disabled people. In general people with disabilities in Costa Rica have not had open and free access to all individual and social rights. The recent changes in our legislation are contributing already to changing the situation in some ways . It is obviously a long process. Apart from the new law on equalisation of opportunities for people with disabilities, other protection organs such as the courts and in particular the ombudsman’s office have played an important roll to guarantee access to our rights.

The concept of Independent Living is not clearly understood by most members of society including most rehabilitation professionals and even some disabled persons. In many cases the concept is interpreted as an issue related basically with functional activities. But the struggle of organisations of disabled people related for example with the new law are seen directly as issues of human rights, equalisation of opportunities, self-respect and self- determination. These are all issues that are directly related with Independent Living.

Economic benefits for disabled people in our region would help to change the situation of disabled people. But sometimes the politicians think it is more important to fight for better prices on the international market for bananas and coffee than to fight for the rights of disabled people. There is a no doubt that there is need to strengthened our political organisations so that they will have the necessary tools to receive respect and independence.

When we come to the developed countries from the underdeveloped countries we see differences. We are fighting for different issues. In our countries poverty is the main cause of disability and it will take many years to iradicate poverty. In some cases some of our countries are becoming poorer. In some ways we have made some advances. We have got legislation through the congress. It is a big advancement. We now have a tool to fight for our rights. In some ways the developed countries have similar difficulties. In developed countries you have more access to technical aids but the difficulties are very similar to the difficulties we have in the developing countries.


Seminar Papers