Ensuring Choice for People with Disabilities in Mexico

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View of the plenary session inside the Senate of the Republic of México on March 22, 2018.

© 2018 AP Agencia EL UNIVERSAL/Alejandro Acosta/RCC

Since the beginning of the 19th century, Mexico has had in place laws denying people with disabilities the right to make decisions for themselves. Now, the Mexican Senate is considering a bill to create a new civil procedure code that would replicate the same system under a different name. The proposal contradicts Mexico’s obligation to ensure full legal capacity for all people with disabilities, regardless of the level of support they might require. If approved, the new code would be applicable across all Mexican state and federal jurisdictions.

This week, more than 250 human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and disability rights activists and experts including three former chairs of the committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) and current independent members of the CRPD committee sent a letter to members of the Mexican Senate’s justice committee criticizing the bill.

As currently drafted, the bill conflates supported decision-making and substitute decision-making for people with disabilities. Human rights standards obligate states to guarantee a system of support for those who require it to make their own legal and other decisions and select reasonable safeguards of their own choosing. For example, the individual may appoint supporters and determine the types of support they need.

Substitute decision-making, on the other hand, allows another person to make decisions on behalf of someone deprived of the right to do so. Mexico’s proposed bill would allow third parties, including prosecutors and officials from the social assistance system, to ask a judge to appoint a substitute decision-maker or guardian, misleadingly calling that appointee a supporter. The bill would also allow a judge to determine how the so-called supporter should be involved in the individual’s decision-making.

Legal capacity is central to other rights: the rights to marry, to decide where, how, and with whom to live, to obtain credit, and to own property. The senate should rewrite this bill and undo Mexico’s 200-year history of denying people with disabilities opportunities guaranteed to others. It should take this opportunity to build robust support systems controlled by people with disabilities themselves and in close consultation with organizations who represent them.

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