American University Disability Law Update Spring 2013

March 13, 2013
Source: American University College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Center E-Update
Program on Human Rights of
Persons with Disabilities
Spring 2013

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law aims to explore emerging intersections in the law, shape global conversations and train and empower dynamic activists. The Center’s Program on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities holds an ongoing series of conferences and workshops, hosts fellows and visitors, and provides courses and extracurricular opportunities to enhance learning about human rights and disability.  This e-newsletter provides a sample of the activities that we are currently pursuing.

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law was established in 1990 to provide scholarship and support for human rights initiatives in the United States and around the world. The Center works with students, academics and practitioners to enhance the understanding and implementation of human rights and humanitarian law domestically, regionally and internationally. For more information about the Center, see To receive weekly notices of upcoming Center events, please join our listserv.

New Disability & Human Rights Fellows Program Launched

In Fall 2012, the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law launched its new Disability & Human Rights Fellows Program, sponsored by the Open Society Foundations  (OSF), which brings attorneys from various parts of the world to WCL to engage in a specialized course of study focused on disability and human rights. The program is the first of its kind, focused on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its integration into national and local law. WCL is one of only five universities in the world to participate in this new program.

This year, the Center is pleased to welcome the first cohort of Disability and Human Rights Fellows. They are: Bijay Dahal (Nepal); Alpana Bhandari (Nepal); Facundo Chavez Penillas (Argentina); Juan Ignacio Perez Bello (Argentina); and Adalberto Mendez Lopez (Mexico).


More information about the Disability & Human Rights Fellows Program at WCL can be found at


Student Profile: Facundo Chávez Penillas, Argentina

 “For me it started as a personal battle – being confined to a wheelchair and witnessing the discrimination against disabled persons in my country of Argentina has not only driven me to be an activist for reform but it made me realize that protecting the rights of disabled persons is an ongoing global human rights movement that needs to be promoted via the law and more importantly through education.”
Facundo Chávez Penillas, 2012-2013 WCL Disability & Human Rights Fellow

This realization motivated Penillas to dedicate his international legal career to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.  More.... 

Groundbreaking Course on Global Disability Rights  

In Spring 2013, WCL launched new course solely dedicated to Global Disability Rights. This course, one of the first of its kind anywhere in the world, examines the contribution of international human rights law to the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, with an emphasis on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the evolving jurisprudence at the international, regional, and national levels. The course is co-taught by international disability rights expert Janet E. Lord and by Hadar Harris, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law. Students in the course come from around the world: China, India, Israel-Palestine, Argentina, Mexico, and Nepal. More ….


WCL Disability Rights Law Clinic Represents PWD and Their Families

The WCL Disability Rights Law Clinic (DRLC) is one of the first to emphasize autonomy and capacity of persons with disability. Founded in 2005, the DRLC is a two-semester clinic that allows law students to represent people with disabilities (both mental and physical) and their families in a variety of matters related to disability law. A significant focus of the DRLC is on examining circumstances in which clients with disabilities are wrongly assumed to lack physical or mental capacity to participate in society to the same extent as people without disabilities.

Each year the DRLC takes on broader advocacy projects which intersect between disability and human rights. Among the Clinic’s most recent accomplishments was the publication of a study, at the request of the US International Council on Disability (USCID), which evaluated whether each state’s guardianship laws were consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The results of the study were conveyed to the US Department of State and the US Department of Justice.  More ….


Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law Home 

Human Rights Brief 

American University Washington College of Law

Human Rights @ AU



Upcoming Events/Conferences

National Council on Disability Report Launch: Accessibility of Overseas Facilities and Programs Funded by the United States 
Thursday, March 21st, 12:00 – 1:20pm, WCL Room 402


Examining the Intersections of International Humanitarian Law and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – An Expert Roundtable
Wednesday, April 3rd, 9:30am – 2:30pm WCL Room 603

Federal Intellectual Property Policy: Accessibility, Copyright and New Technologies: Inaugural Cherry Blossoms Conference  
Friday, April 5th, 9am – 5:00pm, WCL 6th Floor Student Lounges

For other upcoming Center events on a range of Human Rights topics click here.


Human Rights Brief                      Volume 19, Issue 2 (Winter 2012)

The Human Rights Brief, a student-run publication of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, published a thematic issue last year on Human Rights and the Protection of Persons with Disabilities. The issue focused on the rights of persons with disabilities in international law and touched on numerous facets of the tireless campaign by advocates and practitioners to empower persons with disabilities and remove barriers to their full participation in society. Articles include:

The Human Rights Brief publishes three issues per year and also has an online website which is emerging as a premier source of news, analysis and developments in human rights law. It can be accessed at


Selected Recent Past Events

Mass Shootings and Mental Disability Rights in the United States

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities & Its Impact on Human Rights

Human Rights. Yes! Training On Implementation and Advocacy for the CPD  

Above: Juan Ignacio Perez Bello, Facundo Chavez Penillas, and Adalberto Mendez Lopez with Ron McCallum, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 


WCL Disability Law Society

The Washington College of Law Disability Law Society (DLS) works to create an open, sustainable, and accessible environment for students to raise awareness of and advocate for disability rights in the WCL community, the neighboring community, the legal profession, and society at large. The DLS organizes and coordinates disability-related and outreach activities, including American Sign Language classes, lunchtime discussions on disability legal topics, and awareness-raising events on disability rights issues around the world. More information on the WCL Disability Law Society and future events can be found at



Local Human Rights Lawyering Project: Webinar Series

Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Webinar Series Promotes Integration of Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Center’s Local Human Rights Lawyering Project works to normalize the use of human rights norms into the work of local legal aid attorneys in the United States.  As part of its training and technical assistance work, the Project organizes a series of monthly online webinars for staff from legal aid organizations.  The webinars are substantive, with a focus on providing in-depth training on how to use human rights law in cases that legal aid attorneys typically deal with on a daily basis.  On November 5, 2012, the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project’s monthly webinar focused on HIV/AIDS Law and featured Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Director Lauren E. Bartlett and Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher in the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, as presenters. In addition, the Project has developed a Handbook to assist legal aid attorneys to integrate human rights standards in their daily work. One section of the handbook is specifically devoted to the rights of persons with disabilities.