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Human Rights and Grassroots Organizations : : Localizing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Nicaragua


The passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 was hailed by the international disability rights movement as "giving voice" to millions of persons with disabilities around the world. The Convention institutionalizes a role for Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) in monitoring their rights. As such, international disability NGOs, networks, and funders have initiated capacity building projects that organize persons with disabilities for advocacy in local communities around the world. A central tension, however, has emerged. While the international disability movement is interested in mobilizing grassroots groups, it is also interested in ensuring that those DPOs reflect global priorities. As such, the international movement is engaged in promoting a very narrow organizational model that corresponds to membership-based, human rights advocacy that conflicts directly with the self-help, social support model that is the basis of many local disabled persons organziations, especially in the developing world. Using qualitative data drawn from fieldwork with grassroots disability associations in Northern Nicaragua, this article shows that international and national organizations have utilized a number of methods, including providing advocacy training, establishing new organizations, formalizing reporting procedures, to bring DPOs together around a human rights advocacy agenda. Program implementation, however, revealed a narrow concern with political empowerment that did not resonate with a local focus on addressing material needs and the instillation of a strict hierarchy and bureaucratic procedures that did not allow local DPOs to deviate from pre-determined, top-down agendas. This case study provides insight into the way global civil society legitimates itself through outreach directed at the grassroots, yet does not allow their full participation in interpreting and implementing their human rights. When local groups resist, it is understood as the result of a lack of consciousness or clear understanding rather than the strategic response of associations embedded in cooperative relationships and focused on addressing the material needs of their members

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