Student Profile: Facundo Chavez Penillas
WCL Disability & Human Rights Fellow
“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 WCL Disability & Human Rights Fellow
This realization motivated Facundo Chávez Penillas to dedicate his international legal career to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Penillas, a LLM student at American University Washington College of Law and OSF Disability and Human Rights Fellow, is a lawyer from Argentina. Penillas graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 2001 and obtained his law degree with a specialization in Business Law in 2003. Before attending WCL and joining the Fellowship Program, Penillas worked at the Disability Department of the Ombudsman Office of the City of Buenos Aires. He also served as Vice President of the Latin- American Network of NGOs of Persons with Disabilities and their Families (RIADIS). Penillas was also a board member of the GPDD Global Partnership on Development and Disability (GPDD), a member of the Argentina Network for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (REDI), and a member of the International Disability Alliance (IDA).
Reflecting on how he became interested in global disability law, Penillas notes that his passion for the subject developed when after graduating from law school in Argentina he faced difficulty in obtaining employment for years. It was difficult for any lawyer to obtain employment but for a lawyer with a disability it was nearly impossible – he explained that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Argentina is still over 98%. These obstacles motivated Penillas to become an activist and an educator on the rights of disabled persons under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), addressing the challenges of proper implementation of the treaty in countries like Argentina, where domestic disability rights are few if not completely non-existent. Penillas quickly realized that this movement was bigger than him – it no longer was a personal fight but a global one – a human rights movement that still had a long ways to go.
In considering his experience as one of the first DHR Fellows, Penillas says that the Disability & Human Rights Fellows Program was a very enriching experience that gave him a solid foundation in advocacy for disability rights as well as human rights. The specialized curriculum linked disability rights and activism but also contextualized the discussion in broader substantive human rights law. Considering that he had been out of the classroom setting for years, Penillas is thankful for the support system that he received from the Fellowship Program and from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), more specifically the help and guidance from Professor Robert Dinerstein, director of the WCL Disability Law Clinic, and Professor Hadar Harris, executive director of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law.
At the end of his fellowship, Penillas will serve as the Disability and Human Rights Advisor for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.