On 13 May 2019, COFACE delegates attended the annual Work Forum on The United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) implementation in the EU. The Work Forum aims at ensuring that the Convention is fully implemented across the EU, at sharing experiences on its practical implementation and monitoring and at promoting solutions to common challenges. It is organised by the European Commission every year since 2010. This year, different speakers from civil society, institutions and human right bodies reflected on good practices and barriers to the political participation of persons with disabilities in the European elections, different forms of complaint procedures and on how the UNCRPD interacts with other International Conventions.
The right to vote is a core feature of citizens’ rights. Exclusion of this right happens through discrimination or when authorities fail to make election processes accessible for all, from registration, to campaign materials to the voting itself. Despite the fact that the EU is based on democracy, and aims for the highest level of inclusion, the practical organisation of voting processes takes place at national level, leading to national disparities in the right to vote for persons with disabilities.
For example, in France, due to guardianship status, until 2007 300.000 persons were automatically deprived of the right to vote. Then, a new system was introduced where the right to vote was individually decided upon by a judge. However, this still left 80% of the persons excluded from the right to vote. Recently, this system of deprivation of voting rights was withdrawn and the legal condition is no more barrier for the right to vote, still threatened by practical and physical barriers. The Finnish self-advocate Sami Helle, talked about the barriers for persons with intellectual disabilities to approach or engage with political parties. The lack of accessible language and easy-to-understand materials and conceptualization makes it hard for persons with various disabilities to be part of the political structures and processes, to vote, or be elected. Electronic resources and technology can foster further inclusion through tele-voting or accessible apps and voting machines. Another key element for the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities is the political participation of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities may face additional costs necessary to enable political participation, including personal assistance, transport, communication equipment and technology. In Scotland, a Support Fund was established to support persons with disabilities who choose to stand for election. In Belgium, the Support Fund initiative was duplicated and broadened, developing a media campaign, brochures, information for officials, and assistance and guidance for all stakeholders, and an option to complain if anything was found not-accessible.
When rights are violated, it is fundamental for citizens to be able to claim their rights. Many instruments are there, depending on which laws and institutions are targeted. It was highlighted that the European Social Charter can be a tool for the implementation of the UN CRPD, and its 1995 Additional Protocol allows NGOs and unions to file complaints against states. At a national level, Equality Bodies, can help in advocating for disability rights, particularly in the field of employment. Strategic litigation can also serve for awareness raising on discrimination and lack of rights, in order to put pressure on relevant actors to take measures. The European Ombudsman can receive complaints concerning the activities of EU institutions and bodies. In 2017 Validity, submitted a compliant about the illegitimacy of the use of European Social Funds to co-fund segregation, exclusion and human rights violation of persons with disabilities in an institution in Hungary. The proceedings on the illegitimacy of using European Social Funds for maintaining institutions in Hungary are still ongoing. Also the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability has a mandate for Communication Procedures, including individual and collective complaints. States are not obligated to reply, but often show goodwill by replying to the communication. This can result in action being taken by the State to remedy the violations. An example of communications undertaken by the UN Special Rapporteur is about the Council of Europe Draft Additional Protocol (AP) to the Oviedo Convention concerning the protection of human rights and dignity of persons with mental disorder with regard to involuntary placement and involuntary treatment. Various organizations of persons with disabilities and other stakeholders asked the withdrawal of the AP due its conflict with the spirit and standards of the UN CRPD (such as articles 12 and 14).
The UNCRPD calls for an inclusive society that benefits all. It specifically challenges some traditional notions on equality and inclusion: the previous notion was that equality could be achieved purely by giving and receiving ‘additional’ support to enable persons with disabilities to “fit in”. This is now replaced by the awareness that inclusion is a human right, and the social aspects of the community should be restored to be inclusive and able to accommodate diversity, with equal dignity and equal exercise of rights for all. Rights are not an abstract concept anymore, and need a social community response. This is a paradigm shift, where a failure to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ is now seen as discrimination. Within the UN, the various treaty bodies interact and exchange information and concepts, in order to form a harmonized human rights framework. There is consensus to include persons with disabilities across all levels at the UN, including humanitarian actions, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Also regional human rights bodies have moved towards adoption of the UNCRPD standards, such as the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons (2015), and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In Europe, there are 49 million women with disabilities, meaning the 19,2% of the EU women population, and from every 5 persons with a disability, 3 are women. It is important to increase awareness on this specific gender aspect. All stakeholders and actors, including civil society, women organizations, gender institutes, and individual experts can make a difference. Thematic reports, studies and statistics are essential to develop policy responses, indicators, reviews and recommendations. Some key issues for women with disability in the EU are gender-based violence, discrimination, forced sterilization and forced abortion, and intersectionality of gender and disability.
On the 14 May, COFACE was invited together with civil society, and representatives of the Commission and Member States to the High Level Group on Disability. During the meeting representatives from Bulgaria, Spain, Norway and Denmark presented progress in the implementation of the UNCRPD in their respective countries. After that, the actions of the Romanian Presidency in the field of disability were summed up, close to the commitments of the forthcoming Finnish presidency. Other topics of the meeting were the state of play on the European Accessibility Act, the evaluation of the European Disability Strategy, the Oviedo protocol to the Convention on the protection of human rights in the biomedical field and The Hague Convention on the protection of vulnerable adults.
For more information you can contact:
Policy and Advocacy Officer