Hammarberg: “no room” for removing right to vote

23 March, 2011. Yesterday, Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “Persons with disabilities must not be denied the right to vote”.

The right to participate in political and public life is set out in Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In one of his authoritative “Human Rights Comments”, Commissioner Hammarberg emphasises that the right applies to everyone with disabilities, including people with psycho-social (mental health) disabilities or intellectual disabilities, irrespective of a person’s legal capacity.

In clarifying this, the human rights chief adds his weight to civil society organisations which have reacted strongly against a regressive statement by the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission is a Council of Europe think tank dealing with constitutional affairs. In an official document, it recently said that a judge ought to have the power to strip a person of their right to vote and stand for election on the basis of a mental disability. MDAC advocates for universal suffrage, and in February it submitted a legal opinion, asking the Venice Commission to reverse its position. On 11 March 2011 the Venice Commission confirmed to MDAC that it will discuss the request at its next meeting, which begins tomorrow and ends on Saturday 26 March 2011.

In his Human Rights Comment, Commissioner Hammarberg speaks out against entrenched prejudices of those who seek to pick away fundamental human rights. The Commissioner puts it simply: there is, “no room for procedures in which judges or medical practitioners would assess the voting competence of a person and then give a green light - or not. As we do not test that capability for someone without disabilities, this would amount to blatant discrimination.”

Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, said, “The European Human Rights Commissioner says that participation in political and public life is a right which applies without discrimination to everyone. In contrast, the Venice Commission’s position is morally unsustainable, legally wrong, and increasingly lonely. It can be easily reversed during this week’s session.”

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