Open letter to CRPD Chair on the EU's financing of disability segregation

MDAC Executive Director Oliver Lewis has today written an open letter to Ms. Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, regarding tomorrow's examination of the EU's compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The full text is reproduced below.

Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chairperson, UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Pic: UN

Dear Maria,

I’m writing to assist the Committee in its efforts to properly review the European Union’s performance in implementing the CRPD.

The delineation of obligations between the EU and its Member States will be hotly debated: for example, what is the EU responsible for in ensuring that every adult citizen with disabilities across the Union has the legal right and practical help to vote in European parliamentary elections? European governments have always retained the right to organise their own democratic processes, including the organisation of elections and setting the boundaries of the franchise. Yet, in 21 of Europe’s Member States, people with disabilities deprived of their legal capacity are automatically deprived of their right to vote – including elections for the European Parliament. MDAC urges the Committee to clarify that the EU cannot wash its hands of its responsibility under international law, including under Articles 12 and 29 of the Convention.

One clear area where the EU must accept full responsibility is over the administration and management of its own spending. The EU must, according to Article 4 of the Convention, ensure that money is spent in a way which “ensure[s] and promote[s] the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability” (Article 4(1)). The EU must also, “refrain from engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the present Convention” and “ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the present Convention” (Article 4(1)(e)).

In recent years, many of us in the European disability rights movement have been raising awareness of issues regarding the use of ‘Structural Funds’. Between 2007 and 2013 these had a total value of EUR 247billion, almost a third of the entire EU budget. We have also submitted information about this issue to the Committee (http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCRPD%2fICO%2fEUR%2f19854&Lang=en). 

The Funds could potentially increase social inclusion, providing infrastructure to ensure that people with disabilities can choose where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others. However, large sums of EU money have been distributed from the European Commission to European governments which have used the funding in a way which contradicts the letter and spirit of Article 19 (such as Hungary, as the Committee noted when reviewing that country in 2012). These funding decisions were taken after December 2010, the date when the EU acceded to the Convention and brought upon itself responsibilities under international human rights law to – at a minimum – review its funding programmes and to stop any financing of disability segregation. It did neither of those things.

Another example comes is the case of Romania, where we know that EUR 24million have been spent to refurbish and even build new institutions that will segregate people with disabilities, often for life. See www.mdac.org/romania for more information and an interactive map of EU-funded institutions.

In May 2015 the European Ombudsman published her investigation into the human rights aspects of Structural Funds, finding that “the fact that the Commission is not directly responsible for managing the funds should never be used as a reason for not acting if fundamental rights have been, or risk being violated.” (http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/cases/decision.faces/en/59836/html.bookmark#hl4)

The European Commission has agreed in the 2014-20 funding cycle to refrain from spending money on big disability institutions and to strengthening its monitoring of how governments spend the money. That is to be commended. These steps are necessary, but they remain insufficient.

The fact remains that millions of euros from the EU have already been spent on strengthening institutions, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of people. When residents of these institutions die their beds will simply be filled by others on the list, especially in countries where institutions remain not just a last resort, but the first resort of numerous national social care systems.

As a matter of international law, the EU should provide restitution to the victims of its disastrous financing scheme, and take urgent steps to repair the harm that has already been done. The administration, supervision and management of the EU budget are fully within the competence of the EU. The Commission has conceded that it was at fault in the 2007-13 period, by reversing its policy for the 2014-20 period. As such, it should undertake to repair the harm done in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 60/147 of 16 December 2005, on Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.aspx).

In the constructive dialogue tomorrow, we encourage you and Committee members to address these violations directly and candidly with the delegation of the EU. In particular we urge you to call on the European Union to:

Re-examine the allocation of Structural Funds since confirmation of the CRPD in 2010, assess the extent to which Funds were used to finance institutional settings and other services for persons with disabilities – including ‘small groups homes’ – and publish the detailed findings.

Immediately recall any money sent to a Member State (including any projects still operating under the 2007-2013 funding period) that the Commission reasonably suspects is going to be used on the institutionalisation of persons with disabilities.

Commit to providing restitution, recognition, reparations and compensation to persons with disabilities in institutions which have received EU financing, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 60/147, along with a timetable for achieving this.

Take effective measures to consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children and women with disabilities, through their representative organisations, and wider civil society, in the planning, execution and monitoring of Structural Funds at all levels, including in decision-making.

We also suggest that the Committee asks the EU to report back to it in one year’s time.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Oliver Lewis
Executive Director

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