Russian Ombudsman throws weight behind guardianship reforms

Moscow, Russia and Budapest, Hungary, 29 May 2009. At a roundtable event held yesterday in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Ombudsman, NGOs advocated for a root and branch reform of legislation concerning guardianship for adults with disabilities, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The roundtable discussion, co-organised by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) and the NGO Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, was attended by parliamentarians, representatives of the Ministry of Health and local guardianship authorities, psychiatrists and human rights and disability NGOs.

Opening the event, Russian Federal Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin emphasised the importance of guardianship reform, pointing out that the plight of people deprived of their legal capacity attracts too little public attention. The Ombudsman acknowledged that people under guardianship enjoy the worst level of rights protection among all vulnerable people. He pointed to the inadequacy of current guardianship legislation and the lack of effective supervision, highlighting as an example a provision in the law which establishes an independent advocacy service for patients in psychiatric institutions, a provision which has never been implemented. In addressing an often taboo topic, the Ombudsman expressed his particular concern about the increase guardianship orders purely for the financial gain of others.

 Roundtable participants discussed key problems posed by the current system of guardianship, including weak procedural safeguards in court proceedings on legal capacity, inadequate regulation of the responsibilities of guardians and guardianship authorities, as well as the near impossibility of restoring a person’s legal capacity. Participants acknowledged that there is a lack of alternatives to plenary guardianship, and that this is one of the key shortcomings of the system. Lawyers, psychiatrists and human rights activists working in the field stressed that very often guardianship fails to serve its ostensible purpose of protecting the rights and interests of persons with disabilities.

The participants agreed that the law on legal capacity and guardianship is in need of a root and branch reform. They mapped out the main directions such reform should take, in line with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty which Russia took an active role in negotiating, and which it signed in September 2008. Representatives of mental disability NGOs also emphasised another Convention provision which obliges policy-makers to actively seek input from disabled people’s organisations in particular and civil society in general, and to create a platform which allows all stakeholders to participate in developing and monitoring laws and policies.

MDAC hopes that the interest expressed by the Ombudsman and the Russian authorities at yesterday’s roundtable will be an important step in initiating both a public debate about the current guardianship system and governmental action towards its reform. Since its inception in 2002 MDAC has been framing legal capacity and guardianship issues as a human rights concern and in 2008 it produced a report on guardianship law and practice in Russia. In strategic litigation by MDAC, the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 and the Russian Constitutional Court in 2009 both criticised the existing legislation. The roundtable forms part of a project on disability rights advocacy in Russia which MDAC is implementing with financial support from the Swedish Helsinki Committee and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For more information, contact Dmitri Bartenev, tel: +7 905 222 8915 (in Russia), email

advocacy, Russia
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