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Editor's choiceCouncil of Europe parliamentary committee: Step up deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities

Council of Europe parliamentary committee: Step up deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities

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The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly unanimously adopted a draft resolution, as well as a draft recommendation to European governments in line with their obligations under international law, and urged it to be inspired by the work of the UN Convention for persons with disabilities.

The committee pointed out that the UN had clearly shifted to a human rights-based approach to disability which underlined equality and inclusion. Based on a report from its Rapporteur, Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman, the committee laid out a number of recommendations specifically addressing the scene in European countries.

The committee proposed that laws authorising institutionalisation of people with disabilities be progressively repealed, as well as mental health legislation allowing for treatment without consent and detention based on impairment, with a view to ending coercion in mental health. Governments should develop adequately-funded strategies, with clear time-frames and benchmarks, for a genuine transition to independent living for persons with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities are often presumed to be unable to live independently. This is rooted in widespread misconceptions, including that persons with disabilities lack the ability to make sound decisions for themselves, and that they need ‘specialised care’ provided for in institutions,” the committee pointed out.

“In many cases, cultural and religious beliefs may also feed such stigma, as well as the historical influence of the eugenic movement. For too long, these arguments have been used to wrongfully deprive persons with disabilities of their liberty and segregate them from the rest of the community, by placing them in institutions” the parliamentarians added.

More than one million Europeans affected

In its resolution, the Committee noted that: “Placement in institutions affects the lives of more than a million Europeans and is a pervasive violation of the right as laid down in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which calls for firm commitment to deinstitutionalisation.”

Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman explained to the European Times that there are quite some differences between the European states, for example in one country there has been a very high rate of institutionalisation of children.

She noted that in this country a process of reform, as well as a commitment to the transformation of its national care system, had been initiated following longstanding pressure. Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman however added, that with this another concern over the fact that institutions had been shut down without any proper community-based alternatives had come to light. A key challenge is to ensure that the process of deinstitutionalisation itself is carried out in a way that is human rights compliant.

Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman stressed, that the European States must allocate adequate resources for support services that enable persons with disabilities to live in their communities. This requires amongst other things a redistribution of public funds from institutions to strengthen, create, and maintain community-based services.

To this extent the Committee in its resolution pointed out that, “Measures must be taken to combat this culture of institutionalisation resulting in social isolation and segregation of persons with disabilities, including at home or in the family, preventing them from interacting in society and being included in the community.”

Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman explained, “Ensuring that there are proper community-based care services available for persons with disabilities, and thus a smooth transition, is pivotal for a successful deinstitutionalisation process.”

Systemic approach to deinstitutionalisation with an aim needed

A systemic approach to the process of deinstitutionalisation is needed in order to achieve good results. Disability has been linked to homelessness and poverty in several studies.

She added, “The aim is not mere deinstitutionalisation of the persons with disabilities, but genuine transition to independent living in accordance with Article 19 of the CRPD, General comment No. 5 (2017) of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on living independently and being included in the community, and the upcoming Guidelines on deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities, including in emergency situations.”

The transformation of residential institutional services is only one element of a wider change in areas such as health care, rehabilitation, support services, education and employment, as well as in the societal perception of disability and the social determinants of health. Simply relocating individuals into smaller institutions, group homes or different congregated settings is insufficient and is not in accordance with international legal standards.

The report is due to be debated by the Assembly at its April session when it will take a final position.

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