Human rights chief criticizes European governments for neglecting rights of people with intellectual disabilities

Budapest, 15 September 2009. MDAC endorses the "Viewpoint" published yesterday by Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in which he said that the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities across Europe "are still not taken seriously enough", and called on governments not merely to plan for action, but to take action.

Noting that "housing and other services in community-based settings have met obstacles and been delayed", the Commissioner says: "[c]onditions in some of the 'social care homes' are appalling in many countries across Europe. In these segregated institutions very little, if any, rehabilitation is provided. Not infrequently, persons with intellectual disabilities are placed together with persons having psychiatric problems and unnecessarily given sedatives against their will. They are in some cases deprived of their liberty and treated as if they were dangerous."

Commissioner Hammarberg berates European governments for their failure to follow through on de-institutionalization policies, for not establishing monitoring procedures, and for inadequately resourcing policies which are supposed to move the locus of support from institutions to community-settings. Citing a few positive examples from eastern European countries, the Commissioner considers that progress is possible but there is a long way to go to achieve sustainable change.

Referring to the case of MDAC v. Bulgaria, the Commissioner points out that there is still widespread segregation of children with intellectual disabilities who are discriminated against in their right to education. He calls for better early intervention so that services can be provided to a child from a young age. The Commissioner encourages Governments to ensure that persons with intellectual disabilities do not face discrimination in their right to health, asserting that "the medical system has failed to meet the particular needs of persons with intellectual disabilities." He highlights the barriers which people with intellectual disabilities face in the labour market, and that sheltered employment has sometimes contributed to further isolation.

The Commissioner notes that only 14 out of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He reminds governments that this Convention is unique in that it, "requires states to set up a mechanism to coordinate government action; to establish an effective system of independent monitoring; and to invite civil society - and in particular persons with disabilities themselves and their organisations - to take part in the monitoring."

The Commissioner's Viewpoint touches briefly upon the right to legal capacity and supported decision-making for persons with disabilities. In doing so, the Commissioner points out that someone's intellectual disability "is no justification for a policy to routinely incapacitate people with mental disabilities and put them under legal guardianship where they have no say in important decisions affecting their lives". The Commissioner will publish another Viewpoint dedicated to the issue of legal capacity on 21 September 2009. This will be timely, coming one month before a day of general discussion on the right to legal capacity in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

MDAC endorses the Commissioner's Viewpoint, which highlights a neglected web of policy issues. The full text of the Viewpoint is available on the Commissioner's website at

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