Muižnieks: Denmark must move people out of guardianship

Today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights released a report on his 19-21 November 2013 visit to Denmark. Commissioner Nils Muižnieks noted that Denmark has policies in place that promote the autonomy of persons with disabilities. However he expressed deep concern that people with intellectual disabilities and psycho-social (mental health) disabilities are being segregated from the rest of the community, subjected to their legal capacity being stripped from them and being placed under guardianship.


From institutions to the community

The Commissioner reported that there is a “worrying trend among local authorities to provide accommodation to persons with disabilities in large residences, with around 20 to 80 housing units.” This contravenes the right to live in the community as guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). He recommends that local authorities be given guidance on how to comply with CRPD principles.

MDAC welcomes the Commissioner’s findings. Segregation in institutions denies people the right to choose, on an equal basis with others, where and with whom they live. It perpetuates negative stereotypes within the community and severely restricts inclusion in society, in turn preventing access to education, work and social opportunities.

Inside 'The Folketing', the National Parliament of DenmarkInside 'The Folketing', the National Parliament of Denmark

From substitution to support

The Commissioner also denounced Denmark’s system of guardianship. Danes with disabilities can be deprived of the right to take decisions about their own life. They are also prohibited from voting –  a completely unnecessary and unwarranted barrier from participating in political and public life.

The Commissioner recommends that Danish authorities move from a system whereby other people can take decisions in someone’s best interests, towards a system where supports are the default.

Denmark has responded that it will continue to deny people with disabilities the right to make decisions about their own lives. Seeking to reinterpret Article 12, the Danish government argues that substituted decision-making is provided for under the CRPD, in a position reminiscent of Norway's reservation.  Cloaked in the language of ‘protection’ and ‘best interests’, the Danish response fundamentally undermines the purpose of the CRPD, and the requirement on States to recognise the autonomy of people with disabilities, and to provide them with supports to exercise their decision-making rights.

MDAC encourages the Danish authorities to move away from a reinterpretation of the CRPD which conflicts the global disability rights movement and instead participate in the global discourse about implementing the right to legal capacity. The Danish government should take steps to bring on board disabled people’s organisations, family members and service providers and open up a discussion about how to make the Commissioner’s recommendations – and CRPD obligations – real and effective for people with disabilities in Denmark. 

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