European Commission funding of disability segregation and abuse breaches international law

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Click here to tell European Commissioner for Regional Policy to stop funding disability segregation

Al Jazeera's film Europe's Hidden Shame documents abuse in Romanian institutions and the EC's role in funding them. It is available online.
Click here to watch it now.

Read MDAC's Press Release here


The problem

If you thought Romania’s orphanage problem of the 1990s was solved, think again.

Over 30,000 people with disabilities, including people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health issues, are still warehoused in Romanian institutions. When one person dies in an institution, another fills their bed, often for the rest of their lives too. Placement in these institutions still means lifelong segregation for them, with very little hope of ever being able to regain their freedom, or even to challenge their detention. The spotlight has increasingly been turned to the appalling conditions in these institutions due to a number of recent and highly-publicised scandals including:

  • Preventable deaths from pneumonia of a number of young people with disabilities segregated in an institution in Bucharest. Romanian television broadcast the disgusting conditions in May 2013 showing residents tied to their beds, being shouted at and beaten, being force-fed and being kept in the dark day and night.
  • The death of 18-year old Valentin Câmpeanu who was killed by the Romanian government. He had HIV and learning disabilities. In 2004 he died in an unheated cleaning cupboard of a government-run hospital, malnourished and with nurses refusing to care for him, ignorantly thinking that they could catch HIV from touch. The Centre for Legal Resources in Bucharest, in conjunction with Interights, have taken Mr Câmpeanu's case to the European Court of Human Rights, because the Romanian justice system has failed to hold anyone accountable for his death. Read our Executive Director’s account of the case here, including MDAC's role in submitting a third party intervention.

It’s a scandal that thousands of people are warehoused in institutions, representing a gross and systematic violation of international human rights law. It’s a scandal that their segregation and abuse is being funded by the European Commission. Over 8 million Euro of European taxpayers’ money has been funding the Romanian government’s policy of locking up people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues alone. Once inside, the key is effectively thrown away: no-one leaves unless they die there.

The Institute for Public Policy in Bucharest has estimated that over 24 million Euro in European Structural Funds has been spent on all institutions for people with a range of physical and mental disabilities in the country, affecting up to 18,000 adults.

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European Commission funding breaches international law

Segregating people with disabilities from society, stripping them of the right to make decisions, denying them the right to vote: this is nothing short of apartheid. Under international law, governments MUST take real steps to move people with disabilities out of institutions, and into the community with access to support services. The “right to live in the community” is guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The EU ratified the Convention in 2010. This means it MUST comply with its provisions - including in the way it channels funding to European governments. Romania ratified the CRPD just over a month later, in early 2011.

So much for official UN documents. On the ground in Romania, there is endemic segregation, violence and abuse in institutions:

Tantava Institution – received €500,000 from EU Structural Funds. TV and newspapers broke the story in 2007 of staff-on-patient sexual abusebeatings and allegations that staff were making the residents to carry out forced labour for their own benefit.

Techirghiol Institution – received over €450,000 from EU Structural Funds. In 2000, the institution’s director and some staff were sentenced to imprisonment for fraud, having used money allocated for ‘renovation’ for their own benefit. Conditions in the institution were uninhabitable. Bedrooms without heating, residents forced to use dangerously broken furniture, and forced to breath in damp risking their health.

Bilteni Institution – received almost €135,000 from EU Structural Funds. Even the Romanian government’s own Agency for Social Inspection found residents were forced to endure a daily lack of dignity. Despite the lovely European funds, there were not even any doors or cubicles on the toilets!

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Key players

European Union

  • Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy, is responsible for the Regional Development Fund. He has made decisions to fund human rights abuses
  • Jose Manual Barosso, is President of the European Commission and has failed to hold Commissioner Hahn to account

Government of Romania

  • Codrin Scutaru, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy holds responsibility for Romania's disability policy. The Romanian government has also failed to establish an Independent inspectorate, and it is now incumbent on the new State Secretary to reverse the policy of segragting people with disabilities.

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The European Commission must now make amends

  • The EC has been asked numerous times to stop funding institutions warehousing people with mental disabilities.
  • On Wednesday 16 April 2014 Al Jazeera aired a document containing secret footage of human rights abuses which Johannes Hahn and the European Commission has funded.
  • Last Friday Commissioner Hahn’s spokesperson put out a statement that in the future 2014-20 funding period, EU structural funds will be “mainly” spent on services in the community with the aim of independent living “as far as possible”, and that the EC won't be funding the “big” institutions. This statement confirms that the Commission will continue funding human rights violations, and will do nothing to stop Romania warehousing people with disabilities in the future. The EC shouldn’t be funding any institutions under any circumstances.
  • The Commission is completely ignoring the lives of the victims of their policy of funding segregation, who will spend the rest of their lives and die in EU-funded institutions. 


All victims of the Commission's disastrous policy are entitled to justice, equality and inclusion.The European Commission must now, at the minimum, do the following:

  1. Finance a Reparations Fund
    There are thousands of people in Romania who will spend the rest of their lives in institutions funded by the Commission. It has recognised that segregation is a human rights violation, so victims of its own policy are now entitled to reparation. Reparation means the obligation of a wrongdoing party (the European Commission) to redress the damage caused to the injured party (people with disabilities whose segregation from society has been financed by the Commission).
  2. Establish a Reparations Agency
    The Reparations Fund should be administered by a Reparations Agency, chaired by a person of high standing independent from the EC or the Romanian government, who has the trust of all parties. The Reparations Agency should have members drawn from civil society as well as the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. It should inspect all institutions warehousing people with disabilities, seek out victims of EU Structural Funds and ensure they are rescued from segregation, and provided with the assistance they need to live in the community.
  3. Engage in a process of restorative justice
    The Reparations Agency should also have responsibility for establishing a thorough process of restorative justice in respect of human rights violations caused by European funding, in line with the principles set down in the UN General Assembly Resolution on Remedies and Reparations for gross and systemic human rights violations, including:
    • Restitution: This means providing victims with liberty, legal capacity, choice, housing, healthcare and support services in community settings.

    • Compensation: This should be provided to each person in respect of the harm caused, including physical and mental abuse, and loss of opportunities arising as a result of being denied access to education, employment and social benefits as well as moral damage.

    • Rehabilitation: Including medical and psychological care as well as access to legal and social services.

    • Satisfaction: This is a legal term meaning that European Commission and the Romanian government must:

      • Take effective measures to immediately stop the funding of human rights violations in institutions;

      • Verify the facts and publicise how much European funding has gone to which institutions and when, and the extent to which the EC monitored spending to prevent human rights violations;

      • Conduct a search to establish the identities and find the bodies of those killed through abuse or neglect in state-run institutions, and provide assistance in the recovery, identification and reburial of the bodies of victims in accordance with their express or presumed wishes, or in accordance with the cultural practices of their families and communities;

      • Provide an official declaration or a judicial decision restoring the dignity, the reputation and the rights of the victims and of persons closely connected with the victims;

      • Issue a public apology, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility;

      • Ensure that judicial and administrative sanctions are taken against persons liable for the violations;

      • Initiate commemorations and tributes to the victims;

      • Include of an accurate account of the violations that occurred in international human rights and educational materials at all levels.

  4. Close all institutions warehousing people with disabilities in Romania and elsewhere, ensuring that plans are immediately put in place to facilitate their transition to community-based settings with access to a range of supports, in compliance with international law.

  5. Urgently withdraw all European funding used to segregate people with disabilities across Europe, particularly including Hungary where millions of Euros have been allocated for the building of new institutions.

Further information

MDAC has worked for a number of years with organisations committed to ending the segregation of people with disabilities in Romania.

  • Centre for Legal Resources, Bucharest, has worked for ten years to expose human rights violations in institutions segregating people with disabilities. Between October 2013 and March 2014 they conducted monitoring visits to institutions across the country. A report summarising their findings can be found here.
  • The Institute for Public Policy, Bucharest, has conducted detailed research on Romanian use of EU Structural Funds, including a detailed outline of all projects funded with European money, including funding to institutions segregating people with disabilities. The breakdown can be found here.
  • The European Network of Independent Living published a report on the misuse of EU Structural Funds in December 2013 which can be found here. This project was funded by the Open Society Foundations Mental Health Initiative.

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Take action


Tell the European Commission that it is time to end its disastrous policy of funding the segregation of people with disabilities in Europe. Simply fill in your name and email address below to call on the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Crețu, to take urgent measures to compensate victims and end human rights violations perpetrated as a result of European Structural Funds.



Send to:

Commissioner Johannes Hahn:
CC: Minister Codrin Scutaru:


Subject: Stop using European money to promote disability segregation in Romania


Dear Commissioner Hahn,

Stop using European money to promote disability segregation in Romania

I am very concerned to hear that the European Commission has spent millions of Euros on refurbishing and building institutions for people with disabilities in Romania. This is in direct violation of obligations under international law held both by the EU and the Romanian government, and specifically the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I support the call of the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) for the Commission to make amends for this gross violation of human rights. Specifically, I ask you to:

  • Immediately withdraw all European funds being used to keep institutions open to segregate people with disabilities from society, in Romania and elsewhere;
  • Publicly acknowledge the harm caused, and compensate people with disabilities who are victims of segregation financed by European Structural Funds;
  • Set up an immediate plan to move residents out of institutions financed by European money, guaranteeing them the right to community living with supports; and
  • Take action to ensure the closure of all institutions which segregate people with disabilities from the rest of society.

Full information on MDAC’s investigation into the misuse of European funds can be found here:

Yours sincerely,

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