Are disability rights on the agenda of Europe’s governments?

The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states met today in Vienna. In his report written for the meeting, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said that human rights in Europe is in a “crisis unprecedented since the end of the Cold War”.

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Source: Council of Europe

Citing corruption, immunity from prosecution, impunity, human trafficking, hate speech and discrimination – as being on the rise throughout the continent. The impact of the economic crisis has resulted in growing inequalities, he says, noting that austerity measures “may affect democracy and the long-term security of the continent”. These all effect people with disabilities, especially those institutionalised and stripped of their right to decide.

People with disabilities “face discrimination on a daily basis”, he said, noting that they are “often marginalised because of fear and prejudice”, including “in large-scale institutions, where they remain deprived of fundamental rights and subject to degrading practices” and where there is “inadequate access to justice”.

For the first time, the Secretary General brought guardianship to the highest political level of the Council. “Too often, authorities put people with cognitive disabilities under guardianship,” he stated. This, “leads to involuntary placement, lack of access to a fair trial and the inability to participate in elections, get married or manage property.”

Jagland calls on governments of the Council to respond to these challenges, citing independent living and inclusive education as two key areas where improvements must be made. 

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