End civil death – a call to action on the right to legal capacity in Europe

“The right to legal capacity is one of the most invisible human rights issues in Europe today, and is also one of the most important.”

Thomas Hammarberg, MDAC Honorary President and formerly Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe


Today, MDAC is calling for an end to guardianship systems in Europe. Our new report, Legal Capacity in Europe: A Call to Action to Governments and to the EU, highlights how guardianship systems cause misery and abuse. The report makes recommendations to European governments and, for the first time, asks the European Commission to upscale their attention. Currently its inaction causes a deepening of the democratic deficit of the EU, as citizens deprived of legal capacity are not allowed to vote in EU parliamentary elections across most of the Union.

The right to legal capacity is one of the most boring-sounding, yet one of the most fundamental rights which we all take for granted. Article 12 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities mandates governments and the EU to pay heed to autonomy, rather than taking away people’s right to make choices about how to spend their money, where to live, and which healthcare interventions to agree to.


Civil death – Myths v. Reality of Guardianship

Hundreds of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities and people with psycho-social (mental health) disabilities have their legal capacity stripped from them across Europe. Many governments do not know many people are placed under guardianship. Figures vary drastically. Hungary is the heavyweight champion of guardianship, where nearly 60,000 people (596 in 100,000 population) are stripped of their rights.

Rusi Stanev, a client of MDAC, was forced to live in appalling conditions in a remote institution for over eight years in Bulgaria simply because his legal capacity was restricted. Help MDAC #endcivildeath. Photo © MDAC

The denial of the right to legal capacity has drastic effects on the lives of people with disabilities, rendering them socially and politically invisible. Often denied the right even to challenge decisions of their guardians in court, the combined effects of guardianship result in a form of ‘civil death’ for people with disabilities. This form of discrimination on the basis of a disability label is prohibited by international law. In too many countries, however, guardians are vested with full power over the person’s life, gaining legal authority over their property, making decisions on healthcare interventions, and even deciding whether the person should be required to live in an institution.


Take action

People rendered invisible through guardianship can no longer be ignored. You can help us get the message out by sharing information on social media, or by writing to your government to ask when they will end systems of guardianship.

Further information:

Please email MDAC if you would like further information about how you might be able to help us disseminate the message, or would like information about writing to your government: mdac@mdac.org.

Also, please consider donating to us to make sure we can continue campaigning on the right to legal capacity.

Twitter – suggested tweets:

"Guardianship strips ppl with #disability of the right to live their own life: bit.ly/17DcvbS. Help @mdacintl #endcivildeath in Europe"

Mr #Stanev - forced to live in inhumane conditions because #legalcapacity removed. Wrong? #endcivildeathbit.ly/17DcvbS @mdacintl

“1.2million ppl with #disability in #Europe forced to live in institutions @mdacintl #endcivildeath: bit.ly/17DcvbS"

“Imagine living in an institution for the rest of your life, because of a #disability. Help @mdacintl #endcivildeath: bit.ly/17DcvbS

“Legal capacity is an invisible yet vital civil rights issue in #Europe. Join @mdacintl to #endcivildeath: bit.ly/17DcvbS

“#EU should ensure all people with #disability can vote. Help @mdacintl to #endcivildeath: bit.ly/17DcvbS @EU_justice ”



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