European Commission Work Forum CRPD implementation
29 April 2015 | België, Brussel
A day earlier I had travelled to Brussels by hi-speed Thalys train, first class, and a room was booked for me in the Crown Plaza hotel, all very luxurious, paid by the European Commission.
At 9.00 AM on 29 April 2015 the Work Forum on the Implementation of the UN CRPD started in the Ballroom of the Crown Plaza hotel. Mrs. Maria Luisa Cabral, Head of the Unit for the rights of persons with disabilities at the European Commission, opened the conference. She welcomed everyone to participate actively in the Work Forum meeting, which was aimed at sharing experiences, challenges and recommendations for the practical implementation and monitoring of the UN CRPD in the European Union. All the NGOs and DPOs which submitted a shadow-report to the UN CRPD Committee in the light of the upcoming review of the EU on CRPD implementation, were invited to present their submissions at the EC Work Forum.
Another word of welcome was given by Elina Celmina, Director of Social Inclusion and Social Work Policy Department of the Ministry of Welfare, on behalf of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU. She stressed the importance of CRPD implementation in the EU.
Then Donata Vivanti, Vice-president of the European Disability Forum (EDF) gave a brief overview of the EDF alternative report on CRPD implementation in the EU, which is composed with contributions of many NGOs and DPOs, and she highlighted several key topics to advance human rights in the EU, including the problem of guardianship for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, the need to ensure legal capacity for all persons with disabilities, and the fact that supportive services are still rare and need to be developed across the EU.
The morning was dedicated to the theme: Improving synergies between the EU and the national level in the implementation of the UN Convention.
The first session was about data collection and about various definitions used to identify disability.
Roberta Crialesi of the National Institute of Statistics in Italy (ISTAT) spoke about the national strategy on collection of disability data in Italy, and guided us through that practice.
Then Lucian Agafitei of Eurostat spoke about European statistics on disability: current and future plans. He spoke about various surveys that were done in the EU, such as EHIS and EHSIS on health, and SILC on living conditions, and how these relate to identifying the prevalence of the evolving concept of disability: barriers and support needs.
Then Dimitrios Skempes of the University of Lucerne & Swiss Paraplegic-Research, spoke about the role of civil society in data collection and the challenges at the EU and national level. He highlighted that civil society (NGOs and DPOs) should be involved in prioritizing key issues in the design of data collection, indicators and monitoring.
The theme of data collection and definitions on measuring barriers for equal rights is important, but it was not a very exciting start of the day.
There was a short discussion about the fact that many definitions and data on disability are still linked to the health and care area, which is the medical model approach of impairment, instead of the social model of disability, which depends on the level of social inclusion and the barriers faced in daily life, and the risk of exclusion as an evolving concept of disability. And it also became clear that the European surveys are focussed on households, and persons above 15 years old, excluding the many persons in institutions and children in the EU.
After the coffee break, the second session started on the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds contribution to the implementation of the UN Convention.
First, Mr Andor Urmos (DG Regio) and Marie-Anne Paraskevas (DG EMPL) of the European Commission spoke about the state of play of the programming period for 2014-2020, where the aim is to stimulate a transition from institutional to community based care. Instead of the absorption of EU Funds, such as ESF and ERDF, by member states, in this period the results of the use of the money shall be monitored, which was not done before… (sigh)
Next was Daiga Kurpniece of the Ministry of Welfare of the Republic of Latvia, who spoke about the national perspectives and experiences in Latvia. She told us about reforms in practice, including the development of social community-based child care services, and the current shift from full guardianship to partial guardianship complemented with support for persons with severe psychosocial disabilities (as a start of CRPD implementation).
Then Peter Lambreghts of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) was the first to represent an alternative DPO report on CRPD implementation in the EU. He spoke about article 19, the right to live independently and to be included in the community. He spoke about the misuse of EU Funds for institutions, and a widespread lack of community based support across the EU, which prevents social inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the community. He stressed that the EU should show leadership and guidance to shift to de-institutionalization and independent living for all persons with disabilities.
There was a short discussion on practical conditions for the use of EU Funds, and Oana from MDAC raised very critical questions and pointed at the responsibility of the EU to not fund human rights violations, but to take firm action against human rights violations.
Then it was lunch time, and I sat with Oana and eventually Mr. Andor Urmos also joined us, and we spoke about the use of EU funds and the need for change. I asked whether NGOs that provide services could apply for EU Funds, but that appeared impossible, which I found strange, since stimulating transformation of practices in the EU is a clear set goal, but apparently the EU only cooperates with governments of Member States.
Then, when I mentioned human rights the Netherlands, this was obviously not an EU/EC priority, and I got the feeling like there was no room to raise complaints on the Netherlands (as if human rights violations only happen in other countries). I found this very upsetting, especially since the topic is very actual for me (I’m working on application to the European Court on Human Rights). I felt out of place, like my voice didn’t count, which happens often, because many persons think of the Netherlands as a kind of “paradise”, but I personally think it is very risky to treat a community like they are “better than the rest”, because this results in a lack of self-reflection by that community (and it stimulates misplaced ideas of “superiority”). I was really upset by this confronting situation, and while the conversation on EU transformation continued on Eastern Europe, I left for a walk in the park opposite to the hotel. I needed to calm down. I do agree that in Eastern Europe the situation is terrible, but that does not imply that the West is okay.
After calming down, I went back to the Crown Plaza hotel where the Work Forum was held.
Then the afternoon was dedicated to the question: What could be done differently to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the EU? During the afternoon several organizations presented their alternative reports which were submitted to the UN CRPD Committee for the EU review process on the implementation of the CRPD in the EU.
The third session started with Catherine Naughton of the European Disability Forum (EDF), who presented the EDF alternative report and highlighted some key areas where the EU could take action on, which were: equal treatment, awareness raising and staff training, freedom of movement including accessibility and portability of services, and the use of EU Funds. See EDF alternative report at: http://www.edf-feph.org/Page_Generale.asp?DocID=13855&thebloc=34249
Then Sabrina Ferraina of the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) spoke about challenges and threats for the development of supportive services in the EU, including the misuse of EU Funds, the austerity measures and rigid budget cuts in social services across the EU, and the need to innovate and to develop a balance between mainstreaming services and sensitivity to specific support needs.
Then Jospeh de Witte of the Belgian Interfederal centre for Equal Opportunities spoke about the challenges in Belgium, which ratified the UN CRPD in 2009, but still the Belgian government does not show much ambition. For example, persons with disabilities in Belgium need to reserve their access to public trains 24 hours in advance and a spontaneous change of plans cannot be made, therefore they have no equal access to public transportation compared to other persons, but instead of ambitions for improvement, the Belgian government hides behind EU prescriptions which mention “less than 48 hours”.
Then Oana Georgiana Girlescu of the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) held a very good presentation on the harmfulness of institutionalization, including the “group life” and many rules on daily living, and severe neglect, including restraints and having no identity as a person. She gave very shocking and clear examples of human right violations in institutions in Eastern Europe, and made an excellent plea to stop using the millions of euros of EU Funds for ongoing human rights violations in institutions, and called for reparation of the harm done to persons with disabilities in EU funded institutions. “We want a good Europe” she said. This was a very powerful and passionate contribution.
A discussion followed on issues such as the awareness opf rights on the grassroots level (including parent organizations), and the competence of the EU, which is more than just advising Member States, but also includes actions the EU could take on its own. And also decentralized governments and the option to engage with cities directly was mentioned.
After another coffee break, the fourth session started.
I was the first speaker, and I spoke on behalf of the European Network of (Ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. I stressed that there are many barriers for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities in the EU which are linked to several mechanisms of the (independent) Council of Europe, such as article 5.1.e of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court on Human Rights and the Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which prescribe rules for involuntary institutionalization and forced treatment, and are enforced in all EU Member States, leading to harmful practices contrary to the UN CRPD (especially articles 12 to 15). The EU should declare that the highest applicable standard of human rights law applies in the EU, which is the UN CRPD.
Then Francois Carbonez of the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) spoke about emergency support and humanitarian aid, stressing that the EU is the biggest international aid donor, and that these programmes should not exclude persons with disabilities. Increasing inclusiveness in international cooperation in line with the core principle of inclusion “nothing about us, without us” would be a good example for CRPD implementation. Coordination and coherence is needed.
As a last speaker, Elinor Milne of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children spoke about the shadow report they submitted on violence against children with disabilities in the EU. She mentioned that in 9 EU Member States no laws are in place to protect children from violence, while EU prescribes to protect the human rights of children. So what will the EU do about that?
During the discussion time, I got a supportive response to my ENUSP-presentation from a representative from Latvia, who was interested in the role of the CPT in relation to the CRPD implementation. That was very positive. I really hope she will take up this issue.
After this session the programme ended, and the majority of participants disappeared quickly. Then I also said goodbye and collected my bag at the reception, and made my way back to Brussels Midi, and then I travelled back to the Netherlands by Thalys train, which unexpectedly even included an “airplane-meal” (it is the most luxurious train trip I ever made). It was enjoyable to experience this, but it still also feels like needless waste of money to have all this luxury.
It was a nice conference, and I met many nice people. But still, somehow it wasn’t very concrete. No official statements or responses were made by the European Commission, while they had received all presentations one week in advance. We talked and got applause, but what will be done? The EU has a lot of “shared competences”, which means they share responsibility with Member States, resulting in the EU advising and negotiating, but having little actual power. So somehow it also feels a bit like going in a circle by putting ideas on the table without practice, and I want real change, so I am a bit in doubts about this. My goal is not “talking about it”, my goal is changing it. So maybe it would be more useful and efficient to focus directly on the Member State level. So I am having some doubts about the use of EU mechanisms for achieving my goals of banning forced psychiatric treatments. I will see how this develops.
Anyway, I had a good trip and a good experience in Brussels.
All presentations will be published on the website of the European Commission on the Work Forum (2015) on the Implementation of the UN CRPD in the EU, see: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=nl&catId=88&eventsId=1038&furtherEvents=yes
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Je kunt nu ook Smileys gebruiken. Via de toolbar, toetsenbord of door eerst : te typen en dan een woord bijvoorbeeld :smiley