EDF GA in Warsaw with a smile
31 Mei 2015 | Polen, Warschau
In the airplane from Amsterdam to Warsaw, I had a nice chat on human rights, development and politics with a lady from the United States, who was a political blogger. Eventually, we asked the lady on the other side next to me to take a picture of us. This appeared to be the singer of Epica (http://epica.nl/ ) , who then offered to put me on the guest-list of the Warsaw Student Festival Ursynalia (http://ursynalia.pl/ ) at SGGW Kampus at the University of Warsaw. That was awesome! So in the evening, I went to Ursynalia and I was given an artist-wristband and a backstage pass, and I had an absolutely great evening, enjoying the music and the atmosphere, and a lot of nice people, all friendly, and creatively overcoming the language barrier. It was an amazing start of my first visit to Warsaw.
The next day, Saturday 30 May 2015, the Annual General Assembly of the European Disability Forum (EDF) took place at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel, where I stayed. It was located right in front of to the Warsaw Chopin Airport, so apart from the Ursynalia Festival, I have not seen anything of Warsaw at all, only the hotel and the airport.
At 9.00 AM Mr. Yannis Vardakastanis, president of EDF, opened the GA. He welcomed all participants, and explained that we find ourselves in important and challenging times, referring to the review of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in the European Union, and the effects of the economic crisis on persons with disabilities.
Then Catherine Naughton, EDF director, outlined the programme of the AGA conference and introduced the first Polish speakers of the opening session.
The first speaker was a Polish government representative: Mrs. AlineWojtowitz Pomierma of the Government Plenipotentiary for Disability Persons, who welcomed us, and spoke about the importance of sharing ideas, and social awareness as the key for change and implementation of the UN CRPD. To think different is to act different, and conferences like this give an opportunity to learn, and to become more open, tolerant and diverse.
Then Maria Krol, chairman of the Board of PFON (Polish Disability Forum), spoke about developments in Poland regarding the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and explained that the EDF membership and the visibility of EDF’s conferences in Poland have speeded up the ratification and understanding of the CRPD in Poland, which illustrates the value of EDF’s work.
After this welcome, there were some formalities, such as the formal adoption of the agenda, a roll call (reading out all names of participants), and some explanation of procedures. Then the election of a new EDF board member took place. Since the EDF board consist of 2 types of representatives, namely DPOs (Disabled Peoples Organizations) and National Councils, the voting procedure was only applying to half of the participants: the National Councils. 5 persons presented themselves, and the delegates of the National Councils voted by secret ballots, and Mr. Thorkild Olesen from Denmark was elected as Board member of EDF.
Then the session on the List of Issues for the review of the implementation of the UN CRPD in the European Union started.
First, Catherine Naughton (EDF Director), gave an update of the process so far. EDF has submitted an alternative report to the UN CRPD Committee, and organized a side event at 2 April 2015 to brief the UN CRPD Committee. (also see my report at http://punkertje.waarbenjij.nu/reisverslag/4818850/edf-side-event-advocacy-by-enusp-and-wnusp#ad-image-121607409 ) . The List of Issues, which is a list of questions for the EU on CRPD implementation, is published by the UN CRPD Committee (see: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD%2fC%2fEU%2fQ%2f1&Lang=en ), and the EU will need to respond to these questions by 22 June 2015. EDF and several of its member organisations such as ENUSP, are working on a response parallel to the EU’s official response, to show reality versus paperwork. This needs to be completed in July, and then at 27 and 28 August 2015, a delegation representing the EU (which will be coming from the European Commission) will be present at the UN in Geneva to have a Constructive Dialogue with the UN CRPD Committee on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the EU. At 27 August 2015, EDF will again organize a side event in Geneva to brief the CRPD Committee from the perspective of civil society (NGOs, DPOs) on the EU CRPD implementation, and ENUSP will also be present and present our findings on the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities in the EU.
After the coffee break, Mrs. Malgorzata Marcinska of the Polish Ministry of Labour spoke about the implementation process in Poland. Following the ratification of the UN CRPD by Poland in 2012, legislation has been analysed to identify gaps and goals, and to identify the best use of resources, including EU funds.
Then the session on the List of Issues on CRPD implementation in the EU continued, and the EDF member-organizations that have been submitted an alternative report and were present in Geneva in April 2015 presented their experiences of the process.
First, Yannis Yallouros of the European Union of the Deaf (EUD) explained that it had been very positive and useful to meet with the CRPD Committee members, and to remind them of what is right and what needs to be done in the EU in relation to the rights of deaf persons.
Then Zara Todd spoke on behalf of the European Network of Independent Living (ENIL) about the shadow report on independent living, which emphasizes that EU funds should not be used for institutionalization, but for supporting living in the community independently. EDF has been very helpful, and experiences with the CRPD Committee and the List of Issues were positive.
Then Rita Donabauer of Mental Health Europe (MHE) addressed the disappointment over the List of Issues, which does not address mental health issues such as on legal capacity, involuntary treatments and discrimination in health care, while persons with psychosocial disabilities are victims of human right violations throughout the EU. While the EU competence on legal capacity may be discussed, the EU could take an active role in promoting and supporting good practices for supported decision making, and provide tools to share, spread, scale up and use the existing good practices.
Then I spoke on behalf of the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP) and also expressed our disappointment on the absence of our themes in the EU List of Issues, which makes us feel excluded, unprotected and left out again. ENUSP tried to raise some crucial issues faced by persons with psychosocial disabilities in the EU, such as deprivation of legal capacity, deprivation of liberty, practices of torture and a lack of access to justice, all of which are apparently not directly within EUs competence. However, EU membership conditions include ratification of the Council of Europe treaties, which contain outdated standards such as article 5.1.e of the European Convention on Human Rights (giving everyone the right to liberty, except for “the lawful detention of persons with unsound mind, alcoholics, drug addicts and vagrants”), which is in direct contradiction of article 14 of the UN CRPD. ENUSP will challenge the exclusion and ongoing neglect of persons with psychosocial disabilities in the EU, and emphasize the need to promote and advance human rights, which means to push further than the existing situation. There are a lot of concrete steps the EU could take, such as regarding the Council of Europe treaties, stating that the highest applicable standard of international human rights law applies in the EU (which would then automatically be the UN CRPD) , and also a lot can be done on meaningful participation in research, knowledge-production, policy-making, de-institutionalization and the use of European funds, political participation, non-discrimination and securing a unified definition of torture in the EU.
Then Alba Gonzales of the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) spoke about the importance of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Agenda, and Disaster and Risk reduction and management, all of which are prominent on the current international agendas.
Then also several National Councils (Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Spain) elaborated on their experience with CRPD review on country level. All found the CRPD review helpful for awareness raising in the national context, and even potentially causing a mindchange at governmental level, and also generally resulting in closer cooperation between NGOs, DPOs, Ombudspersons, NHRIs and other networks, and also the government.
The next session was dedicated to representatives of the European level.
The first speaker was Mrs. Analise Cotone of the Disability unit of the European Commission. She explained that the UN CRPD is binding upon the European institutions, bodies and agencies, and the European Commission is having a dialogue on the process and next steps. The deadline for the reply of the EU to the List of Issues on CRPD implementation is 22 June 2015, which is coming fast for this big bureaucratic European machine (so there will be no time to consult with DPOs or NGOs). Different departments will provide input and information for the answers to the List of Issues, which will be coordinated by the Disability Unit of the European Commission, who are having a hard time to comply with the 10.000 word limit.
The European Commission is studying the ideas of civil society (NGOs, DPOs) and has also organized a Work Forum on the implementation of the UN CRPD on 29 April 2015 in Brussels, to discuss the parallel reporting of civil society (also see my report at: http://punkertje.waarbenjij.nu/reisverslag/4825744/european-commission-work-forum-crpd-implementation )
The next speaker was Mrs. Astrid Eichstaedt of the European Ombudsman office, who explained that the European Ombudsman does not have the competence to deal with individual complaints, but can only act when the EU does not fulfil its obligations towards member states and policies. The European Ombudsman Office can start inquiries after receiving complaints, but also on their own initiative when considered appropriate. The European Ombudsman Office is planning to start an inquiry after the EU review process, to investigate the follow-up to the recommendation of the UN CRPD Committee regarding the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU.
The next speaker was Mrs. Martha Stickings of the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which provides evidence-based advise, based on data and analysis. FRA is not a monitoring mechanism, complaint procedure or policy maker. FRA develops human rights indicators and benchmarks, and is currently working on article 9 and 19 of the UN CRPD (accessibility and living independently in the community).
FRAs role in the EU review process on the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities comprises on the one hand the input of data for the EU reply, and also investigating the follow-up to the Concluding Observations of the UN CRPD Committee, which are the final outcome of the EU review process and contain recommendations for the EU regarding the rights of persons with disabilities.
Then, An-Sofie Leenknecht, EDF Human Rights Officer, explained the next steps of EDF in the EU review process. All EDF member organizations will receive a questionnaire with 5 questions, and are asked to provide information on these themes, which will be the input for the EDF parallel answers to the List of Issues.
After the lunch there was some time for questions and remarks in relation to the presentations and the EU review process.
After that, there were 2 rounds of working groups. I joined the one on Young persons with disabilities, and the one on Persons with disabilities requiring a high level of support. In my opinion both sessions were too short to really get to an actual point. It was merely a loose discussion, which was still somehow interesting anyway. And I found some nice new contacts, to share ideas with (such as ENIL Youth Network).
After the summaries of the working groups, it was already past 18.00, the conference day ended. At 20.00 we were expected back in the room for a dinner and cultural programme: theatre by a group of deaf students. That was really nice. After the show and the dinner, I spent the late evening in good company, having much fun joking about headlines for a glossy disability-gossip magazine. It was again 2.30 before I reached my luxurious hotel bed :) I had a great time.
The next day, Sunday 31 May 2015, the conference started at 9.00 AM again (ouch). Since my plane was leaving at 12.25, I could only join the first 2 hours (till 11.00), while the conference programme officially lasted till 13.00. The morning session was about Capacity building by EDF and members, on best practices, challenges and future plans, with speakers from Estonia, Croatia and Greece.
Right before I left the hotel, I had an interview with an independent Croatian Radio station, http://radio92.eu/ which is promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities. It was about the work ENUSP is doing, and about my personal engagement with this work (my experiences). And then I left to catch my flight.
It was a wonderful weekend. I felt like a rock-star. And I liked the EDF conference, where I met many nice people with whom I could share ideas, and it felt constructive, especially with the engagement of so many different stakeholders, especially from the European level , such as the European Commission, the European Ombudsman, FRA, and also Ana Pelaez who is a CRPD Committee member and assured me that I should not get depressed over the exclusion of our issues (ENUSP) regarding the EU List of Issues, but that I could trust the CRPD Committee…. And I tend to trust the CRPD Committee, since their Concluding Observations on the country level are very good in regards of the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, as is illustrated by the CRPD CO’s on Germany, see http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD%2fC%2fDEU%2fCO%2f1&Lang=en So that gives me hope, which is really empowering.
So I feel great after this wonderful weekend in Warsaw. I can’t get the smile off my face, when I think about my lucky VIP-access to the festival, and the nice people I met. It was great.
And now I should get myself ready for going to Brussels, 1-2 June 2015, for a Hearing at the European Parliament with EASPD (European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities). I am curious to get to know this organization.
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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