On Thursday, 17th June 2021, the European Network on Independent Living – ENIL and the Validity Foundation hosted a side event as part of the 14th Session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The event, entitled “Impunity for Investments in Disability Segregation – the Case of the European Union”, focused on access to justice of disabled people in institutions and the role of the EU in maintaining institutions across Europe.

During the event, we heard about insurmountable barriers faced by disabled people and NGOs taking cases to the European Court of Justice. The case of ENIL, Validity Foundation and the Centre for Independent Living Sofia against the European Commission was about individuals being trapped in segregated settings in Bulgaria, and the Court ruled that NGOs like ENIL are not able to take a case on their behalf.

We also heard of other actions been taken to stop Bulgaria from using EU funding to build institutions for disabled people, while claiming to be implementing a deinstitutionalisation strategy. Some of these were legal challenges taken at the national level.

Two complaints against Austria, submitted to the European Commission by Independent Living Austria and ENIL, were also discussed. One complaint relates to the government of Upper-Austria, which is using EU funds to build sheltered workshops and institutions for disabled people. The other complaint is about the region of Tyrol, where children with impairments are being taken from their families and placed in congregated settings. Finally, we heard from the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities how both Estonia and Hungary are replacing large institutions with smaller settings and care villages, where disabled people continue to be segregated from the rest of society.

There was a potentially good development, which came as a result of the UN inquiry report on Hungary under the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. It appears that, following the report, the European Commission asked the Government to suspend a significant investment into a large number of “supported housing” facilities for disabled people and to redirect funding into services that support the right to independent living.

There was a strong emphasis during the event on the fact that EU funds should not be used for segregation of disabled people and that such violations go completely against the letter of Articles 12 and 19 of the CRPD.

In conclusion: it was an enlightening, albeit depressing and sobering hour or so, that revelead that some progress has indeed been made towards deinstitutionalisation, but there still remains a long way to go. It is not entirely clear that the EU nor its Member States are taking the process seriously.

To watch the recording of the side event, please click here.

 Photo shows Jonas Ruskus, Vice-Chair of the CRPD Committee, speaking during the event.