Brussels, 10 August 2020 – Poland has invested over 7 million EUR of European Regional and Development Fund (ERDF) on institutional settings for persons with disabilities, in violation of international human rights law. The case represents a further example of significant levels of EU funds being used to segregate persons with disabilities and violating their rights.
The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL and Validity Foundation submitted a formal complaint against these investments which are being used in Poland to construct, renovate, extend or modernise the institutional care facilities for persons with disabilities, including some with up to 80 or 90 residents. The investments took place within the framework of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and were managed by the Łódzkie Voivodeship Managing Authority.
The investments are going ahead despite binding international obligations on Poland and the European Union to end institutionalisation of persons with disabilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU anti-discrimination law.
The complaint focuses on one of the 16 voivodeships in Poland and only highlights a small number of examples that could be identified in this voivodeship, given the very limited public data about projects which have been funded through European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). ENIL and Validity are concerned that there are highly likely to be additional projects that involve investments in institutional care facilities for persons with disabilities, both within Łódzkie and across other voivodeships. The fact that such investments have been detected suggests a widescale problem in terms of ensuring that EU funding is never used to perpetuate human rights violations.
The submitting organisations obtained documentation for eight projects in the Łódzkie Voivodeship, some of them having already been completed, some currently under implementation, a number that have not yet started, and other cases where the state of implementation is unknown. All of these projects are being used to construct, renovate, extend or modernise institutional facilities.
With the adoption of the CRPD in 2006, governments around the world recognised that that institutional care settings deny persons with disabilities the right to live independently and to be included in the community and, as such, should be phased out in favour of providing community-based support schemes. The UN disability rights committee, which oversees implementation of the Convention, set out clear and authoritative guidance on the matter in its General Comment No 5 on Article 19 of the CRPD, pointing out that states must end the practice of financing institutions, regardless of their size, or investing in their construction, renovation or expansion. Poland was reviewed by the CRPD Committee in 2018 and was already criticised for “spending of European Union funds allocated to deinstitutionalization on measures that are not consistent with the Convention”.
All of the projects mentioned in the complaint will result in serious human rights violations of persons with disabilities in Poland. The investments themselves will reinforce the segregation, exclusion and discrimination of this group of individuals, thus denying them access to the right to living independently and being in the community. Such investments therefore violate the CRPD as well as European law, particularly in light of the fact that the European Union is also a contracting party to the disability rights convention and is therefore also bound to ensure its proper implementation.
ENIL and Validity Foundation have brought the complaint with the purpose of calling on the European Commission to take action against the Łódzkie Voivodeship, such as launching infringement proceedings. The organisations believe that there is a strong legal basis for this to happen, as the right of persons with disabilities to independent living, and protection from discrimination, are among the common values of the EU and enshrined in law. The complaint also follows a number of other instances where EU funding appears to being used in breach international disability rights law, including in Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary. In the latter case, the United Nations found the state responsible for grave and systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities in that country for investing in the expansion of the institutional care system, drawing on extensive EU funding.
Notes to the editors:
The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) is a Europe-wide network of disabled people, with members throughout Europe. ENIL’s vision is of Europe where all disabled people are able to exercise choice and control over their lives, on an equal level with others; where they are valued members of the community and can enjoy all of their human rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). ENIL’s mission is to advocate and lobby for Independent Living values, principles and practices, namely for a barrier-free environment, provision of personal assistance support and adequate technical aids, together making full citizenship of disabled people possible. ENIL’s activities target European, national and local administrations, politicians, media, and the general society. See: www.enil.eu
Validity Foundation is an international non-governmental organisation which deploys legal strategies to promote, protect and defend the human of rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Established in 2002, Validity is headquartered in Budapest, Hungary, and works with a network of human rights litigators and defenders across Europe and Africa to conduct strategic litigation to promote systemic reforms. For more information, visit www.validity.ngo.