In Brussels, Sofia and Budapest, 17 July 2020 – In high-level communications issued on 11 March 2020, Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, has called on the Government of Bulgaria and the European Commission “to immediately stop the building of a large number of smaller institutions for persons with disabilities and older persons and to adhere to its commitment to deinstitutionalisation”. The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL, the Centre for Independent Living Sofia and the Validity Foundation welcome the communications which raise concerns about the ongoing investment in residential institutions for persons with disabilities, preventing genuine progress towards independent living and in violation of international law.
ENIL, CIL Sofia and the Validity Foundation have initiated Court proceedings against the European Commission at the EU General Court in Luxembourg for failing to halt EU funds’ investments into institutions for 1,020 disabled people in Bulgaria. Launched in September 2019, the case T-613/19 remains pending, with opinions in support of the case submitted by experts on discrimination and EU law, Prof. Gerard Quinn and Prof. Grainne de Burca. The three organisations are represented in the case by Covington LLP, on a pro bono basis.
The two communications by Mr. Pūras are key for understanding States Parties’ obligations under international human rights law which are detailed in a separate annex. Noting that institutionalisation is a form of prima facie discrimination under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he reminds Bulgaria and the European Union that “the obligation not to discriminate is of immediate effect”. He goes on to urge the European Commission to ensure “that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence”.
In a response, the Bulgarian Government claims that “resident care is only provided by exception to care-dependant people with serious disabilities who need transition and a place to live due to long-term institutionalisation, unconcerned or disinterested relatives, or the lack of own home”, adding that disabled people are “provided with personal assistance funding, employment security measures and many other incentives for their full inclusion in society.” ENIL, CIL Sofia and the Validity Foundation reject this assessment, which has little to do with Bulgaria’s reality.
Until now, the European Commission has taken no action to ensure that the funding it provides to Bulgaria is used in compliance with the CRPD and other relevant law. Moreover, it has failed to respond to the Special Rapporteur’s communication and explain how it intends to ensure that European Structural and Investment Funds prevent the replacement of larger institutions with smaller ones, or enable the provision of supports for disabled and older people to live independently – crucial questions asked by Mr. Pūras in his timely communications.
 See, for example: Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED), Country report on Living independently and being included in the community – Bulgaria, 6 May 2019, available at: https://www.disability-europe.net/country/bulgaria and Disability Rights International, “A Dead End for Children – Bulgaria’s Group Homes”, 2019, available at: https://www.driadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/Bulgaria-final-web.pdf
Photo: A group home for children with disabilities in Bulgaria, funded by the European Union. Taken by Disability Rights International.