In Romania: Disabled People were found left to starve, without food or care in “Nazi camps-style” care centres. Image of an end in the shadow.

In Brussels, 18 July 2021

The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL is appalled by the series of media reports about horrendous human rights abuses in Romania’s institutions for disabled people. This is the result of a continued refusal by the Romanian Government to move away from institutional care and develop services that will allow children, disabled and older people to live in their own homes in the community, with adequate independent living support.

The evidence presented in reports by investigative journalists concerns a series of privately run institutions accommodating disabled people and older disabled people. While the providers are private, the funding comes from the state through funding allocated per service user. The institutions at the centre of the scandal accommodate a smaller number of users and are located in the community. They are the textbook example of an inadequate deinstitutionalisation process, in violation of international human rights law, whereby disabled people are being placed into smaller institutions, under the pretext of “community living”.

Since 2007, ENIL has called on the Romanian authorities and the European Commission to move away from a system of institutional care, which sees children, adults and older people locked up in various types of institutions. Rather than ensuring that everyone in need of support can receive it in their own home, Romania has opted for moving people – including children – into different types of institutions, “in the community”. Many of these have been funded by the European Union. Although this time there is no evidence that institutions at the centre of the media reports have received EU funds, similar settings have been (and are being) financed by the European Union.

Until now, the European Commission has refused to take action to ensure that Romania’s deinstitutionalisation reforms are in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This would require developing services such as personal assistance, access to mainstream housing, the introduction of supported-decision making, among other, rather than building new institutions – not dissimilar to those at the centre of this most recent scandal.

Instead of ensuring that EU funds facilitate access to independent living, the European Commission has informed ENIL in 2020 that “there is no general and absolute prohibition for the ESI Funds to support long-stay institutions” in Romania, and that “focus should rather be put on assessing the existence of an institutional character and the lack of independent living in a residential setting”.

The revelations of abuses in Romania’s institutions are nothing new. In fact, across the European Union, similar reports, of abuses and deaths in institutions, come out every single month. We therefore wish to remind the Romanian Government and the EU institutions that:

  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that all institutions are closed down, without exception, and replaced with a range of community-based services that will allow all disabled people to live in their own homes with the support they need. As explained in the Guidelines on deinstitutionalisation, including in Emergencies, deinstitutionalisation processes should aim at ending all forms of institutionalisation, isolation and segregation of disabled people.
  • Small group homes, sheltered or protected housing, family-type homes and similar residential facilities are still institutions. Institutionalisation must never be considered a form of protection of disabled people, or a “choice”.
  • Institutions, of any size and regardless of location, are a breeding ground for abuse, corruption, trafficking, and the only way to ensure that the rights of disabled people are respected, without discrimination, is by ensuring they have a right to live independently in the community, as defined in Article 19 of the CRPD and its General Comments.
  • There must be no investment in residential care institutions. Instead, Member States and the European Union must ensure that any state, private or EU funds are used to guarantee disabled people’s enjoyment of the right to independent living – by expanding the system of community-based support and improving access of all disabled people to mainstream services.
  • There is an urgent need to support organisations of disabled people, such as Centres for Independent Living, to promote and support the delivery of personal assistance and peer support services, among other. Equally, disabled people and their representative organisations, including survivors of institutionalisation, must be fully involved in the planning and implementation of deinstitutionalisation processes, monitor progress and oversee access by disabled people to the right to live independently in the community.

For additional information, please contact: Ines Bulić Cojocariu, Director, European Network on Independent living,