Brussels and Budapest, 23 July 2020 – Two senior United Nations (UN) experts have expressed concern about numerous instances of EU funding being used to finance the maintenance and expansion of institutions for persons with disabilities across the continent, in violation of international human rights law.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, wrote jointly to European Commission President Ms. Ursula van der Leyen to express their “serious concern” that European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) “continue to be used to maintain the out-dated, discriminatory and dangerous practice of institutionalization, including in smaller facilities” of persons with disabilities in a number of European Union (EU) countries.

The Special Rapporteurs go on to point out that “institutional settings have become COVID-19 hotspots” and that “[the] building and sustaining of institutions, whether large or small, stand in direct contravention of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD], including particularly the rights to non-discrimination and living independently in the community,” noting that placing persons with disabilities in such setting places them at greater risk of other serious human rights violations including neglect, restraint, isolation and violence.

Underpinning their arguments, the Special Rapporteurs reminded Ms. van der Leyen that the EU and all 27 Member States had ratified the CRPD, giving rise to binding legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of persons with disabilities, and called on the Commission President to “implement robust policies to stop funding that is used to build smaller institutions for persons with disabilities,” which should instead be redirected to achieving genuine inclusion and support for people to live independently. They pointed out that:

By continuing to provide financial support to projects that promote and entrench the institutionalization of persons with disabilities, the European Commission endorses, legitimises and actively contributes to the continuation of the medical model of disability, thus undermining the progress achieved with the adoption of the CRPD, and encourages states to maintain out-dated, ineffective and discriminatory frameworks that violate the rights of persons with disabilities.

The communication comes shortly after separate communications were sent by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Dainius Pūras, to the Government of Bulgaria and the European Commission about an ESIF-funded scheme in that country to build small institutions for over 1,000 people with disabilities in that country. The Commission’s financing of the Bulgarian scheme is currently subject to litigation before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The Validity Foundation and the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) welcome the latest communication to the European Commission which again highlights a systematic failure on the part of the Commission to prevent EU funding from contributing to widespread and grave human rights violations. As the evidence continues to mount, Validity and ENIL calls on the European Commission to take decisive action at the highest level to prevent further rights violations, to redirect funding to the provision of genuine community-based services, and to provide reparations to people with disabilities who have been placed in such settings.