COE Commissioner for Human Rights Publishes Issue Paper on the Right to Independent Living

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammerberg published an Issue Paper entitled “The Right Of People With Disabilities To Live Independently And Be Included In The Community”.  This Issue Paper Follows On From One On Legal Capacity Published Last Month Entitled “Who Gets to Decide? Right to Legal Capacity for Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities”.  Issue Papers are commissioned and published by the Commissioner for Human Rights, to contribute to debate and reflection on important current human rights issues. Many of them also include Recommendations by the Commissioner for addressing the concerns identified. The Commissioner in this Issue Paper made a number of important recommendations on how States can realise the right to independent living.   The Issue Paper identifies the right to live in the community as enabling people to live their lives to their fullest within society and access the public sphere and as “… a foundational platform for all other rights: a precondition for anyone to enjoy all their human rights is that they are within and among the community”.   The Issue Paper very much is based on the emerging discourse being generated by Article 19 of the CRPD, which captures the right to live independently in the community as a distinct right. The Issue Paper also makes a number of references to the synergy between Article 19 of the CRPD and Article 12 on legal capacity and the right to live independently in the community is closely allied to fundamental rights such as personal liberty, private and family life and freedom from ill-treatment or punishment etc.

The Issue Paper sets out that living independently involves the provision of support and that full inclusion and participation in the community involves different elements that include:

  • choice
  • individualised supports that promote inclusion and prevent isolation and
  • making services for the general public accessible to people with disabilities.

The Commissioner expressed concern that “millions of people with disabilities in Council of Europe member states are denied the right to live in the community. Placement in institutions, still affecting the lives of more than a million people with disabilities across Council of Europe countries, is a pervasive violation of this right which calls for a firm commitment to deinstitutionalisation. Many more are isolated within their own communities due to inaccessibility of facilities such as schools, health care and transportation and lack of community-based support schemes.”  This Issue Paper is timely then as the CRPD is driving a worldwide disability law and policy reform agenda.  This provides an opportunity for States across Europe to promote the right to live in the community and participate and contribute to their communities. 

From a mental health perspective it is noteworthy that the Commissioner in the Issue Paper identifies mental illness as a factor as contributing to institutionalisation and subject to detention and forcible treatment.  The Commissioner also referred to Article 14 of the CRPD as countering this by prohibiting “deprivation of liberty on the basis of a disability”. 

In order to ensure the effective enjoyment of the right to live in the community for people with disabilities, the Commissioner for Human Rights urged Council of Europe member states to take the following action:

  1. ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
  2. review their legislation and policy in the light of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with a view to ensuring that everyone with disabilities enjoys an effective right to live independently and be included in the community, irrespective of the nature of the impairment.
  3. ensure that all people with disabilities have the legal capacity to make decisions, including those affecting their right to live independently and to be included in the community, through appropriate supported decision-making if needed.2
  4. adopt a no-admissions policy to prevent new placements of persons with disabilities in institutional settings.
  5. set deinstitutionalisation as a goal and develop a transition plan for phasing out institutional options and replacing them with community-based services, with measurable targets, clear timetables and strategies to monitor progress.
  6. allocate the necessary budgetary and other resources towards community-based supports rather than institutional placement and services, in accordance with the principle of progressive realisation.
  7. ensure that the process of transition to community-based services and supports does not fall short of achieving full implementation of the right to live in the community, recognising that smaller institutions or segregated frameworks and mechanisms, such as congregate care, even when physically placed in the community, do not satisfy the conditions set in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  8. develop and implement a plan for services such as personal assistance, housing, support in finding a job, life planning, and support to family, which prevent isolation within the community, and which ensure that a person’s support needs do not compromise their full and equal participation and inclusion in society.
  9. develop and implement a plan to support families who have a child with a disability to enable the child a full life within family and community and prevent isolation and institutionalisation.
  10. define a statutory and enforceable individual entitlement to a level of support which is necessary to ensure one’s dignity and ability to be included in the community.
  11. review the nature and purpose of services offered to persons with disabilities with a view to enabling them to lead the life they prefer, by maximising their choice and control of support services and by avoiding bundling such services in a way which compromises that choice.
  12. enable persons with disabilities to purchase their own supports and access housing in the general housing market.
  13. critically examine the inclusiveness of community services for the general population with a view to making these services responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities.
  14. ensure monitoring by independent national mechanisms of the human rights of residents of institutions until institutions are phased out, and of the human rights of people using community support services, including the quality and accessibility of community-based schemes and supports.
  15. ensure that persons with disabilities and their representative organisations are involved and participate fully in planning, carrying out and monitoring the implementation of the right to live in the community. 
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