5 April 2016
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today considered the initial report of Slovakia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Introducing the report, Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Convention had become valid in Slovakia since 2010. The social model of disabilities was now implemented, with the view of ensuring persons with disabilities' full participation in society as independent subjects rather than objects. The Government had designated a focal point for the Convention to coordinate its implementation. The National Programme for the Development of the Living Conditions of Persons with Disabilities prescribed that the authorities had to consult with organizations of persons with disabilities on all issues which affected theM. The Commissioners for the Child and for Persons with Disabilities would be given the right to submit notifications to the relevant United Nations committees.
In the ensuring dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the numerous steps taken by Slovakia to adopt the European Union legislation that promoted the rights of persons with disabilities and the appointment of the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. Concerns remained, however, regarding the issue of multiple discrimination, in particular against women and members of the Roma community with disabilities. Experts raised a number of concerns regarding segregated education, institutionalization and forced sterilization. Other questions were raised with regards to the situation of migrants and asylum seekers with disabilities, access to justice, and data collection mechanisms.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Rosocha said that Slovakia would take into consideration the recommendations by the Committee, and adopt additional measures if necessary to improve the life of persons with disabilities. He reiterated his Government's commitment to continue to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.
The delegation of Slovakia included representatives of the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as well as the Permanent Mission of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The delegation of Slovakia also included two interpreters.
The Committee will resume its work today at 3 p.m., to start its consideration of the initial report of Serbia (CRPD/C/SRB/1).
The initial report of Slovakia can be read here: CRPD/C/SVK/1
Presentation of the Report
FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that health represented the most important value for persons. It was taken for granted by many, and societies seemed to forget persons with disabilities, failing to recognize barriers they had to overcome every day. Persons with disabilities had the same rights as all others. Their protection required a specific approach, and the need to take into account their opinions and positions had to be emphasized. The Convention, as a legally binding international instrument, had become valid in Slovakia since 2010. The social model of disabilities was now implemented in Slovakia, with the view of ensuring disabled people's full participation in society. Slovakia had a human rights based approach towards the issue of disability, seeing persons with disabilities as independent subjects rather than objects.
Slovakia had accepted the term “persons with disabilities” as those who had long-term mental, physical or other disabilities which prevented them from being integrated into society on an equal basis with others. Slovakia had submitted, two years after the ratification of the Convention, in May 2012, its initial report to the Committee. Four years had elapsed since then, and the country had further advanced during that period. Implementation of the Convention had been resolved in 2013, when the Government had approved the proposal to have a designated focal point for the Convention in the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. All central authorities had appointed dedicated persons to communicate with the appointed focal point, thus forming a coordinating mechanisM. The responsibilities of the focal point were to serve as such for the public administration and civil society, disseminate values in society, coordinate all the Ministries of the State administration and local government, follow harmonization domestic legislation with the Convention, and to coordinate with organizations of persons with disabilities, among others.
The National Programme for the Development of the Living Conditions of Persons with Disabilities 2014-2020 had been approved in 2014. The Programme was an open document with main tasks for the six-year period, and was updated every two years. It had been drafted with the participation of a number of experts from different fields, ensuring compatibility between various planned actions. The Programme prescribed that the authorities had to consult with the organizations of persons with disabilities on all issues which affected theM. Such organizations had submitted comments on the drafting of generally abiding regulations on proceedings. The issues related to the involvement of relevant organizations in the creation of critical documents were related primarily to their financial means. It was hoped that an umbrella non-governmental organization would be systematically financed, which was one of the key tasks for 2016. A general or a specialized Ombudsman could be established, said Mr. Rosocha. The creation of a judicial or administrative mechanism would help deal with individual petitions regarding rights guaranteed by the Convention.
Mr. Rosocha informed that the Commissioner for the Child and the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities would be given the right to submit notifications to the relevant United Nations committees on behalf of a child or a person with disabilities. The proposed solution did not touch the jurisdiction of the public defender of rights and in parallel regulated the right of Commissioners in specific fields. The draft law on the Commissioner for the Child and the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities had become effective in September 2015. It was hoped that the upcoming dialogue would be beneficial for Slovakia's new conceptional ideas and perspectives.
Questions by Experts
DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, was impressed by the numerous steps taken by Slovakia to adopt the European Union legislation that promoted the rights of persons with disabilities, especially in relation to violence and torture. She also congratulated Slovakia on the appointment of the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, which was a sign of strong political will and could be a catalyst in bringing national laws, policies and practices into line with the Convention. It was noted that sign language was also recognized in law. Concerns remained regarding the segregation of persons with disabilities in Slovakia and the issue of multiple discrimination, in particular the intersection of disability and gender and ethnic minorities. Gender inequality could not be denied or ignored. Mental capacity and legal capacity were two separate and distinct concepts that should not be conflated, as the Committee's General Comment 1 stated. It was necessary to replace all substituted decision-making with supported decision-making, in line with the Comment.
Ms. Kingston said that Slovakia still had to make a paradigm shift, so that persons with disabilities across their life cycle could be fully included in all aspects of society. Slovakia was yet to establish a truly inclusive education system across the country; segregated schooling for any children, including Roma children, was unacceptable. While the rise in the employment of persons with disabilities was welcome, over 80 per cent of persons with disabilities were still unemployed. Persons with disabilities should be given broader professional opportunities and be free to choose their profession. They should also be free to choose where and with whom they would live. Persons with disabilities, however, were facing significant barriers, be they infrastructure, financial or attitudinal, to live independently and participate fully in the community. Life in institutions put persons with disabilities, especially women and girls, at greater risk of violence and abuse. The fact that courts could still decide on the medical treatment of some persons with disabilities contradicted the right of all such persons to exercise their free and informed consent. Current restrictions on legal capacity prevented persons with disabilities from standing for election. Slovakia should also establish structures to monitor the implementation of the Convention.
An Expert raised the question of the definition of disability, especially mental and intellectual disability. The usefulness of such an assessment was questionable; it was based on a discriminatory, rather than a human rights approach.
What had been the main challenge when it came to dealing with disability awareness in Slovakia, asked another Expert. To what extent had the State party collaborated with civil society organizations? What was the level of involvement of organizations of persons with disabilities in awareness-raising and how was the media in Slovakia portraying those persons?
Another Expert raised the issue of legal provisions of the State party to prevent the new placement of children with disabilities into institutions. Was there a plan to ensure the full deinstitutionalization of such children? The issue of financing alternative care models was brought up.
An Expert asked about the enforcement of accessibility standards. Were there any sanctions if such standards were not implemented? More details were asked about the accessibility of Internet sites, including Government sites. How would the law be improved so that accessibility online was extended to higher education facilities. He wanted to know about details on mobility options in Bratislava, from the airport to the city as well as public and governmental venues. A question was also asked about improving accessibility to railway transport.
An Expert asked whether any mechanism was in place for victims of discrimination to file complaints. Another Expert noted that it was the first time he saw a State party saying that there was no discrimination against women and girls with disabilities, and asked how Slovakia had achieved such a result? Was there any strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities amongst the Roma population? An Expert noted with concern multiple discrimination against Roma persons with disabilities.
An Expert regretted the lack of concrete targets and indicators for assessing the implementation of policies related to persons with disabilities.
Replies by the Delegation
Starting with the definition of a person with disability, a delegate said that the Slovak legislation evaluated a functional disorder exceeding 50 per cent. It was important to keep alternative definitions in order to ensure that policies addressed the needs of all vulnerable populations.
The Anti-Discrimination Act enabled the adoption of affirmative actions for an entire spectrum of disabilities. The evidence burden was reversed in cases of discrimination, which meant that the person accused of discrimination had to prove that no discrimination had taken place. The delegation had no data on the number of complaints filed as regards cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Labour Code prohibited discrimination in the labour market, including against persons with disabilities. The Government was aware that, in spite of Slovakia's progressive legislation, women and girls continued to be disadvantaged in work and public life. There were still significant disparities in many areas in practice. De jure discrimination, however, did not exist anymore, a delegate insisted. Specific measures were adopted to combat multiple discrimination against women and girls with disabilities, including accessible counselling centres. This summer, the Government would launch a call for projects focusing on protection against discrimination, and allocate funding through the European Social Fund.
A Roma Inclusion Strategy had been adopted to respond to the inclusion of the Roma community. The Government would adopt policies to address the vulnerability of Roma communities in the areas of housing, education and health by 2020. A plenipotentiary special office of the Government was working on the inclusion of the Roma community. In addition, specific projects tackled multiple discrimination faced by persons belonging to the Roma community, including women, children and persons with disabilities.
Recently, the Supreme Court had decided for the first time that children with disabilities had the right to inclusive education, referring explicitly to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The School Law was recently amended, and contained a separate article preventing the placement of children coming from socially-disadvantaged environments in special schools for children with mental disabilities. The amended School Law also provided the right to school inspection services to review the medical reports of children with mental disabilities, in case there was suspicion that their diagnosis had not been made in an enabling environment.
Turning to matters of accessibility, a delegate said that indicators had been designed to assess the implementation of policies related to equal access to public services and facilities. New integrated structures would be developed in the future. The Government had adopted a strategic plan for infrastructure, which also covered accessibility issues. All projects funded with European funds had to respect accessibility standards. In March 2014, the Government had harmonized the legislation for the accessibility of public files, and for regulating the standards for accessibility of public web pages. In September 2016, a National Programme would be adopted, urging the private sector to make their websites accessible to persons with disabilities.
Since 2008, children with disabilities were in priority placed in social protection facilities. Deinstitutionalization had been funded with 6.6 million Euros, and from the European Social Fund up to 17.78 million Euros. Slovakia had 66 State-run and 25 private institutions, from which 13 were focusing on children with disabilities. Eighty-four children were placed in care families.
The National Programme for the Condition of Persons with Disabilities contained measures aimed at raising awareness on the situation of persons with disabilities. It required the national television and media to provide accessible content. The National Council for Broadcasting monitored the use of sign language or subtitles. The Ministry of Education had developed ethic education that included disability issues. Many school activities guided children to understand the issues of persons with disabilities. Various education programmes involved children with disabilities and encouraged them to spend time with other children.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked whether an act of denial of reasonable accommodation was considered as discrimination under the Slovak legislation. An Expert referred to recommendations made to Slovakia by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women with regards to the situation of women with disabilities, women in institutions and women belonging to sexual minorities.
An Expert asked whether Slovakia had a long-term plan to move away from a guardianship system towards the exercise by persons with disabilities of their legal capacity on an equal basis with others.
A Committee Member raised the issues of the use of forced sterilization and forced institutionalization against Roma persons with disabilities.
Referring to the current migration crisis, an Expert asked what was Slovakia doing with regards to refugees with disabilities. Could irregular migrants with disabilities be placed into detention centres? What was the Government planning to end such detention?
The delegation was asked a question relating to the monitoring of the spending of European Union funds with regards to infrastructure.
Had Slovakia adopted a due diligence framework to prevent, investigate, prosecute and compensate for violence against women and girls with disabilities? What measures had been adopted to ensure the protection of victims?
Turning to access to justice, an Expert asked for information regarding the accessibility of judicial facilities, and regarding the use of brail during proceedings. Another Expert asked how many persons with disabilities were involved with the justice system, and whether legal personnel received training on disability issues.
Replies by the Delegation
The Constitution provided that women, young persons and persons with disabilities had the right to increased protection at work and increased assistance and preparation for employment. The right to reasonable accommodation would be explicitly included in the Slovakian legislation.
Turning to disaster situations, a delegate said that the vulnerability of persons with disabilities was taken into consideration for the mobilization in response to natural disasters. Rescue units had been trained and sensitized on the specific needs of persons with disabilities.
The Slovak legislation on asylum referenced international and European law, a delegate said. A recent legal amendment incorporated European Union directives on joint measures for international and legal protection. The amendments had changed the process of review of applications and the needs of persons with disabilities had been taken into account.
Cases of sterilization of women had been identified before the year 2000, when the health sector's paternalistic approach prevailed. The rights of patients at the time were not recognized as they were today. The law had been amended to ensure that sterilization could only be conducted based on a written application and informed consent, after the patient was fully informed on consequences and alternative procedures. The sterilization could not be carried out until 30 days after the submission of the informed consent, leaving the applicant with enough time to rethink the decision. Although informed consent could be provided by a legal representative, the concerned person had to be involved in the decision-making process.
The Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities monitored the situation of persons with disabilities in society, and adherence to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other related legislation. The Commissioner also had the capacity to visit places of detention and police facilities, where persons with disabilities may be detained.
Turning to access to justice, a delegate said that the Slovak Centre for Human Rights had the mandate to act on behalf of persons discriminated against, and could represent them in court, free of charge. In case of suspicion of discrimination, the person concerned had the right to contact the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. Persons with disabilities had the right to free legal counsel and legal advice if their income was below a certain threshold. Sign language interpreters had to be provided during criminal investigations. There were only a few sign language interpreters in Slovakian courts, and the State had to continue its efforts.
Slovakia had signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence (the “Istanbul Convention”) and was implementing a national action plan on this issue. The Government was currently preparing a special act on the prevention and elimination of gender-conditioned domestic violence. It was also preparing a campaign of sensitization against sexual violence. A national hotline had been launched for women victims of violence. It received on average 600 calls every day.
The collection of data on sexual orientation or on ethnicity was only possible in an anonymized forM. The collection of data on disabilities was easier, as information was registered during the issuance of special certificates for persons with disabilities. In order to adopt efficient temporary affirmative actions, it was necessary to know the actual situation of the disadvantaged groups, a delegate noted.
Questions by the Experts
With regards to accessibility, an Expert asked for information regarding the provision of reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities in mainstream schools, including awareness-raising. The delegation was also asked about the accessibility of electoral campaigns and about the right to vote of persons with disabilities. Was the Government planning to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled?
A Committee Member asked a question about subsidies for independent living and social security benefits for persons with disabilities. There were restrictions concerning their continuous payment, she noted, asking whether benefits fully covered the needs of persons with disabilities living in poverty.
An Expert raised several questions with regards to measures taken to ensure the participation and representation of persons with disabilities in politics.
A Committee Member asked about the level of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market, and asked whether Slovakia had indicators or quotas with regards to employment.
Experts raised questions regarding the collection of data and mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the State's policies on disability issues. An Expert asked for indicators demonstrating that the gap between persons with disabilities and others was decreasing in relation to standards of living. Another question pertained to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and to cooperation with organizations of persons with disabilities in that regard.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to questions on accessible education, a delegate said that funding of mainstream schools and schools for students with disabilities was not bound for specific purposes, meaning that the Government did not have data on it to compare specifically the funding of mainstream and specialized schools. In 2015, there were 25,611 pupils with disabilities in specialized classes in mainstream schools. Slovakia was issuing journals, documents and also textbooks in Braille. It was possible to rent books in Braille in libraries.
With regards to the accessibility of electoral campaigns, a delegate informed that persons with disabilities could vote through “portable election boxes” at home.
With regards to the labour market, persons with disabilities could file complaints to the Centre of Labour Social Affairs in cases of discrimination. The Office of Labour provided support and education for persons with disabilities to find a job. The delegation referred to the project of the “sheltered workplace”, aimed at promoting persons with disabilities' access to the labour market.
Issues relating to shared competences between the European Union and its Member States had to be clarified before Slovakia could move on towards ratifying the “Marrakech Treaty”.
Slovakia was currently working on the interconnection of its data collection systems. A report by the Statistics Office had selected indicators of persons with disabilities.
The delegation listed very precisely the various amounts of allowances for assistance of people with disabilities, for example for the provision of a dog or a wheelchair. In 2015, total State benefits had accounted for a budget of 231 million Euros.
FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for this opportunity to discuss and learn which best practices could best address the needs of persons with disabilities, and what challenges had to be overcome. Slovakia had approached this dialogue in a spirit of openness and cooperation. It would take into consideration the recommendations by the Committee, and adopt additional measures if necessary to improve the life of persons with disabilities. In conclusion, he reiterated his Government's commitment to continue to pursue a consistent policy to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.