GENEVA (22 August 2017) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Latvia on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Ingus Alliks, State Secretary, Ministry of Welfare of Latvia, introducing the report, explained that Latvia had ratified the Convention and its Protocol eight years ago, but the transformation in thinking according to the spirit of the Convention had started much earlier, so today, all policy documents reflected the commitment to promote equality and non-discrimination by adequate legislative changes. Steps were being taken to ensure the rights in practice by introducing new enabling services to apply a social and human rights based approach to disability, and to gradually transition from long-term institutional care to community-based services. The improvements made over the past decade included the introduction of services of assistants, expansion of the municipal social services and the increased accessibility to the public transport, while the 2013 amendments to the civil law, drafted in cooperation with representative organizations of persons with disabilities, abolished the full restriction of legal capacity. The level of social transfers for persons with disabilities had been maintained despite the economic and financial crisis, and Latvia remained committed to eliminating stereotypes, providing inclusive education, and increasing the number of persons with disabilities living independently within the community.
The Ombudsman of Latvia, the independent monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presented the alternative report submitted to the Committee, noting that in 2010, Parliament had delegated the Ombudsman to be the independent monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Convention.
In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts commended Latvia for the efforts taken to implement the Convention to develop social services and for the adoption of the action plan for deinstitutionalization. Still, concern remained about the deficit-based approach to disability which understood it as a medical condition and promoted an image of a person with disabilities as “lacking”. Discriminatory legal provisions persisted, particularly in relation to legal capacity, while in practice, courts applied substituted decision-making rather than legal alternatives to the restriction of legal capacity and supported decision-making. The Experts regretted that the forced institutionalization of persons with intellectual disabilities was legal, adding that the high number of deaths in social care institutions for adults and children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities was of great concern. The deinstitutionalization process was very slow and the municipal commitment to the process was lacking; Latvia should not to miss out on the great opportunity for the development of independent living that the deinstitutionalization process – and the corresponding support of the European Union - represented. Other issues raised included the lack of inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in decision making processes; efforts to combat prejudices, harmful practices and negative stereotypes against persons with disabilities; the continued use of special schools for the education of children with disabilities; and accessibility and the application of universal design.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Alliks said that Latvia was looking forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations and incorporating them in the next action plan under the Guidelines for the implementation of the Convention 2018 to 2020.
Juris Jansons, Ombudsman of Latvia, in closing, stressed that the State must not hide behind local municipalities in the fulfilment of its duty and recognized the Government’s genuine wish to improve the situation of the people in Latvia and implement the Convention.
Jonas Ruskus, Committee Rapporteur for Latvia, urged Latvia to consult the Committee’s General Comments on supported decision-making and on the rights of women and girls with disabilities in the context of further development of the anti-discrimination legislation. Latvia should develop a comprehensive disability accessibility action plan with indicators and timelines as defined in the General Comment N°2.
The delegation of Latvia included representatives of the Ministry of Welfare, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Economy, Road Transport Administration, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, National Centre for Education, Ministry of Justice, State Police and the Permanent Mission of Latvia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee’s public meetings in English, Spanish, and Russian with closed captioning and International Sign Language, are webcast at http://webtv.un.org/
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 22 August, to begin its consideration of the initial report of Luxembourg (CRPD/C/LUX/1).
The initial report of Latvia can be read here: CRPD/C/LVA/1.
Presentation of the Report
INGUS ALLIKS, State Secretary, Ministry of Welfare of Latvia, introducing the report, explained that it had been prepared with representative organizations of persons with disabilities, three of which had submitted their alternative reports to the Committee to raise issues of particular concern. The Ministry of Welfare was the focal point for the implementation of the Convention, while the Office of the Ombudsman was in charge of monitoring the implementation. Latvia had ratified the Convention and its Protocol eight years ago, but the transformation in thinking according to the spirit of the Convention had started much earlier, said Mr. Alliks. Today, all policy documents reflected the commitment to promote equality and non-discrimination by adequate legislative changes, to endure the rights in practice by introducing new enabling services, and to apply a social and human rights based approach, thus moving away from the medical approach. The main policy document was the guidelines for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2014 to 2020 and its shorter-term action plans, however disability-related aspects and measures were included in all other major policy guidelines and plans, for example the development of social services, professional social work, inclusive labour market and inclusive education, and health care development. At the same time, Latvia was undertaking a gradual transition from long-term institutional care to community-based services.
The introduction of services of assistants, expansion of the municipal social services, as well as improved accessibility to the public transport system represented some of the improvements made over the past decade. Another important area of work was related to personal legal capacity, as Latvia, with the support of representative organizations of persons with disabilities, had drafted the amendments to the Civil Law which abolished the full restriction of the legal capacity, and which had entered into force in 2013. Targeted and tailored labour market measures had been introduced to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the world of work, while the law on social entrepreneurship should be adopted in the near future, thus allowing the social businesses to apply for financial support. Mr. Alliks clarified that those and other initiatives were supported by the European Union Structural Funds, whereby one of the horizontal principles was ensuring equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Latvia had signed the Convention just a few months before the outset of the most serious economic crisis since its independence, which had affected most people and most institutions. Despite the broad consolidation of expenditures, the Government had managed not only to keep unchanged the level of social transfers for persons with disabilities but also to introduce new services and to increase social security benefits for persons with disabilities since childhood. The disability policy funding amounted to €175 million for pensions and benefits and another €175 million were spent for other services; so far this year €1.1 million had been spent on labour market measures for the employment of persons with disabilities. The funding for technical assistive devices had increased from €2.3 million in 2010 to €7.2 million in 2016. In closing, Mr. Alliks reiterated the commitment of Latvia to reducing the gaps between persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities and said it was conscious of the need for closer inter-institutional cooperation in order to raise awareness, increase the scope of specific services to support persons with disabilities, and improve the accessibility of general public services. This was a precondition to eliminating stereotypes, providing inclusive education, and increasing the number of persons with disabilities living independently within the community.
JURIS JANSONS, Ombudsman of Latvia, said that in 2010, Parliament had delegated the Ombudsman to be the independent monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Mr. Jansons noted that in some instances, the collaboration with the Government had been efficient, while in others, the responsible institutions had not taken into account the recommendations made. Those and other issues were outlined in the Ombudsman’s alternative report to the Committee.
Questions from the Committee Experts
JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Latvia, commended the Government for its initial report in which it had incorporated critical perspectives from organizations of persons with disabilities, and thanked those organizations for their alternative reports which presented an excellent picture of what was happening on the ground. The Rapporteur commended the adoption of the action plan for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the framework document for the development of social services and the action plan for deinstitutionalization, and noted with satisfaction that the promotion of universal design had made some historical and resort areas of the country accessible to persons with disabilities.
Still, there were considerable challenges that persons with disabilities faced in enjoying their right to live on an equal basis with others, said Mr. Ruskus.
Disability was still understood as a medical condition and not a human rights issue, as evidenced by the disability assessment procedure which still prioritized a medical approach and led to the categorization and graduation of persons’ capacities and suitability to work, thereby promoting an image of a person with disabilities as “lacking”.
The deficit-based approach to disability in legislation and society raised other concerns such as a charity approach to children with disabilities perpetuated through television fundraising campaigns, while discriminatory provisions in the law persisted, particularly those allowing temporary guardianship and partial legal capacity, in direct contravention of article 12 of the Convention. In practice, courts generally applied substituted decision-making due to a lack of understanding of legal alternatives to the restriction of legal capacity, such as supported decision-making mechanisms. In this vein, the Rapporteur commended the organizations of persons with disabilities for their initiatives and projects on supported decision-making mechanisms.
Institutionalization was another discriminatory issue in the country. The Law on Social Services and Social Assistance still allowed the forced institutionalization of persons with intellectual disabilities and of particular concern was the high number of deaths in social care institutions for adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. How many investigations had been undertaken in those deaths and what were the prosecution outcomes?
The institutionalization of children with disabilities in long-term social care centres continued to be an issue of great concern; it was due to the lack of community-based early intervention and other services that children with disabilities and their families needed.
The progress of deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities was very slow, and there were allegations of residents being transferred between institutions under the guise of deinstitutionalization. There was a lack of commitment by municipalities to the deinstitutionalization process, and they had very limited knowledge about the right to independent living. The European Social Fund provided large support for deinstitutionalization and there was no excuse to miss the great opportunity for the development of independent living in Latvia, stressed the Rapporteur.
The majority of children with disabilities attended special schools or were oriented towards home schooling as a permanent solution owing to the lack of reasonable accommodation and accessibility in the majority of mainstream schools. Women and girls with disabilities were invisible in the national legislation and policies, and in laws related to disability and anti-discrimination.
The Washington Group short set of questions must be included into the government analytical framework, including statistical analysis and research.
A Committee Expert raised serious concern about the lack of inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision making processes and about the refusal by some organizations to take part in the National Disability Council. Specifically, how did women with disabilities participate in decision making and which measures were in place to prevent discrimination against women with disabilities on any ground?
Awareness raising was one way to enable persons with disabilities to live comfortably in their communities. What monitoring mechanisms were in place to ensure that awareness raising activities really influenced the degree of existing prejudices and stereotypes against persons with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities?
What was the plan to harmonize the definition of disability with the Convention and ensure that it reflected a human rights-based approach rather than a medical approach? How many complaints of disability-related discrimination had been registered and what were their outcomes?
Another Expert asked about measures taken to combat prejudices, harmful practices and negative stereotypes against persons with disabilities. How was information and communication technology being used to provide information to persons with disabilities? What were the intentions concerning the recognition of sign language?
Experts commended Latvia for recognizing the denial of reasonable accommodation as a disability-based discrimination, but only in the area of employment and labour relations. Were there any plans to expand this ground for discrimination to other areas of life?
Were there cases of sanctions issued to persons or companies that failed to comply with accessibility norms and standards? How was accessibility and universal design integrated in the training of engineers and architects? The delegation was asked to explain how accessible the capital, Riga, was to a wheelchair user.
With regard to the participation of persons with disabilities in policy formulation and implementation, Experts noted that the newly formed National Council on Disability Affairs had been given very wide ranging responsibilities. How did it work with representative organizations of persons with disabilities? What was the working relationship between the Ministry of Welfare as a focal point for the implementation of the Convention and persons with disabilities and their organizations?
The delegation was asked to comment on the compatibility between the disability classification system and the definition of disability in the Convention, and to explain how the Government had engaged with representative organizations of persons with disabilities in the preparation of the report to the Committee and in drafting disability policy.
How many complaints for disability-based discrimination had been filed, including for intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination? Was there data available on remedies awarded to complainants?
Children with disabilities living with the family did not have a right to assistive devices unless they lived in an institution – was this true and if so, how would it be amended to ensure the same rights to children with disabilities living with their families?
To what extent were accessibility standards based on internationally recognized standards?
On the right to life, an Expert noted that the report had provided the number of deaths in institutions in 2015, without providing additional information such as on the cause of death, inquiries undertaken and their outcomes.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, remarked that all States had an obligation to prevent multiple discrimination that women with disabilities suffered and inquired about the specific programmes to advance and empower women with disabilities. What progress had been made in the reduction of special schools and the introduction of inclusive education since the ratification of the Convention?
JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Latvia, inquired about the assessment of disability and the certification of disability process, particularly for persons with intellectual disabilities. How was disability in children assessed and certified?
Response by the Delegation
In a general comment on the questions raised, a delegate said that the Convention defined the transition from the medical approach towards a social model focusing on the rights of persons with disabilities and Latvia was following this approach by gradually changing the determination of disability, introducing new services, and deinstitutionalization. Any discrimination on the grounds of disability was prohibited and persons with disabilities enjoyed equal protection under the law. The protection against disability-based discrimination was included in several laws, not only in labour legislation. Awareness about persons with disabilities had been changing gradually following the ratification of the Convention, with different State and municipal bodies carrying out various awareness raising activities.
With regard to the determination of disability, the delegation confirmed that the process was implemented by the health and medical commission which graduated disability at three levels. Since 2013, various social criteria and the ability to function in a community were included in the assessment. Currently, discussions were taking place to expand the process even more towards the social inclusion part. Prior to 2014, only medical doctors had been part of the assessment, whereas today social workers, occupational therapists and psychologists were members as well.
The National Disability Council had been established in 2007; its mandate and functions would be updated soon to better reflect the inclusive approach and the Convention. The Minister of Welfare chaired the Council which gathered together several other ministries, the Paralympic Committee, several organizations of persons with disabilities, the confederation of employers, non-governmental organizations and others. Every year, no less than four Council meetings took place during which several topics, often suggested by representative organizations of persons with disabilities, were discussed, with a view to finding solutions.
The guidelines on environmental accessibility had been developed in 2011 which were publicly available on the website of more than 25 institutions; this year, the guidelines would be revised. The State supported the use and development of sign language, as prescribed by the law on languages.
The media ombudsman would be established in 2018, to raise professionalism and ethics in the media and to which anyone could turn for the lack of ethics in the media. The delegation explained that no campaign on children with disabilities was developed without the consent of children with disabilities and their families, and took note of the comments that the Experts made concerning its ethical side and how they portrayed children with disabilities.
The overall number of persons with disabilities had increased in recent years, and for both sexes proportionally. As of 2014, all victims of violence were entitled to social assistance which had to be provided in line with the individual assessment of the person’s needs and resources. Approximately four per cent of victims were women with disabilities. Children with disabilities were the priority group for the provision of assistive devices, regardless of whether they were in institutions or with their families.
The Government-funded assistant services could be provided to children with disabilities as of the age of five, but recently, more services for younger children had been provided with the support of the European Union Structural Funds.
The delegation said that the number of deaths among children with disabilities in institutions had decreased from 13 in 2010 to two in 2016; the reduction in the number of deaths among persons with disabilities in institutions was being observed as well.
As far as schooling of children with disabilities was concerned, a delegate explained that children with disabilities were defined as learners with special needs. One of the main goals of the latest policy document, the education development guidelines 2014-2020, was to define high quality inclusive education and inclusion in education was one of the priorities. There was still a considerable number of special schools in Latvia – 56 in 2017 – but the number of children with special needs in those schools was constantly decreasing. Of the 705 mainstream schools, education was provided for children with special needs in 450 schools, and the number of children with special needs in mainstream schools was on the increase every year. Additionally, there were 12 special schools or the so-called development centres, which provided professional education for mainstream school teachers.
The Ministry of Economics was in charge of the implementation of the construction policy, which was developed in cooperation with other institutions, academia and non-governmental organizations, and it included environmental accessibility. The basic framework for environment accessibility was included in the construction law and policy, and State construction standards. Riga International Airport had been recently rebuilt and was now accessible. The capital was also rebuilding its streets, which were being made accessible.
The law on public transport defined that it must be available to every member of the society. Standards had been developed which must be fully implemented by 2022 and 2024 for the regional and city lines, respectively. In Riga, 74 per cent of the public transport was accessible.
Currently, the Ministry of Finance was carrying out an audit on public services, in which the accessibility of services and information was included. Recommendations would be issued at the end of the process on how to remove the barriers and increase accessibility to public services.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In the second round of questions, Committee Experts noted that access to justice seemed to be reduced to the issues of communication and physical access, but the Committee was more interested in learning about what legal assistance was available to persons with disabilities whose rights were violated.
What measures were in place to enable persons with disabilities to fully access the justice system, including to physically access the facilities and information?
Who paid for sign language translation during judicial procedures involving persons with disabilities? How were persons with disabilities or their organizations involved in defining the qualification for sign language interpreters?
What were the possibilities for a person with disabilities to live independently in the society with regard to housing, self-dignity and being able to sustain oneself?
Exploitation, violence and abuse were frightening words but they happened in all countries. Therefore, laws and policies countering such phenomena were a must. What was the situation in Latvia and what measures were being taken to ensure access to justice to persons with disabilities, particularly women, children and the elderly with disabilities who suffered violence and abuse?
The delegation was asked to inform on the process of deinstitutionalization versus the placement of persons with disabilities in group homes which in reality amounted to institutionalization. What process was in place to ensure that persons with disabilities received technical assisted devices in line with their personal needs and not as recommended by a medical doctor?
Experts remarked that there was no database on violence against persons with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities and children with disabilities in institutions, and asked about the plans to put in place such a database.
Persons with so-called mental impairments could be held in institutions for 30 days. What did “mental impairment” mean and what measures were in place to ensure that the period of 30 days was not extended indefinitely?
There were 2,357 people lacking legal capacity in Latvia, which was very high – what steps were being taken to put in place the supported decision-making process?
Latvia was asked to explain how it was using the €90 million from the European Union Structural Funds to bring about changes in the institutionalization of persons with disabilities, and why those activities included only persons with mental and intellectual disabilities and not persons with physical disabilities.
How were persons with disabilities included in the planning and preparedness for disaster in line with the Sendai framework?
How much money was allocated to support persons with disabilities to live independently in the community, and how much was allocated to the support and maintenance of institutions?
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, noted that the new guardianship law of 2013 did not fully comply with the Convention as it introduced the institution of guardianship – what plans were in place to replace substituted decision-making with supported decision-making? Based on impairment and perceived danger, it was possible to forcibly institutionalize persons with disabilities, said the Chair and urged Latvia to study the general comments that the Committee had issued on those issues. What was the status of implementation of the concluding observations issued by the Committee against Torture? What preventive measures were in place to prevent exploitation of and violence against women with disabilities, who were three to four times more likely to experience violence, and what monitoring mechanisms were in place to prevent violence? No child should be in an institution, especially a child under the age of three – what plans were in place to change this practice?
JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Latvia, remarked that it seemed that municipalities lacked a commitment to independent living and expressed concern that deinstitutionalization was not leading to independent living but to living in smaller institutions. Could the delegation comment and explain how the deinstitutionalization process was independently monitored?
Response by the Delegation
In further replies to the questions raised by the Committee Experts, the delegation explained that since 2012, all courts were equipped with video facilities, including mobile video facilities, and decisions to use video conference in criminal and administrative procedures were decided by the court; their use in civil proceedings could be requested by the participants.
In the administrative procedures, sign language translation was defined by the law, and it was being used at both institutional and court levels, without additional formalities and expenses.
With regard to legal assistance, the delegation confirmed that it was guaranteed by the State to all low-income persons and other persons in need, while in civil and criminal cases, the courts could release a person from the obligation to cover the court costs, including the costs of interpretation, if the merits of the case proved it necessary to facilitate access to justice. In such cases, the costs were covered by the State. According to the law on legal aid, which came into force in March 2017, the state-guaranteed legal aid was also provided in administrative matters, depending on the complexity of the matter and the person’s financial situation. This law further ensured access to free legal aid to persons who were under full support of the State or local government, for instance, if the person was in a social welfare institution, and also to all other persons whose constitutional rights would be violated without such aid. There were no cases in which legal assistance could not be provided for reasons related to a physical or mental ability of the person.
Concerning the criminal responsibility of persons with disabilities, the delegation said that according to the criminal law, a person was not criminally liable if during the commitment of an offence the person was in a state of incapacity, and could not understand an action. In such cases, no criminal sanction was applied, and the court applied a compulsory measure of a medical nature, such as outpatient treatment in a medical institution, or treatment in a specialised psychiatric hospital or unit with security staff.
On legal capacity and supported decision-making, a pilot project on supported decision-making had commenced on 1 July 2017, financed by the European Social Fund and the Government of Latvia, implemented by the association ZELDA (Resource Centre for People with Mental Disability) and supervised by the Ministry of Welfare. The project would test the mechanism for the supported decision-making in five areas of life, namely legal issues, financial issues, acquiring and developing life skills, health care issues and social care issues. The next steps in relation to supported decision-making would be considered at the end of the project in November 2020.
The Ministry of Justice had carried out an internal research on the court judgements regarding the restriction of capacity during the 2013 to 2016, finding that the understanding and implementation of the regulation of the legal capacity had improved significantly since the adoption of the new regulation.
As of July 2017, 2,911 persons had their legal capacity restricted. This represented 12 per cent of persons with mental impairments.
The Orphan’s Court was the primary institution mandated with the protection of the rights and legal interests of children and persons under guardianship. Its duty was to appoint a guardian and monitor her or his action; it could dismiss a guardian at any time. A delegate stressed that the temporary guardianship and legal capacity were two different legal mechanisms and that the establishment of temporary guardianship was not related to a restriction of a person’s capacity to act.
In June and July 2017, the Fire and Risk Services of Latvia had organised a seminar of persons in nursing homes and other institutions on disaster risk management and evacuation. Latvia was committed to taking further steps to ensure the safety of persons with disabilities in emergency situations.
The Central Police Headquarters and regional police stations were accessible to persons in wheelchairs. A manual had been developed for senior police officers and for officers of temporary detention centres to build the capacity to communicate with persons with mental disability. In July 2015, the Police had signed a cooperation agreement with ZELDA (Resource Centre for People with Mental Disability) under which a training programme for the communication with persons with mental disabilities had been developed and 80 State police officers had been trained. Continuing education programmes developed by the State Police College included communication with persons suffering from psychiatric disorders, and were open to officers in temporary detention centres. The police had a partnership with a provider of sign language interpretation and it had produced brochures in braille on a number of issues of interest.
The provision of psychiatric assistance was provided on a voluntary basis, while the involuntary hospitalization could be applied in exceptional circumstances, with information on the patient’s rights provided. The Health Inspector of Latvia supervised the implementation of laws and regulations which were binding for health care institutions.
In terms of the progress in the implementation of the concluding observations made by the Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, the delegation said that according to the medical treatment law, the restrictive measures could be used by force only if the patient was hospitalized in a psychiatric medical treatment institution without his or her constant; if involuntary hospitalization was determined by a court; or if a person was violent and could hurt him of herself or other persons. The application of restrictive measures must be proportional to the direct threat posed by the patient and had to be discontinued when the threat ceased.
The deinstitutionalization process in Latvia was being implemented under guidelines approved by the Government, which aimed to increase the opportunities for independent living, and ensure the conditions for decent living and the access to necessary support. The process included the assessment of individual needs and capabilities, and it aimed to support the communities in developing their services and capacities. It applied the common European guidelines for the transition from institutionalized to community-based care.
Latvia was focused not only on deinstitutionalization but also on the prevention of institutionalization as well, and was in the process of developing a foster care system. The efforts were focused on persons with mental disabilities, persons with functional impairments and children without family care. The main planned activities in the deinstitutionalization process included building partnership with municipalities and supporting them in the development of services and infrastructure such as new type social care and day care centres. Currently, 115 municipalities had signed partnership agreements with the Government, committing to the participation in the deinstitutionalization process, including through offering new community-based services, building infrastructure, and including target groups.
The principle “the money follows the client” had been enforced in the legislation and was applicable in the deinstitutionalization process, whereby it would follow persons with disabilities and children without family care who would be transferred from the institutions to community-based services. Currently, the spending for those in State care amounted to €1,000 per child and €1,700 per adult, and it was expected that this money, and maybe even more, would be transferred to municipalities.
In principle, children under the age of two were not institutionalized. The institutionalization of children was used as a last resort, and only on a temporary basis for a period of six months, until the authorities found a more durable solution. Usually, the children spent between one and three months in State care. Currently, there were about 600 foster families and Latvia was committed to continue developing the system further.
The assistance service was run by municipalities and was available to persons from first and second group of disabilities, and was determined by the municipal social services. The service was also available to children with disabilities. The maximum number of hours was 40 hours per week, and currently some 10,000 persons benefitted from this service, and 10 per cent of those were children. When the service had been introduced, the allocation was €4 million and in 2016 it grew to €10 million. A working group had been set up to present the amendments and changes to the services this fall, and it included persons with disabilities.
Some support was available for the adaptation of a home for persons from the first group of disabilities, persons with visual impairments and children with disabilities. In addition, several municipalities and cities had introduced support for the adaptation of dwelling.
On violence, the delegation said Latvia since 2011 had been improving its legislation on the protection of victims of domestic violence. According to the Law on Social Services and Social Assistance, persons with disabilities and children who suffered from unlawful and violent action had the right to State-financed social rehabilitation services. Social recovery services for children victims of violence had been in place since 2000. Substantial amendments to the Law on the Rights of the Child had been introduced, including the criminalization in 2013 of emotional violence against the child, defined as violence against a close relative of a child in the presence of the child. The resources of the State were available for the services to children victims of crime, exploitation, sexual exploitation, or violence and cruel treatment. Since 2010, social rehabilitation services to children were being provided by the foundation Latvian Children’s Fund, and were also accessible to children who were victims of trafficking in persons, and children with disabilities.
Domestic violence against women and children was an issue that was central in the policy discussions and planning in the country at the moment, due to the fact that 80 per cent of all official cases of violence against children and 40 per cent of all cases of violence against women took place within the family. Domestic violence and violence against women were covered by the criminal law and there was no specific law on violence against women. Assistance to women victims of violence depended on the nature of violence and could be provided through institutions and at the place of residence, said a delegate, adding that there were 18 crisis centres in Latvia.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In a final cluster of questions, the delegation was asked to explain the legislation, policy and funding for inclusive education and the support and training provided to teachers, and how persons with disabilities, in particular children with disabilities, were included in the development of the guidelines for inclusive education. How would the existing special education schools be used in support of inclusive education?
Was the development strategy compulsory, Experts asked, noting that it lacked sanctions for compliance failure?
What specific services were available for children with disabilities and their families in terms of early diagnosis and intervention?
What measures were being developed to engage children with disabilities and help them develop their artistic, creative and other potential?
Committee Experts inquired about the legal status of Braille, the accessible formats of information in the broadcasting services, the number of persons with disabilities in sheltered workshops and the measures taken to support them to participate in a more open labour market, and the intention to use the Washington Group set of questions in the disability certification process.
Information was requested about access to social protection services and benefits for persons with disabilities from ethnic minorities and for non-citizens of Latvia?
On the right to vote, what was the status of the right to vote in legislation and what measures were in place to facilitate the voting by persons with disabilities. How many sign language interpreters were there in the country?
JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Latvia, noted a lack of procedures for the registration of persons with disabilities. Mr. Ruskus raised concern about the practice of public officials to demand disability certificate as a proof of disability and the lack of accessibility to mainstream health services for persons with disabilities.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation explained that high quality education and inclusive education for all were key priorities in the recent policy document and guidelines for educational development 2014 to 2020. There were 12 development centres which provided support for inclusive education to teachers in mainstream schools and to parents of children with disabilities. There were just under 12,000 children with special needs in education and 53 per cent were taught in mainstream school, which was an indicator of a rather rapid development of inclusive education. It was interesting to note that the majority of inclusive schools were in rural areas.
During the 2010 to 2014 Parliament, two Members of the Parliament were persons with disabilities and this was evidence that persons with disabilities could stand for elections and be elected.
The Constitution guaranteed the right to form and be a member of associations, and to run for elections, thus standards had been adopted on the participation in elections for persons with disabilities, and which, inter alia, defined ways in which persons with disabilities could exercise their right to vote, including the right to vote in their place of residence should they not be able to go to the polling station. In 2013, approximately 47 per cent of the polling stations were accessible to persons with mobility difficulties; due to developments in legislation, the number of accessible polling stations was increased to 65 per cent during the recent municipal elections.
The status of non-citizens in Latvia was not related to ethnicity, gender, social status or any other such qualifier. Inhabitants of Latvia, citizens and non-citizens alike, had identical social and cultural rights, and differences existed in certain political and economic rights: non-citizens could not stand and run for elections, nor could they exercise certain public functions related to State security.
Latvia continued to take measures to increase inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market, for example through occupational adjustment, employing the use of sign language interpreter, and others.
INGUS ALLIKS, State Secretary, Ministry of Welfare of Latvia, noted that the task of the Government was to transform the expectations of persons with disabilities into concrete measures, and to support their full participation in the labour market, education, cultural and social life. The Convention was a continuous process in which the Government had to set the right priorities and ensure sustainable policy to ensure its full implementation. Latvia was looking forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations and incorporating them in the next action plan under the guidelines for the implementation of the Convention 2018 to 2020.
JURIS JANSONS, Ombudsman of Latvia, noted that the delegation had shared much information about the legislation, but the practice was different, for example in the implementation of the easy to read standards by the municipalities. Throughout the dialogue, Latvia had tried to separate the duties of the municipalities and the State, but the State must not hide behind local municipalities. The obligation of the Government and the Parliament was to strengthen the capacity of the Ombudsman, said Mr. Jansons and recognized the genuine wish of the Government to improve the situation of the people in Latvia and implement the Convention.
JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Latvia, commended the progress being made with regard to supported decision-making in cooperation with ZELDA (Resource Centre for People with Mental Disability) which might turn it into a regional leader in this domain. In this, Latvia should consult the relevant General Comments. Further, Latvia should develop a comprehensive disability accessibility action plan with indicators and timelines as defined in the General Comment N°2, and it should carefully consider the General Comment 3 on the rights of women and girls with disabilities in the context of their inclusion in the anti-discrimination legislation.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, expressed hope that the Committee’s concluding observations would help Latvia in further implementing the Convention and sincerely apologised for the technical problem which caused lack of closed captioning during the meeting.
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