1 April 2015
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of the Czech Republic on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Michaela Marksova, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, presenting the report, said that in the last two decades, the Czech Republic had worked to eliminate barriers which hindered citizens with disabilities from enjoying full participation and social inclusion, and had made efforts to enhance the conditions and the quality of life of persons with disabilities. These included the ratification of the Convention in 2009, which influenced the content of five consecutive National Plans which formulated State policy on disability; a new Civil Code as of 2014, which provided legal capacity to persons with disabilities, including the right to vote; and a bill amending the School Act, providing equal access and non-discrimination of children with disabilities in education, as well as supportive measures to ensure inclusive education in mainstream schools. Progress had also been made in the area of accessibility and access to information. Challenges that remained included a persisting unfavourable situation in the employment of persons with disabilities, and the need to change the highly centralized system of psychiatric care.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts raised questions regarding the right of persons with disabilities to live in the community, their accessibility to public buildings, their right to employment and to equal compensation, their right to vote, discrimination, including against persons with disabilities from ethnic minorities, and other issues. Concerns were raised regarding the use of cage beds and other restrictive measures, involuntary sterilization measures, the limited sign language on TV, the Ombudsman’s scope of work and his monitoring capacity, the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education, media involvement in raising awareness of persons with disabilities, health care and subsidies for persons with disabilities, and the availability of community based services.
Ms. Marksova stressed the importance of the Committee and thanked the Experts for their knowledge of the Czech Republic. Some challenges that remained were finding statistics on women and children, participation of persons with disabilities in policy making processes, the implementation of Article 12 in the legal system, and the importance of an effective and wide support of community based services, as well as the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism.
In concluding remarks Damjan Tatic, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, thanked members of the delegation for their exhaustive and frank replies, saying that he had been proven right that the goals and standards set by the Czech Republic were very high. He asked whether the delegation was aware that States parties to the Convention of Persons with Disabilities were entitled to seek technical assistance from the Committee.
The delegation of the Czech Republic included representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Ministry for Regional Development, Government Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Transport, and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Czech Republic at the end of the session, on Friday, 17 April 2015. The Committee next meets in public at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 1 April when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Turkmenistan.
Report of Czech Republic
The initial report of the Czech Republic can be accessed here: CRPD/C/CZE/1.
Presentation of the Report
MICHAELA MARKSOVÁ, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, said that in the last two decades, the Czech Republic had worked to eliminate barriers which hindered citizens with disabilities from enjoying full participation and social inclusion, and had made efforts to enhance the conditions and the quality of life of persons with disabilities. Five consecutive national plans, drafted with the positive contribution of the Czech National Disability Council, formulated the State policy on disability and improved the attitude of the State to persons with disabilities. The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2009 had influenced the content and structure of the National Plan for the Creation of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 2010-2014, which highlighted those articles of the Convention which were most relevant for the building of an equal and non-discriminatory environment for persons with disabilities in the country. The new Civil Code, which had entered into force in January 2014, provided the base to introduce the reform of legal capacity and guardianship: it stressed the requirement to base decisions on individually determined needs, and so completely eliminated the possibility of “total” deprivation of capacity of a person. The emphasis on equal access to and non-discrimination of children with disabilities in education had been strengthened gradually: a bill amending the School Act, currently awaiting the formal approval of the President, would change the rule for the provision of education of children and students with special educational needs, and would introduce the newly defined system of five degrees of supportive measures which aimed to ensure personal, financial and material capacities for inclusive education in mainstream schools.
Noticeable progress was made in the area of accessibility: a systematic approach to eliminating barriers in public buildings and transport structures had improved the situation in building a barrier-free environment, while the amendment to the Act on Information System in Public Administration obliged public administration institutions to enable persons with disabilities to enjoy remote access to information. Persons with disabilities in the Czech Republic still faced a number of challenges, including the persisting unfavourable situation in employment, and the need to change the highly centralized system of psychiatric care and remove the stigma still surrounding mental illness. The Czech Republic was aware of the issues in psychiatric care and had prepared a comprehensive systemic reform and modernization, in order to increase the quality of patient care and to move treatment from large institutions to smaller community centres. The Sixth National Plan on Promoting Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities 2015-2020 was divided in chapters following individual articles of the Convention, and contained a concise description of the existing situation and goals to be achieved. It was expected that the Government would approve the plan in a few weeks. The role of the independent monitoring mechanism had been assigned to the Public Defender of Rights, the Ombudsman, who was in charge of dealing with the rights of persons with disabilities under the Convention; the amendment to the Act on the Public Defender of Rights would soon be discussed in Parliament.
Questions by the Committee Experts
DAMJAN TATIĆ, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, said that because of the long tradition of the Czech Republic in the promotion of human rights and democracy, the expectations were high, and commended the legislation in place which prohibited discrimination, placed high value of guardianship, and recognized sign language as an official language. The Country Rapporteur said that there was a need to still discuss denial of reasonable accommodation, further efforts needed to ensure a barrier-free environment, the continuing use of guardianship for some persons with disabilities, and the significant number of persons with disabilities still in institutions, particularly persons with psychiatric disabilities. Mr. Tatić also raised issues concerning the right to live in the community, the right of persons with disabilities to vote, and the significant number of children with disabilities, particularly with autism, who were outside of mainstream schools.
Another Committee Expert asked the delegation about the degree of involvement of persons with disabilities in the development, implementation and evaluation of legislation and policies to implement the Convention, and the diversity of persons with disabilities involved in this process, particularly persons from minorities and persons from rural areas. The Expert noted the lack of jurisprudence in relation to anti-discrimination in relation to disability, the lack of definition of reasonable accommodation, and that denial of reasonable accommodation was not considered discrimination.
An Expert noted that some of the laws in the Czech Republic reflected the medical approach to disability and asked about the intention to harmonize the laws with the Convention. There was a significant gap in education, income and employment between women with disabilities and women without disabilities, and between women with disabilities and men with disabilities.
Experts asked for further information on increasing accessibility to public buildings and providing persons with disabilities with information; measures to address the multiple discrimination arising from disability, poverty, gender and other factors; whether the Government would consider fully prohibiting corporal punishment at home and in alternate care settings, and the efforts to ensure that a culture of human rights was deeply rooted in the society; and the support and training in sign language to parents of deaf children.
The delegation was asked about measures to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was invoked in all matters involving persons with disabilities, and about violence against persons with disabilities, including domestic violence and the legal definition of rape. An Expert inquired about baby boxes, where babies could be abandoned, and asked whether this programme still existed. Could schools refuse to enrol children with disabilities on the pretext of not having resources to provide education for the child? Discriminatory terminology, such as the use of the term “invalidity” was still legal, another Expert noted.
MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, raised the issue of integration of Roma and asked about its impact on persons with disabilities.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation confirmed that the threat of violence was sufficient to qualify a rape and that it was not necessary to have the element of active resistance by the victim. Rape of a person with disability carried the charge of aggravated crime.
Every child had the right to free education, which could not be refused on the grounds of disability, particularly for compulsory education which comprised nine years of primary and lower secondary school. There had been a long debate on adequate education of children with disabilities, which was arranged through several means, such as specialized classes and integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools.
The new Civil Code absolutely removed the possibility of total deprivation of legal capacity of a person, which had a direct impact on the right to vote of persons with disabilities. Every year five newborn babies were found dead and abandoned in the country and baby boxes, run by private organizations, helped save the lives of more than 100 new-borns every year. On terminology, the delegation said that sometimes it could be a question of translation, and that today, the only context in which the term “invalidity” was used was in pension insurance.
The process of building design was rather complex and the Construction Code and its supplements contained legal requirements that applied to all construction. The Chamber of Architects, to which membership was compulsory, had the responsibility to open investigation into all buildings which did not comply with the Code, including with its requirements on accessibility.
The number of children with disabilities in institutions decreased every year, and the Government aimed to return children to their families, which was not easy and could not be done quickly. Support for families with children with disabilities was increased in order to prevent the removal of children, including though benefits, increased capacity of professionals, and increased work with parents. If families wanted to keep their children in institutions, they were moved to better places where they could have a better chance to develop and realize themselves.
The National Plan on Promoting Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities 2015-2020 did not exclude Roma, as had been the case with previous plans, and the Roma Integration Programme aimed to address causes of poor health among Roma. The pension insurance system recognized three degrees of disability; a person was disabled if his or her health status was long-term and adverse. The assessment of the capacity to work included not only medical health status, but the degree to which a person was adapted to the condition and the ability to find other work.
The Czech Republic deemed it necessary to protect children from all forms of punishment, including corporal and mental punishment. Corporal punishment was prohibited in institutions, preschools and education institutions. The prohibition of corporal punishment was extended by the 2014 Act on Social and Legal Protection of Children, and was also prohibited in the family by the Civil Code and the Family Act. The National Strategy for Prevention of Violence against Children included the definition of corporal punishment as defined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Government strove to include deaf children into mainstream education, and to give as many pupils as possible the opportunity to be included in regular classes. Outside schools there was no public provision of sign language classes, but training opportunities were provided by non-governmental organizations for all those who wished to learn sign language. It was hoped that the new school plan would close the gaps that existed in this area and ensure that a greater number of children with disabilities were provided with quality education.
In terms of attitudes of the general public towards persons with disabilities, the delegation recognized that the awareness of the Convention was not always perfect and sometimes it was difficult to disseminate its provision among specific target groups. The Government intended to offer training to specific target groups, for example judges, teachers, or mayors, and wished to develop partnerships with local authorities in this matter. There was also the intention to translate the text of this and other Conventions into Braille and easy-to-read formats, and to set up a permanent multi-stakeholder Working Group which would work on increasing the awareness of the Convention.
Questions by the Experts
A Committee Expert asked about measures to include persons with disabilities in emergency or rescue protocols, and the efforts to train members of the judiciary on the new Civil Code which abolished plenary guardianship, thus ensuring the right to vote of persons with disabilities. What plans were in place to prohibit the use of physical and chemical restraints for people in psychiatric institutions, which were a norm rather than used in exceptional circumstances?
Another Expert asked about the safeguards against the abuse of property of wards by their guardians, and the protection of the practice of net bedding, which physically prevented patients from leaving their beds and was considered as degrading treatment. Psychosocial and intellectual disabilities continued to be grounds for depriving people of their liberty and institutionalizing them, both in medical practice and in laws.
It should not be forgotten that often the punishment of persons with disabilities was caused by the special behaviour of persons with disabilities and the lack of understanding by others of that behaviour. Were there attempts to ensure that parents, relatives and carers of persons with disabilities were aware of the reasons of such behaviour and so reduce the occasions of corporal punishment?
DAMJAN TATIĆ, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, inquired about the analysis into the accessibility of courts and other buildings of justice conducted by the Government, and how it happened in practice. Who received the benefit support for caregivers, the persons with disabilities or the caregiver?
The delegation was also asked about the reasons behind the lack of disability-based discrimination cases before the courts, when the State would eliminate for good the use of cage beds in which many persons with disabilities continued to live and some even died, harmonization of legislation in relation to deprivation of liberty, and the application of reasonable accommodation for detainees with disability.
Response by the Delegation
In response to the question on emergency procedures, the delegation said the new law of 2015 provided for this situation. Fire Rescue Services maintained a special register of persons with disabilities which was made following request by persons with disabilities or their guardian and which contained the name, place or residence and special needs of the person. Other new measures produced by the Fire Rescue Services issued a special DVD describing the handling of emergency situations for persons with visual and hearing impairments.
The delegation stressed that cage beds had not been used since 2012, when the Health Services Act was adopted. Restrictive measures were strictly limited and used as a last resort to secure the life of persons with disabilities or those in their surroundings. Holds, protective beds or straps, net beds, rooms allowing safe movement, protective coats or vests, and psychotropic drugs could be used in these cases. Net beds were among the legal restraints, as absolute prohibition was considered inappropriate for medical purposes, and not using them could have subsequent complications. In social services, net beds or cage beds were not allowed; however, other restrictions were used as a preventive mechanism or as a long-term measure, and were limited by the new act, with provisions for monitoring and reporting among other provisions.
In response to questions regarding the new Civil Code which came into force in January 2014, its impacts were still being measured but the Government was open to amend articles that were not sufficient. The legal capacity of persons with disabilities could only be limited by a court, for a maximum period of three years, following which a new decision had to be taken. New subsidiary measures, in the case of young adults, including representation by a household member, were provided for. Assistance in decision making and household representation had to be in the form of a contract which had to be approved by a court.
Regarding guardianship, a new act was drafted in 2014, which provided for judicial proceedings, as well as special measures requiring the guardian to fulfil duties, including providing a written report. Court approval of the disposition of assets and liabilities were also part of these new measures. The number of persons with disabilities was 36,500, while the number of guardians was 36,000. Two thirds of these were physical guardians, while one third were public guardians.
Training for judges and public prosecutors as well as workshops had been done. The Ministry of Justice had established a new webpage dealing specifically with the new Civil Code and legal opinions on it.
There were no statistics on trafficking of and violence against persons with disabilities, though the new strategy on combatting trafficking would take this into account.
Regarding torture and responsibilities of institutions, the scope of the Criminal Code would be changed. This act would be applicable to all offences, with the exclusion of a limited number. Article 149 on torture would be within the scope of criminal liability.
A fundamental reform from 2013 aimed to change the system of institutions of psychiatric care in order to increase the quality of life of persons with disabilities. According to this, 100 centres would be built, meaning one centre per 100,000 citizens by 2020. The development of psychiatric care emergency departments in general hospitals was also in the pipeline. Up to date there were 29, but these would be doubled. The personnel of mental health centres needed to be educated, including psychiatric nurses, social workers and case managers. Also the possibility of creating a new Mental Health Act was very likely, and it would create a new system of psychiatric care to prevent patients from ending up in institutions and to ensure that main work was done at the community level as close to patients’ environments as possible.
The Health Services Act from 2011 covered hospitalisation, the provision of health services without consent, and the use of restraints. Patients deprived of legal capacity could be hospitalised under three conditions, including a final court decision, protective treatment, and as in accordance to a criminal code or civil code.
Concerning legislation on involuntary institutionalisation, a working group had been established, introducing new provisions to the new Civil Code, and the new Act on Special Judicial Proceedings. In 2012 the Ministry of Justice had issued guidelines for courts, lawyers, psychiatric facilities and patients on how to deal with such situations.
Community based services with a person centred approach were emphasized. Many manuals and tools and support measures had been provided for social services providers. A New Act on Social Workers was in the works. Counties were distributing subsidies on social services provisions from 2015. New community based residential social services were created. Residential services for 971 people and field and outpatient services for 292 people were prepared. From 2011 to the end of 2013, the number of people in homes for persons with disabilities had decreased by 11 per cent, or 1,600 persons. There were 67,507 today, as opposed 69,049 previously. In 49 facilities of social services, there was a decrease in the number of people in institutional care from 2011 until 2015 by 964.
In 2014 the Government Board for Persons with Disabilities established a Working Group, for issues of Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It dealt with issues in the area of education, social and health services. The creation or expansion of services of people with autism was also provided.
Sterilization and castration were strictly regulated and performed in controlled medical situations. Sterilization was regulated by the Act on Specific Health Care Services, and was carried out for health reasons or other reasons. It could be done to a patient who reached 18 if they granted written free and informed consent. Sterilisation could not be done in medical facilities of prison service. The previous year 600 to 700 cases of sterilization had been recorded, for health or other reasons. Castration was regulated by law and could only be done to a patient who reached 25 years and who had committed violent sexual offences in the past. Professional medical examination of the specific sexual offense and a high degree of probability that he would commit the crime again were determinant measures. Castration could only be upon written request of the patient, and a positive opinion of the expert commission, as well as a court decision. The expert commission was appointed by the Ministry of Health, and included a medical worker, doctor, competent in the field of sexology, and lawyer in field of health care.
On the social benefits given to persons with disabilities, since 2007, care allowance was distributed directly to persons with disabilities. There were four degrees of relevance, divided according to capabilities and limitations of individual people. In 2014, 321,000 people received 19.5 billion Czech crowns, which was 6 per cent more than the previous year. The person with disabilities could decide how to use this money.
Prison services were well organised for persons with disabilities, and the General Director of the Prison Services paid a lot of attention to special treatment and programmes as well as accessibility.
The number of discrimination cases taken to court was small, but on the rise, with 421 cases in 2013 and 507 cases in 2014.
Subsidies were provided for access in public spaces, including special programmes supporting the construction of new flats for persons with disabilities. This was also true for the field of public transport, with the introduction of advanced technologies and a new transport policy in the period until 2020.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked whether, in spite of the fact that straightjackets and mechanical constraints were exceptional practices, this was subject to interpretation. Also when women were informed about sterilisation, did that include information on risks and consequences?
Another Committee Expert was concerned that sign language on TV was provided only 10 minutes per day. He also wanted to know what support was given to parents of children with autism. Was there any plan on legislation for health care for persons with disabilities? What was being done to tackle the lack of employment, and lower wages, as well as the lack of accessible communication and sign languages? What measures were taken to collect disaggregated data, how was it collected, and was it accessible to persons with disabilities? Was the Ombudsman provided adequate funding and did this institution comply with the Paris Principles?
Another Expert wished to know how the State supported persons with disabilities living in poverty and those from ethnic minorities, more specifically the Roma population. Regarding guardianship regimes, persons with disabilities could not vote in elections or exercise political rights. Information on electoral processes was not accessible for persons with disabilities.
An Expert wanted to know whether further measures were being taken to include education of children with disabilities in schools, making mainstream schools accessible, and how much money was spent on personal assistance services. Was segregated discrimination defined as a form of discrimination? How were inclusive education systems defined as different from mainstreaming or integrated education?
Other questions by Committee Experts included how much involvement the media had in the campaigning for the Convention, and how members of the media were encouraged to treat persons with disabilities in a dignified manner. Why did Article 673 of the Civil Code explicitly allow the restriction of legal capacity with respect of the right to marry for persons with restricted legal capacity? Experts also were concerned regarding the Law on Social and Legal Protection for Girls, and its requirement concerning the proven health status of the individual that was considered for adoption.
A Committee Expert wanted to know what was the legal status of Braille sign language, and alternative means of communications, especially in the broadcasting arena. What measures were planned to promote inclusive approach in vocational training in the open labour market?
DAMJAN TATIĆ, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, expressed his sincere gratitude to the responses by the Minister and the delegation and wanted to know whether Act 231 from 2001 on the accessibility in audio-visual content had been amended yet.
Another Expert stated that there was a good programme of medical, social and vocational rehabilitation programmes, including regional work for cooperation in vocational rehabilitation.
MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the draft amendment to the education law, and how the question of inclusive education was made operational.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to a series of questions related to employment and the labour market, the delegation stated that, as regarded persons with the third degree of disability, these could be registered at the labour office, if there was a medical assessment that allowed it. It was true that a vast majority of the funding went to the sheltered labour market. Attempts had been made to rectify this, by tax reductions for employers, subsidies for the creation of new work opportunities and other opportunities.
On questions on inclusive education, there were two parallel trends – one of integrating pupils into mainstream schools and the other of decreasing the number of specialized classes and schools. In 2008, there were 40,000 pupils in specialised classes and 35,000 pupils individually integrated. In 2014, there were only 30,000 in specialised classes, and 43, 000 pupils who were individually integrated. These positive trends would be reinforced with recent amendments to the School Act, in which categorizations would be replaced by “all pupils.” The State spent 10 million Euros on inclusive education.
In response to the questions on monitoring mechanisms, the Ombudsman’s Office would have 10 persons to deal with independent monitoring. Regarding the media, for the past 20 years the Government had been issuing a journalist award for work focused on persons with disabilities, the aim of which was to raise awareness. Broadcasters were obliged to broadcast for persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was the main central body responsible for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and this was the reason why it was designated as the focal point.
All citizens had equal access to health care and this included persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities could benefit from a disability pension, as well as other benefits. A non-governmental project entitled “Barrier Free Hospitals” aimed at deaf persons was set up in 2013, with which tablets had been distributed to 82 hospitals around the country, covering nearly half the hospitals. Education for medical staff included ethical standards and a special approach towards people from different backgrounds. The provision of information for families with children with disabilities was provided by grants to non-governmental organizations. A total of 500 projects were supported every year.
In her concluding remarks, CHAELA MARKSOVÁ, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, stressed the importance of the Committee and thanked the experts for their knowledge of the Czech Republic. Some challenges that remained were finding statistics on women and children, participation of persons with disabilities in policy making processes, the implementation of Article 12 in the legal system, and the importance of an effective and wide support of community based services, as well as the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism. The Czech Republic would continue to eliminate barriers to the full participation of persons with disabilities; to implement the system of social housing; and it would continue providing benefits for persons with disabilities, as well as reform the guardianship system, crisis management, and the education of children with disabilities.
DAMJAN TATIĆ, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, thanked the members of the delegation for their exhaustive and frank replies, saying that he had been proven right that the goals and standards set by the Czech Republic were very high. He asked whether the delegation was aware that States parties to the Convention of Persons with Disabilities were entitled to seek technical assistance from the Committee. The delegation was invited to provide additional written answers to questions that they had not responded to within 24 hours.
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