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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers initial report of Ukraine

20 August 2015

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Ukraine on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Presenting the report, Vasyl Shevchenko, First Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine, said that Ukraine had adopted in 2012 the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to 2020. Ukraine had adopted a number of important legal acts to improve the disability policy, and to promote the rights of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration and full participation in the life of society without any discrimination, including the Law on Principles of Prevention and Combating Discrimination, the Law on the Basis of Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities, and the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Also introducing the report, Valerii Sushkevych, Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that the war on the territory of Ukraine had deprived more than 300,000 persons with disabilities of almost all their rights stipulated in the Convention. He stressed that, in spite of the onrush of national legislation to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, these were not implemented by state bodies and citizens, while the political will to ensure the human rights of persons with disabilities was lacking.

Bogdan Kryklyvenko, Member of the National Human Rights Institution, said despite some progress in aligning the legislation with the Convention, the laws still needed to be improved; for example, the transition from medical approach to disability towards an approach based on human rights had not been fully achieved yet. The State was not economically and organizationally able to provide adequate measures to rescue, evacuate and lodge the persons displaced as a result of foreign military aggression.

Committee Experts welcomed the adoption of the policy framework for the National Action Plan to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and develop a system of rehabilitation for persons with disabilities for the period between 2011 and 2020. There were systemic gaps and failures in the way Ukraine was improving its laws and regulations for persons with disabilities, for example the definition of disability was still very medicalized, outdated and discriminatory, and specific protection issues of women and girls with disability were not taken into account in the laws. Parents of children with disability were under high pressure from professionals to put their children in institutions, while educational and other services were fee-paying and thus inaccessible for those living on disability allowance of only 40 euros per month. Experts were concerned about the high level of abandonment of children with disabilities including in conflict areas, and the widespread institutionalization and violation of the rights of children with disability in care homes, including organ trafficking and sexual exploitation and abuse. What was Ukraine doing to address human rights violations of persons with disabilities in institutions which amounted to cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment? Experts also asked about the inclusion of the protection of persons with disabilities, and accessibility standards, in emergency services, humanitarian aid programmes, evacuation plans, shelter and registration for internally displaced persons; strategies in place to prevent institutionalization of children with disability; and, in the context of financing of the armed conflict, the impact of budgetary cuts on social protection of persons with disabilities.

In concluding remarks, Jonas Ruskus, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Ukraine, recognized the humanitarian concerns Ukraine raised in the dialogue and the progress made in the implementation of the Convention. Committee Co-Country Rapporteur, Safak Pavey called upon the Government to support civil society in building new communities for the 30,000 persons with disabilities who still lived in institutions in Ukraine.

Mr. Shevchenko reiterated the commitment to continue to pursue a consistent policy to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in the life of the community, and said that Ukraine would make every effort to implement the Committee’s recommendations in order to bring national legislation and practice in line with international standards in the disability policy.

The delegation of Ukraine included representatives of the Ministry of Social Policy, Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Ukraine at the end of the session, on Friday, 4 September 2015. The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today, 20 August, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Gabon CRPD/C/GA//1.

Report

The initial report of Ukraine can be read here CRPD/C/UKR/1

Presentation of the Report

Vasyl Shevchenko, First Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine, said that the Government of Ukraine paid great attention to its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2012 the Government of Ukraine adopted by Decree the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities till 2020. Ukraine was also actively participating in the implementation of the Council of Europe Action Plan to promote the rights and full participation of people with disabilities in society 2006-2015. During the period between 2012 and today, the Parliament of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers had adopted a number of very important legal acts to improve the national situation in the disability policy area to promote the rights of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration and full participation in the life of society without any discrimination. Among them, he highlighted several laws which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of disability, including the Law on Principles of Prevention and Combatting Discrimination in Ukraine, the Law on the Basis of Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine, and the Criminal Code of Ukraine. In the same period, administrative responsibility had been introduced for parking places intended for vehicles of persons with disabilities. In 2012, the laws on responsibility for violations of town planning had been strengthened in order to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

Thanks to the introduction of an integrated and inclusive education, the number of children with disabilities in secondary schools increased by 10 per cent per year. Also in 2014, more than 20 types of programmes for pre-school children with special needs had been developed. These included guidelines for teachers and parents. In 2015, draft laws had been prepared on guardianship over adult persons with disabilities and persons with limited capacities, including the law on education with regards to access of persons with special needs. Since March 2014 there had been several waves of immigration from Crimea and from the Donetsk and Lugansk areas. Unfortunately there was a significant share of persons with disabilities among these internally displaced persons. The Law on Enforcement of the Rights and Freedoms of Internally Displaced Persons adopted in 2014 defined the status of these persons. To ensure their social protection, a number of issues had already been resolved.

VALERII SUSHKEVYCH, Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, spoke of three global issues that made the situation of persons with disabilities difficult. The first issue was the war on the territory of Ukraine, which had deprived more than 300,000 persons with disabilities of almost all their rights stipulated in the Convention. No one knew if these persons were alive or where they were. The Government could not ensure them their rights. The second important issue was the fact that in spite of the onrush of national legislation to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, these were not implemented by State bodies and citizens. The third issue was the lack of political will to ensure the human rights of persons with disabilities and to understand that they had the same rights as able-bodied persons.

BOGDAN KRYKLYVENKO, Member of the National Human Rights Institution, said that in 2014 the Ombudsperson received more than 4,000 applications about violations of rights of persons with disabilities. The day-to-day realities of ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities demonstrated a number of serious problems. The main problem was that the willingness of the authorities to implement the provisions of the Convention remained largely declarative. Regarding measures aimed at bringing national legislation into line with the provisions of the Convention, it had to be noted that despite some progress, the relevant legislations needed to be improved. For example, the transition from a medical approach to disability towards an approach based on human rights had not been fully achieved yet. The events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine were an additional negative factor that had emerged in 2014. Unfortunately, in terms of foreign military aggression, the State was not ready economically and organizationally to provide adequate measures to rescue, evacuate and lodge in new places of residence the internally displaced persons.

Questions by Committee Experts

Safak Pavey, Committee Member serving as the Country Co-Rapporteur for Ukraine, thanked the Government for producing the initial report and the replies to the list of issues in a timely manner, and welcomed the adoption of the policy framework for the National Action Plan to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and develop a system of rehabilitation for persons with disabilities for the period between 2011 and 2020. She requested that the submission of reports in Russian be done in a timely fashion. Ms. Pavey highlighted some of the challenges that remained for Ukraine, including the lack of data and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities and their specific protection issues in the laws; the segregation of children with disabilities and their widespread institutionalization across the country; the abandonment of children with disabilities in conflict areas; and the humanitarian situation and the access of persons with disability to humanitarian aid. She welcomed a more detailed response on the urgent measures planned to be taken by the Government to ensure the inclusion of the protection of persons with disabilities and accessibility in terms of emergency services, humanitarian aid programmes, evacuation plans, social protection, benefits, shelter, and registration, including for internally displaced persons with disabilities.

Jonas Ruskus, Committee Member serving as the Country Co-Rapporteur for Ukraine, congratulated the Government for having become party to the Convention in 2011. He highlighted several shortages related to the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities. First there were a number of systemic gaps and failures in the way of improving the national laws and regulations and implementing effective comprehensive programmes in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Second, there were dramatic life-threatening challenges because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The definition of disability was still very medicalized, outdated and discriminatory. Persons with disabilities were referred to as “invalids” and this was not consistent with the Convention. Parents whose child was evaluated as an invalid came under high pressure from professionals to put their child into an institution. There was no mechanism for assessment of the needs of the person. Services were proposed considering impairment, but not regarding individual needs and rights. The proposed social, educational and other services were mostly segregated from the community and inaccessible because of the fee-paying when the disability allowance was only 40 euros per month. Finally, he asked the delegation to comment more on the political commitment of the Ukrainian Government regarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

Many other Committee Experts were highly concerned about the definition of persons with disabilities as “invalids”. They also recognized that it was clear that the number of persons with disabilities was high due to the problems related to the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Committee Members highlighted that the situation for women with disabilities was alarming. Were there any measures for mainstreaming women with disabilities? Was there any data on sexual violence on women with disabilities? Did women have access to justice? Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-sexual persons with disabilities was also of concern.

Regarding accessibility, how did the Government promote it and what kinds of measures were in place to sanction those who failed to comply with these standards? If persons with wheelchairs were to visit Ukraine, what kind of support services would be available at the airport, in the airport shuttles, and in the hotels and government buildings?

Were there any initiatives in the new Constitution of Ukraine to specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability?

Regarding the 4,000 complaints submitted to the Ombudsperson, what were the outcomes of these?

Was there training for civil servants and government workers on building codes to ensure accessibility?

Could the delegation provide information on the involvement of persons with disabilities in the development and evaluation of legislation on persons with disabilities? What kind of diversity was involved in this process in terms of persons with disabilities?

What kinds of support mechanisms were there for parents for the early identification for deaf children? What kind of intervention was there for children who may be targeted to reside in institutions and what kinds of strategies were there to prevent institutionalization?

There was concern about the high number of children with disabilities who were abandoned, and about the severe conditions in the institutions where these children lived. Apparently there were many such institutions and this was of concern.

How had the Government established priority in relation to the several thousand complaints related to persons with disabilities? What steps were being taken to ensure the enjoyment of rights of persons with disabilities and settle the matter?

On the matter of reasonable adjustment, in what aspect of legislation had the Government included the notion of reasonable adjustment and was there any sanction for non-compliance with this?

On the notion of the language of “invalidity,” what steps were being taken to combat the barriers that remained in the language?

The situation of internal conflict did not excuse a State party from ignoring its obligations regarding persons with disabilities.

Responses from the Delegation

Vasyl Shevchenko, First Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine, ensured the Committee that the Government was doing its best to change the situation in Ukraine. Regarding statistics on the number of children with disabilities enrolled in school, in the academic year 2012-2013 there were 45,800 children with disabilities enrolled in school and in 2014-2015 this number was 58,800.

Regarding the term invalidity, a member of the delegation replied that the transition from a medical to a social definition for disability began with the ratification of the Convention. As a result, amendments were introduced to a number of laws and regulations. The translation had been based on the Russian version of the Convention which uses the word “invalid” in Russian.

On the question of early or prior intervention, before the status of disability had been determined, if there was no intervention, these persons would face even greater barriers. In terms of financial support, civil society organizations were working on a number of projects to ensure that children were not abandoned.

For the past 10 years, Ukraine had had a system of rehabilitation, and 141 institutions for rehabilitation. These centres provided a package of services targeted at children with certain developmental problems and their families. These centres worked alongside educational establishments. Conditions were now being created to include children with disabilities in mainstream education. Rehabilitation programmes for women were supported by the State.

Regarding women with disabilities, since 2014, any Government decision had to be harmonized with members of organizations for persons with disabilities. This had initially been an act of good will but was subsequently put into an act of law.

The training of specialists was a new challenge. In architecture classes there was a class available from the first year on protection which described what a disability was, the equality of rights and the extent to which these needed to be taken into account.

A lot was being done in terms of awareness-building, including the celebration of the international day for persons with disabilities. There was a Ukrainian festival for persons with disabilities, and almost the entire population watched the Paralympic Games.

The airports, roads and public transport, as well as all stadiums had been reconstructed in order to be accessible for persons with disabilities in view of the UEFA Euro 2012 Games.

The conflict in Ukraine was not an internal conflict, and the international community was aware of this. Ukraine relied on the United Nations institutions to help protect the persons with disabilities in the occupied territories and the areas of military activity.

A Bill had been introduced to make discrimination on the basis of disability a criminal responsibility. The Constitution would also be amended in this respect. Regarding the lack of systematic implementation of all aspects of the Convention, it was true that this was the case.

One of the main positive things was that the influence of civil society was increasing every year and the impact on State policy on disability was growing. Thus organizations for persons with disabilities were making a difference.

Regarding the question on sterilization, there was a law covering this, but it was sterilization with consent. It involved the consent of a tutor or guardian in the case of a person who was unable to give consent. This law was ripe for re-evaluation.

Ukraine was reforming its pre-natal assistance, where support was provided to women from the twenty-second week of pregnancy, particularly for children born pre-maturely. These received medical attention, and covered in particular hearing and sight impaired children.

Regarding Braille, this was not widely used in Ukraine, however there were plans to reform this, and a programme was already in the pipeline with the assistance of the World Bank.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Member referred to research carried out by an international organization on children in various institutions, which provided evidence on human rights violations including organ trafficking, sexual abuse, and other abuses involving children with disabilities as well as children without disabilities. What measures had the State party envisaged to begin investigations into these allegations?

Apparently persons with psycho-social disabilities were institutionalized without consent and this was legal. This was a clear violation of the Convention. Was the Government intending to amend it in the short term?

It was obvious that when a country was faced with armed conflict, there were austerity measures and cuts in the budget. However, the delegation was asked to reflect and consider whether the cuts had disproportionately hit persons with disabilities.

In the context of mainstreaming responsibility, when the country was receiving humanitarian aid, was the Government making sure this covered persons with disabilities?

Were the army and police made aware that there were persons with disabilities in cases of emergency situations, and that these needed to be informed in a different way?

Was there accessibility for persons with disability in bomb shelters. Was there accountability for those responsible for the evacuation of persons in areas of conflict? Internally displaced people allegedly had issues accessing medical centres, housing and employment. Could information be provided on this?

Could the delegation provide information on measures of support for persons with psycho-social disabilities, and whether they could live outside institutions.

Were there any sanctions taken against personnel in institutions where action or failure to act had led to torture or degrading treatment of persons with disabilities?

What was being done about the lack of privacy in institutions?

How many persons benefited from the housing code?

Allegedly some persons with disabilities were deemed unfit to plead or stand in a trial. Could the delegation specify which cases this referred to? Could more information be provided on coercive medical measures?

No answer had been provided on the reasonable accommodation in the domestic legislation, as well as the violation of the rights of women and persons belonging to the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual community.

Response by the Delegation

The reform of the system for the recognition of humanitarian burdens had taken place recently, whereby the functions had been moved from the Cabinet of Ministers to the Ministry of Social Policy. Ukraine was working on the refurbishment of social facilities and infrastructure together with the World Bank, while other international organizations could cooperate directly with authorities at a local level. The Security Council of Ukraine had met several times and had taken decisions on reconstruction, rehabilitation and repair of bomb shelters and other objects that could serve to protect from bombing, shelling and other military activities. Rehabilitation of those buildings must follow the standards set by the State, including on disability.

It was important to say that 67 per cent of internally displaced persons were unable to work, because 60 per cent of those were pensioners, 4.5 per cent were persons with disabilities and 11.5 per cent were children. Internally displaced persons willing and able to work were supported by Labour and Employment Centres. A Bill had been presented to the Parliament which would lift any restrictions on employment which had previously existed; it was expected that in autumn, this Bill would be included in the Government’s legislative agenda.

Ukraine faced a problem of insufficient statistics on certain groups of persons with disabilities, including people with visual impairment, women with disabilities, and women victims of violence; Ukraine recognized this as a problem and would address it in the future. An information database called Decentralized Databank had been put in place, which accumulated all data on persons with disabilities from the programmes of several ministries. Despite the difficult financial situation, funds had been allocated to make this database more comprehensive and include information on lives of persons with disabilities, for example accessibility, education, and access to justice. This would allow upholding some of the rights of persons with disabilities which were currently available to people without disabilities. In order to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities placed in detention facilities, including prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and care homes, monitoring groups had been introduced two years ago to monitor compliance with human rights obligations, conduct anonymous surveys, and address violations. Sheltered housing projects had been created in Western Ukraine, which had created mini homes in which persons with disabilities could live semi-independently. Services for persons with disabilities would be helped by the allocation of a budget to target State resources to local authorities to provide entire package of services.

Policies to prevent institutionalization were being developed, and included financial support for carers of persons with disabilities with severe mental and other disabilities, at the level of minimum wage. This had led not only to persons with disabilities no longer being placed into care homes, but also facilitated the adoption of children with disabilities from children’s homes. There were two types of payments and subsidies for families taking care of children with disability. The State was fulfilling its obligations and was paying out benefits and pensions at the level of national standards; any payment to a person with disabilities could not be below subsistence level, which would be reviewed in December. Quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities were obligatory to private and public sectors, as well as individuals hiring labour. The draft Law on Employment of Persons with Disabilities had been prepared, which created incentives for the employment of persons with serious disabilities who were currently not been taken into account.

Disability was not considered a mitigating factor in crimes; during the investigation, experts examined the ability of the person to understand the consequences of the act, which was then used in determining sanctions. This year, a decision had been made to allocate funding for increasing accessibility to courts. Under the national law, no one could be arrested or detained without a court decision and in accordance with the law. Everybody, including persons with disabilities, could not be detained for more than 72 hours. In January 2015, a total of 2,329 persons with disabilities were in prisons; prisoners with category I and II disability were housed in prison colonies where rehabilitation and medical services were available. There were regulations on providing prisoners with disabilities with medicines and technical assistance in places of deprivation of liberty; their interests were represented by the leader of the institution in question, which was the link between the State services and the convict in question. All facilities where persons with disabilities were being detained had ramps installed and barriers removed. The statistics on domestic violence showed that violence against women with disabilities represented 0,3 per cent of the total; victims had access to all State services available to all victims of domestic violence.

One of major problems preventing Ukraine from fully assessing the situation of persons with disabilities was the lack of statistics, as a statistical system on persons with disabilities and social protection did not exist. Internally displaced persons with disabilities numbered some 60,000; despite the State’s efforts, the support for this group displaced by the military activity was not sufficient. All bomb shelters had been built during the Soviet period and therefore contained barriers and were not accessible. There had been a reduction in social programmes and preferential services as a result of the war, and for example currently disability pensions were being reduced in order to make budgetary savings. State and disability pensions had not been increased for a year now, which meant that they were eaten up by the inflation. The legislation had been amended to ensure that persons with disabilities were not tied to their place of registration and that they could realize their access to services regardless of residence.

As a result of legal amendments, the society was changing, and the social policies and services were currently being reorganized. The delegation recognized that the social standards in Ukraine were not very high, but the Government intended to increase them by 13 per cent by the end of this year. Social services were being reoriented to people unable to look after themselves.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert inquired about the legal recognition of Braille and the sign language and how the broadcasting system was being made more accessible to persons with disabilities; about measures to increase inclusiveness and accessibility to the primary school system and how the special education system could be reformed to support inclusive education; and the timeline and the willingness for the ratification and implementation of the Marrakech Convention on the Rights of Persons with Visual Impairments.

The situation of utmost concern was the violation of human rights of children with disability in institutions, particularly sexual exploitation and trafficking for purposes of organ trafficking, said another Expert, asking about monitoring groups in the institutions and the role of the national human rights institution in this regard.

The delegation was asked about the situation of persons affected by the terrible accident in Chernobyl almost 20 years ago, the use of stem-cell treatment for the treatment of autism, the involvement of persons with disabilities in drafting of policies and legislation in the field of health care, and the failure to evacuate persons and children with disabilities from care institutions in the east of the country. An Expert also inquired if inclusive education was a part of teachers’ training programmes and what legislative measures had been put in place to ensure inclusive education for children with sensory disabilities and impairment.

SAFAK PAVEY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Ukraine, asked how Ukraine would ensure the support of civil society throughout and after its decentralization process.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, expressed concern about violence and abuse of persons with disabilities held in institutions, which could be tantamount to cruel and degrading treatment, while the Committee against Torture had recommended to Ukraine to strengthen its national preventive mechanism. How was the prevention of cruel and inhumane treatment of persons with disabilities in institutions being addressed?

Response by the Delegation

The Law on Sign Language had been adopted in 2015, recognizing sign language as an official means of communication; however, ensuring the right to communicate for the deaf was not universally guaranteed in the country. Access to information for people with visual impairment was not sufficient. Ukraine had not yet signed the Marrakech Convention on the Rights of Persons with Visual Impairments, which was currently being studied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Parliament and the Government and there were signs that the Convention would be signed and ratified.

Ukraine was one of the first post-Soviet countries that had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Institution for the Upholding of the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities had been created by the order of the President, which was in charge of upholding the Convention. The use of stem-cells was regulated by the law while several medical facilities had the license to use stem-cells, in accordance to the law. The information of the use of stem-cells in the treatment of autism had not been officially corroborated.

A framework was in place regulating the status of people affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and State programmes and medical facilities were in place to provide support and services. All people affected by the Chernobyl accident were in the remit of the Ministry for Social Policies, which provided a number of health and social services defined by the law. Due to the problems in the east of the country, the World Health Organization had put in place a programme in areas adjacent to conflict zones, creating a network of mobile first-aid points to provide first aid medical and nursing care and services. Courses on inclusive education were included in re-training of existing teachers, and would soon be included in the university teachers’ training programmes.

Trafficking in children was a crime. During the armed conflict, Ukraine had managed to remove a large number of children from occupied territories, but 107 children in two homes remained and negotiations were ongoing for their return; return of children by Russia and separatist groups was a major point in the negotiations, with Ukraine demanding the return of those children, and the children illegally taken by Russia. Of 1.2 million persons with disabilities, 151,000 were children with disabilities representing 5.9 per cent of the population with disability. A centre had been established to train sign language interpreters, while a University had special courses on training pre-school teachers in working with children with disability.

Concluding Remarks

Vasyl Shevchenko, First Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine, reiterated the commitment of Ukraine to continue to pursue a consistent policy to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in the life of the community. Ukraine would also make every effort to implement the Committee’s recommendations in order to bring national legislation and practice in line with international standards in the disability policy.

Jonas Ruskus, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Ukraine, said that persons with disabilities living in institutions were very unhappy and called upon the Government to support civil society in building new communities for the 30,000 persons with disabilities who still lived in institutions in Ukraine.

SAFAK PAVEY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Ukraine, recognized the humanitarian concerns Ukraine raised in the dialogue and the progress made in the implementation of the Convention.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, said that the dialogue had been frank and direct, and had covered complex issues. The Committee would make its best to deliver its recommendations.

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