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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers report of Lithuania

GENEVA (7 April 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today considered the initial report of Lithuania on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 
 
Presenting the report, Algimanta Pabedinskiene, Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, stated that Lithuania had inherited a lot of problems from the former state system, and recognized that some fields needed improvement.  There were about 250,000 persons with disabilities in Lithuania, and the country was consistently moving from a medical disability assessment towards a bio-psycho-social model.  In 2014, the Government had conducted a survey on the situation of women with disabilities, highlighting challenges they faced in different areas.  It had prepared an action plan aimed at increasing assistance to children and educational assistance.  Special measures for the integration of persons with disabilities in the labour market were envisaged.  In 2014, an action plan was approved for the transition from institutional care to family and community-based services for persons with disabilities.  
 
During the ensuing dialogue, Experts regretted that there was no clear and comprehensive strategy that reflected the Convention’s shift from a medical approach to a human rights-based approach to disability.  There was a lack of standardization of accessibility standards, and the legislation allowing persons to be deprived of their legal capacity was contrary to the Convention.  Too many pupils with disabilities were not allowed access to inclusive education.  The unemployment rate was too high and had to be reduced.  Experts raised concerns about the continued institutionalization of children, the lack of mechanisms overseeing the implementation of the Convention, and discrimination against persons with disabilities in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and in enjoying the right to vote.  Experts also encouraged measures for poverty eradication, particularly for persons with disabilities belonging to the Roma community, and for the inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
 
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Pabedinskiene said that the Government would be waiting patiently for the Committee’s recommendations, which without any doubt would help it to further improve Lithuania’s legal and institutional mechanisms and political measures in ensuring a better protection for persons with disabilities and in eliminating obstacles hindering their potential.
 
Stig Langvad, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, in his concluding remarks, hoped that the State party would make serious efforts in implementing the concluding observations through policies and regulations and in close collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities.  Lithuania was called upon to remove all discrimination, including that pertaining to the right to vote. 
 
The delegation of Lithuania included representatives of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Science, the General Directorate of Statistics, as well as the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
The Committee will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m., to start its consideration of the initial report of Uganda (CRPD/C/UGA/1).
 
Report
 
The initial report of Lithuania can be read here.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
ALGIMANTA PABEDINSKIENE, Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, presenting the initial report of Lithuania, said that nearly all the Ministries had been involved in the elaboration of the report and had presented thorough information on their actions taken in the fields of education, environment, social security, health, culture and others for the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities.  Organizations of persons with disabilities had also been consulted.  Lithuania had inherited a lot of problems from the former State system, and recognized that some fields needed improvement.  There were about 250,000 persons with disabilities in Lithuania, representing more than eight per cent of the population.  There were about 15,000 children with disabilities. 
 
Lithuania was consistently moving from a medical disability assessment towards a bio-psycho-social model.  The aim of Lithuania, through its measures on family and children’s rights, was to ensure the diversity of services available for children and their families and the quality and accessibility of services, and to enable families and close relatives of persons with disabilities to receive social and legal assistance.  The Action Plan of Comprehensive Provision of Services for Families 2016-2020 represented the coordinated provision of educational, social, health and legal services for children and families in order to enable and help families in dealing with critical situations, raising children, reducing their exclusion, and ensuring the quality and accessibility of services close to home.  The comprehensive provision of services would be financed from the European Union Structural Funds.  
 
In October 2015, Parliament had amended the Law on Fundamentals of Protection of the Rights of the Child, to implement the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“the Lanzarote Convention”), as a first step to protect children, especially those with disabilities.  This law would ban any form of violence against children.  In 2014, the Government had conducted a survey on the situation of women with disabilities, which had shown that 81 per cent of them faced challenges in the fields of employment, education, culture, housing, healthcare, social services, legal assistance, business loans, and participation in economic and public life.  The National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2015-2021 aimed at improving the situation of women belonging to different groups. 
 
Turning to education, she explained that the Government had initiated the abolition of the Law on Special Education, and had included its clauses within the main Law on Education.  It had also prepared an action plan aimed at increasing assistance to children and educational assistance.  Important reforms in Lithuania would improve labour relations and promote job creation, she said.  Special measures for the integration of persons with disabilities in the labour market were envisaged, including a draft law aimed at promoting the employment of persons with most severe disabilities.  A reform on legal capacity would implement the provisions of Article 12 of the Convention.  Despite the Government’s efforts, the number of beneficiaries of institutional care had not decreased as rapidly as would be desirable, as there was a lack of closer intern-institutional cooperation between social, health and educational sectors.  In 2014, an action plan was approved for the transition from institutional care to family and community-based services for persons with disabilities.  
 
Questions by the Experts
 
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, said that his primary task was not to list positive developments in the State party, but to look for issues of concern and potential for developments in view of the Convention, at the local, national and regional levels.  The adoption of the Convention in 2006 was a response to States failing to ensure that persons with disabilities had the same level of human rights protection as others.  Persons with disabilities had been actively involved in the negotiation of the Convention, he recalled.  Since 2006, approximately 80 per cent of States had ratified the Convention.  For its part, Lithuania had ratified the Convention but had not fully incorporated and implemented it within its domestic legal framework.  There was no clear and comprehensive strategy in that regard, and Lithuania had to clearly reflect the Convention’s shift from a medical approach to a human rights-based approach to disability.  Representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities had to be fully supported and included in all decision-making processes and matters concerning them.  There was a lack of standardization of accessibility standards in Lithuania, he noted.  He also regretted that the legislation allowing persons to be deprived of their legal capacity was contrary to the Convention.  Too many pupils with disabilities were not allowed access to inclusive education because of the lack of recognition and sufficient support mechanisms.  There was a lack of qualified teachers, accessible schools and accessible sign language.  The unemployment rate was too high, and had to be reduced.  Also, it was unacceptable that a democracy like Lithuania deprived citizens with disabilities from their right to vote. 
 
Moving to the first round of questions, an Expert referred to the Sustainable Development Goal 10 to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of persons with disabilities, and asked what measures would be taken to ensure that the denial of reasonable accommodation was considered as a ground for discrimination, not only in the work place but in all spheres of society.  Experts welcomed the adoption by Lithuania of anti-discrimination legislation, and asked whether the law actually combatted multiple discrimination.  Figures on complaints filed for cases of discrimination were required. 
 
Committee members raised a number of question relating to accessibility, including in the airport, buses and hotels in Vilnius.  Experts also asked for information in relation to the implementation of the reasonable accommodation principle.  An Expert noted that websites were not really accessible to persons who were blind or visually impaired and wondered how this lack of accessibility would be dealt with? 
 
An Expert required information on legal remedies for cases of denial of access to inclusive education. 
 
An Expert asked how organizations of persons with disabilities were supported, and whether their views were taken into account for decisions affecting persons with disabilities, including decisions related to accessibility within local communities.  An Expert noted that financial support to those organizations had decreased with austerity measures. 
 
Questions were raised as regards to measures taken to ensure the full enjoyment of their rights by children with disabilities.  What measures had been taken to protect children with disabilities from sexual abuse within their homes, within the society and within institutions?  An Expert regretted widespread discrimination against Roma children and children with disabilities, and asked what Lithuania had done so far to implement recommendations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on this issue. 
 
Experts raised a number of questions regarding persons with disabilities’ access to reproductive healthcare. 
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
Regarding the concept and definition of disability, the delegation said that the social integration law on disability understood disability as obstacles for the people with disabilities to participate in life.  Disability for children had been defined taking into account not only the health situation of the child but also his or her ability to participate in public life.  Lithuania’s social policy went towards the inclusion approach. 
 
The equal opportunities law prohibited discrimination on all grounds.  Discrimination on the ground of disability was not explicitly prohibited, however new legislation would remedy this gap.  In order to implement this law, the Government had approved an inter-institutional non-discrimination action plan.  Non-governmental organizations working in the area of human rights were actively working on discrimination on the basis of age, religion, sexual orientation and gender equality.  In 2015, the service of equal opportunities of the Ombudsman had received 265 complaints, including 23 concerning disability.
 
The Ombudsman, the Special Secretary of Labour, and NGOs’ Disability Council and Council of the Disabled were responsible for monitoring and making proposals concerning the implementation of the Convention.  Non-governmental organizations could submit proposals concerning violations in buildings and construction permits.  A law on the development of non-governmental organizations recently came into force, and very clearly stated that the NGO sector must actively participate and be included in any decision-making processes.  Public funding of non-governmental organizations had indeed decreased during the financial crisis, but it had increased again in 2015 and 2016. 
 
Turning to accessibility, a delegate said that while designing new buildings and while renovating or reconstructing them, it was mandatory, according to the Social Integration Law, to adapt them to the needs of persons with disabilities.  Persons with disabilities participated both in the review process and in the process of recognizing a building as suitable for use.  The Government was drafting the Lithuanian architecture strategy and foresaw accessibility as a quality criteria.  The Government had also started a dialogue with non-governmental organizations concerning the adaptation of existing public buildings.  A delegate then presented some of the structures put in place in Lithuania’s airports to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.  The city transport system was also adapted to deaf and blind persons.  In some cities and towns, mobile applications would be implemented to allow for blind persons to find out about means of transport, arrival times and other information.  A Committee was responsible for the development and adaptation of public websites for persons with disabilities.  The Government was implementing municipality social residence development projects, which required that all buildings and apartments complied with universal design principles. 
 
A delegate said that the Ministry of Health had never received any complaints concerning discrimination in relation to access to reproductive healthcare.  Each person with disability was provided consultation concerning their reproductive health, and discussions, conversations, and consultations were all documented.  Medical installations, including gynaecological chairs, were all adapted to persons with disabilities.  The Government was committed to ensure that persons with disabilities had their privacy and their right to decide respected, and doctors received training in that regard.  Persons with mental impairments were registered - as any other resident of Lithuania - to initial healthcare centres.  All women and men participated in preventative health programmes against breast cancer and prostate cancer, respectively.  Persons living in care homes were equally informed and consulted concerning sexual and reproductive health. 
 
Non-discrimination principles perceived that each child had equal rights.  Therefore, the rights to express one's self and also to participate in the decision-making process were ensured for all children.  Children had the possibility through organizations for children to express their opinions.  Any child referred to an institution had the possibility to visit that institution and express his or her opinion.  A delegate was not sure whether a committee representing children with disabilities existed, but committed to launch discussions for the creation of such a body. 
 
A delegate said that inclusive education was mandatory.  If a school was not in a position to accommodate the needs of a child with disability, such a child could be temporarily educated in a special educational school.  If parents of children with disabilities did not get assistance and inclusive education, they had the possibility to go before a court.
 
The new law on the rights of children contained provisions relating to violence against children and to cooperation regarding pre-trial investigation in such cases.  The Government was also funding non-governmental organizations providing services for children who suffered from violence.  Some 66.4 per cent of schools implemented bullying prevention programmes, a delegate said. 
 
There were two laws concerning the reduction of poverty of the Roma community and children which disabilities.  Benefits were provided while assessing the income of the families, irrespective of the nationality of the family, or of the absence or presence of a disability.  School-age children received double assistance if their parents experienced poverty. 
 
Questions by the Experts
 
A Committee Member asked a question concerning the accessibility of private information websites, and noted that the current law did not oblige private entities to provide accessible websites to persons with disabilities.
 
The Expert then asked what measures had the State party taken to ensure that any post Sendai conference or any disaster risk-reduction policies, plans, programmes and activities were truly inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.  Another Expert wanted to know what effective measures were in place to provide information to such persons with disabilities - in Braille or sign language – on responses to risk situations. 
 
In terms of access to justice, an Expert asked how accessible was the physical environment of judicial premises such as the courts, police stations and prison centres.  Were sign language and Braille provided during proceedings?  An Expert noted that the delegation had acknowledged that the number of complaints received on cases of disability-based discrimination was relatively low, and asked whether the delegation had an explanation for this.  Was there a need for further awareness-raising about complaint mechanisms among persons with disabilities?  Was reasonable accommodation provided to persons who wanted to submit complaints? 
 
With regards to the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and to be included in the community, the delegation was asked precise information about the amount of money invested into the development of support services in local communities, as compared to the amounts of funds invested in institutional settings. 
 
An Expert noted that Lithuania had a new civil code which changed the guardianship legislation, which still allowed for persons with disabilities to be put under guardianship, and asked whether the Government would align the legislation with Article 12 of the Convention.  Under what circumstances could courts authorize surgery, sterilization, castration or organ transplants on people who were under guardianship?
 
An Expert was concerned about a proposal for adoption of a new law related to mental health and asked whether Lithuania was planning to do more to prevent the detention of persons with disabilities. 
 
Another Expert expressed concern about information of trafficking and sale of women for sexual exploitation as well as trafficking and sale of children with disabilities, including cyber trafficking, as well as violence within institutions, including corporal punishment, and within segregated schooling.  What protection mechanisms were in place for children with disabilities in institutions?
 
Response by the Delegation
 
Starting with budget issues, a delegate said that 7.9 million Euros had been allocated in 2015 for the implementation of the national social integration action plan.  Funding had also been constantly increasing for measures of adaptation of housing and buildings to the needs of persons with disabilities.  Funds for treatment and rehabilitation services were growing each year.  The purpose and goal of the Government was to direct in the maximum possible way the provision of services within the communities and for employment. 
 
Concerning punishments, a delegate said that physical punishments were prohibited by the legislation.  With respect to the Criminal Code, there were several clauses which foresaw criminal responsibility for such actions like disturbance of health, causing of pain and also physical destruction.  Related cases had been brought before the courts, and the Supreme Court had provided clarifications and interpretations in such cases.
 
Actions by the State and municipalities in emergency situations were all described by the Civil Security Law.  Persons with vision and hearing impairments were provided with technical tools, including SMS and other measures, to inform them about disasters. 
 
New legal norms had been adopted concerning legal incapacity, the delegation said while acknowledging that some gaps remained to fully abide with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in that area.  The assessment of the capacity of a person to take care of him or herself was approved by ministerial order and carried out by an impartial social worker.  Privacy and confidentiality were ensured and the opinion of relatives was heard. 
 
On accessibility and access to justice, a delegate said that while implementing the national social integration plan for 2015-2019, measures had been planned to assess the adaptation of police buildings, which would be carried out in 2016.  The Government would allocate funds for 2016, and the police department and Ministry of Interior would be responsible for implementing this measure.  The 2015 Legal Act provided for the obligation for court buildings to be adapted to persons with disabilities.  Legal assistance was given irrespective of the level of income in cases related to disability issues.  Legal assistance service systems were being reformed in order to optimize them and to shift them to electronical space, which was expected to increase their accessibility.  The Ministry of Justice had organized training on how legal assistance should be provided to persons with disabilities.  The Legal Act in Lithuania did not foresee a duty for private companies to adapt their websites to persons with disabilities.  Such a duty only existed for State institutions.  The Government was however cooperating with all institutions and organizations responsible for Internet dissemination to persons with disabilities.
 
Turning to the situation of persons with mental health difficulties, the delegation informed that, in 2010, 338 persons were subject to coercive treatment, while there were 138 cases in 2014.  Persons were referred to social care institutions only when they agreed and on the basis of their informed consent.  Social workers assessed the independence of the person and the possibility for the family to take care of that person and, if assistance in the community could not be provided, the person would be placed in an institution. 
 
Illegal deprivation of liberty was a punishable act according to the Criminal Code, a delegate said.  A person who illegally deprived another of their freedom, including by putting the person in the hospital, was subject to five years in prison.  Forced hospitalization was possible according to the Legal Law, but further improvements were still required in order to align the legislation with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
 
Lithuania had ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its additional protocol.  It had assigned the Ombudsman to carry out the national torture prevention programme and to control institutions where persons had restricted freedoms.  That concerned also social institutions. 
 
Regarding the situation of imprisoned persons with disabilities, a delegate noted that the implementation of punishments was not the best.  The Government was carrying out a programme for the modernization of imprisonment places, but faced funding obstacles.  There were, however, several areas in which proper conditions were created for persons with disabilities.  There was some adaptation and new premises would comply with all requirements for persons with disabilities.  Proper treatment conditions would be created.
 
In 2011, Lithuania had adopted the Law on the Protection against Violence, and had been implementing two state programmes since then.  Assistance was mandatory in specialized assistance centres providing complex services for victims of violence.  Services there were permanently expanded and developed, and training was carried out for all participants, from police workers to specialized assistants.  Statistics showed that the number of children experiencing violence was similar every year, but had increased in 2015 because experts had received training on how to better recognize that type of violence, and because reporting by children had been encouraged.  Lithuania had recently tested a pilot project in five municipalities to provide assistance to victims of trafficking.  Statistical data of the Ministry of Interior showed that persons with mental impairment were particularly at risk of trafficking.
 
The legislation on the institutionalization of children was being changed, the delegation said, affirming that institutionalization would not be so frequent in the future. 
 
Sterilization was regulated, a delegate said.  Lithuania had not carried out any investigations because the Government had not heard of any case of forced sterilization against persons with disabilities.  The delegation would however be grateful for receiving information concerning such facts, and would then be able to take appropriate measures.
 
Questions by the Experts
 
An Expert noted that Lithuania’s current law on mental health allowed for the institutionalization of persons with disabilities and asked whether planned legislation would adopt a rights-based approach to disability.
 
With regard to Lithuania’s interpretation of the concept of sexual and reproductive health, an Expert referred to information from non-governmental organizations pointing to discrimination suffered primarily by women and girls with disabilities.  It seemed that this interpretation should be replaced with a broader approach deriving from the Convention and other international human rights instruments.
 
The Committee noted that the Ombudsman was responsible for developing an independent oversight mechanism, but drew the delegation’s attention to the fact that the Ombudsman’s monetary mechanisms were not compliant with the Paris Principles.
 
An Expert asked what measures had been taken to ensure the accessibility of electoral campaigns for persons with disabilities.  In particular, were debates between candidates being broadcast on television with interpretation or captions?  Was material by political parties available in easy-to-read format and Braille?  The Expert also asked what measures had been taken to ensure that cultural sites were accessible to all persons with disabilities regardless of their types of impairment.  Another Expert asked whether there were any standards or legal requirements for broadcasters to have either sign language, captioning or audio description for those who had difficulty accessing the mainstream programmes.  Would Lithuania ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled?
 
Turning to education, a Committee member regretted the lack of information relating to inclusive education, as well as the lack of data on children with disabilities studying.  What plans did the Government have to really shift from heavy reliance on special schools to inclusive education? 
 
An Expert welcomed that Lithuania was guaranteeing equal employment opportunities to workers with disabilities, and asked what the major difference was between social enterprises and traditional sheltered workshops, and whether social enterprises had been effective in creating more employment for persons with disabilities.  Another Expert asked how much European Union funds had been allocated in employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the open labour market versus European Union funds allocated to measures for segregated employment for persons with disabilities.  An Expert recalled the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s recommendation to adopt measures to ensure that women with disabilities were included in the labour market.
 
Experts asked for information on the level of inclusion of persons with disabilities and organizations of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in poverty eradication efforts.


Replies by the Delegation
 
The legal framework of Lithuania already fully complied with the provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, a delegate said.  The ratification of the treaty depended on decisions by the Council of the European Union.  Lithuania was of the opinion that the European Union and its Member States should have the shared competence in concluding the Marrakech Treaty.
 
The establishment of a national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles had been discussed by Parliament and with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Ombudsman had recently applied for an “A Status”. 
 
With regards to accessibility of television programmes, a delegate regretted that the number of adapted programmes was insufficient.  The Government was working in close cooperation with national television and radio agencies on this issue.  The Government was, however, funding several sign language programmes, and was paying due attention to educational work and awareness-raising on the needs of deaf and blind persons.  The Government was also implementing a project seeking to strengthen the skills of persons with vision impairments in collaboration with civil society organizations. 
 
A delegate explained that special education used to be separated from general education and children with disabilities were educated in separate establishments.  Presently however, the Government was trying to implement inclusive education and to ensure that all children were studying together.  A plan for inclusive education had been approved for the period of 2013-2016.  A student with a disability upon coming to school was funded for the adoption of tools, measures for improvement of qualifications of teachers and other assistance.  Lithuania had also joined the European Union Commission’s project on funding inclusive education.  The delegation regretted that Lithuania could not properly apply inclusive education because not all schools were adapted to children with physical disabilities.  Not all schools had access, especially for deaf students.  And at this stage there were plans to adapt around 80 per cent of schools.  The Ministry of Labour was providing support to 1,000 students in high educational schools to meet their special needs and for the payment of partial studies. 
 
The disability status was not taken into account for the provision of health services, including sexual and reproductive health.  All patients received equal treatment and there was no specific discrimination in this respect.
 
Referring to the employment of persons with disabilities, a delegate said that Lithuania was implementing a new social model that sought to address the needs of socially vulnerable groups.  The new draft Labour Law would provide for more flexible and safer conditions for persons with disabilities to be integrated in the labour market, including a possibility to work daytime and under different working regimes.  In 2013, 197 million Euros were allocated to active labour market measures.  Between 2014 and 2020, 26 million Euros would be allocated to promote the employment of persons with disabilities through a service for labour exchange.  Today, nearly 7,000 persons with disabilities were working in social enterprises, including 300 persons with severe disabilities. 
 
According to the Lithuanian Constitution, citizens that had been admitted by court as incapable could not participate in elections.  Because of this provision, not all persons with disabilities would receive the right to vote.   Lithuanian municipalities were, however, required to be accessible for persons with hearing impairments.  Persons with vision impairments could print their elective card independently by way of Internet, which increased their ability to participate in elections.  The Government would employ electronic measures to ensure persons with disabilities’ right to vote. 

Concluding Remarks
 
ALGIMANTA PABEDINSKIENE, Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, thanked all participants and representatives of non-governmental organizations for an excellent opportunity to assess the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Government would be waiting patiently for the Committee’s recommendations, which without any doubt would help it to further improve Lithuania’s legal and institutional mechanisms and political measures in ensuring a better protection for persons with disabilities and in eliminating obstacles hindering their possibilities.
 
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lithuania, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation of Lithuania for their honest input.  Information provided made it difficult to get an overall sense of where Lithuania was actually in implementing the Convention.  The next step for the Committee was to prepare realistic and implementable concluding observations.  There was a risk that they would include aspects or issues that Lithuania could see as unfair or even incorrect, but there was no other option in light of the dialogue.  The delay in ratifying the Marrakech Treaty was one example of how the Committee and the State party disagreed.  He hoped that the State party would make serious efforts in implementing the concluding observations through policies and regulations and in close collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities.  He added that the Constitution of a State party must be understood in the present time and not in the time when it had been decided upon.  Lithuania was called upon to remove all discrimination, including that pertaining to the right to vote. 

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