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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviews report of Slovenia

Committee on the Rights of Persons
  with Disabilities 

23 February 2018

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

Presenting the report, Martina Vuk, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, highlighted some of the most important Government acts that ensured the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, namely the adoption of the Personal Assistance Act of 2017, the establishment of the Council for Persons with Disabilities in 2014, and the adoption of the Programme of Action for Persons with Disabilities 2014-2021.  Ms. Vuk reminded that already in 2014 Slovenia had introduced legislation that obliged operators of emergency calls to enable users with disabilities to make those calls using the sign language and other forms of unspoken language.  As for deinstitutionalization, that processes foresaw the relocation of 1,100 persons currently in various institutions and community care into 130 small housing units.  The Government was also about to replace the Act on Social Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities of 1983, and it was discussing the draft bill on accessibility of websites and mobile applications.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the will and commitment of the State party to domesticate human rights standards into its national policies, legislation and practice, and to address issues related to persons with disabilities.  However, they regretted the social protection instead of the human rights-based approach to disability, as well as negative social attitudes towards disability, especially psychosocial and intellectual disability.  Experts also highlighted the existence of a parallel education system for children with disabilities, deprivation of legal capacity for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, absence of mechanisms for supported decision-making, very slow process of deinstitutionalization, insufficient prohibition of corporal punishment, web accessibility in schools and educational institutions, reasonable accommodation, violence against women and girls with disabilities, intersectional discrimination, awareness raising campaigns, support for independent living, involuntary institutionalization and medical treatment, sheltered workshops that employed persons with disabilities, availability of sign interpretation in education, judiciary and police, the right to vote and marry, participation of persons with disabilities in design and formulation of policies, liberty and security of persons with psychosocial disabilities, and Slovenia’s position on the Draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.  

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Vuk underlined that since 2012 Slovenia had done its best to introduce many positive steps to implement the Convention and expressed hope that the delegation had managed to show that commitment.  The Government was looking forward to new development opportunities in areas that required additional work.  

Jonas Ruskus, Committee Experts and Rapporteur for Slovenia, recommended that the State party reinforce the shift towards a human rights-based approach to disability and towards full social inclusion of persons with disabilities.  To that effect it should use all General Comments of the Committee.  

Damjan Tatic, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation and civil society from Slovenia, and all other participants in the dialogue.  

The delegation of Slovenia included representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, the Ministry of Public Administration, the Ministry of the Interior, and of the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet on Monday, 26 February, at 3 p.m. to consider the initial report of Seychelles (CRPD/C/SYC/1). 

Report

The initial report of Slovenia can be read here: CRPD/C/SVN/1

Presentation of Report

MARTINA VUK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, noted that in 2017 the Government had adopted the Personal Assistance Act, which systematically regulated the rights to personal assistance and the method of its exercise.  Users could freely select a provider of personal assistance and a personal assistant.  In 2014 the Government had established the Council for Persons with Disabilities, which operated as a mandatory counselling forum on disability policy and as a body for the monitoring of the implementation of the Convention.  In the same year the authorities had also adopted a new Programme of Action for Persons with Disabilities 2014-2021, whose purpose was to protect, promote and guarantee full and equal enjoyment of human rights for persons with disabilities.  The national social assistance programme 2013-2020 was a key document for the development of social assistance aimed at reducing poverty and enhancing social inclusion of the most vulnerable population, enhancing the availability and accessibility to services and programmes, and enhancing greater influence of service users.  As for deinstitutionalization, that processes foresaw the relocation of 1,100 persons who were currently in various institutions and community care.  For that purpose, the Government would set up 130 small housing units.  

Already in 2014 Slovenia had introduced legislation that obliged operators of emergency calls to enable users with disabilities to make those calls using the sign language and other forms of unspoken language.   In 2016 the Government had adopted the Protection against Discrimination Act, which determined the protection of all persons against discrimination in various fields of social, political, economic and cultural life.  The act established the Advocate of the Principle of Equality as an independent State authority in the field of protection against discrimination.  In recent years, Slovenia had introduced systematic training at seminars for judges, State prosecutors and other judicial staff with respect to the treatment and consideration of persons with disabilities.  In addition, all polling stations had to be accessible to persons with disabilities.  The Act on Social Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities was about to be adopted and to replace the Act from 1983.  It provided financial allowances for a wider range of beneficiaries to lead independent life in a community and to participate in life-long learning.  The public discussion on the act on accessibility of websites and mobile applications was currently under way.  Slovenia had also been developing accessible tourism.  In conclusion, Ms. Vuk noted that the Government always prepared regulations in cooperation with persons with disabilities, under the motto “Nothing about us without us.”

Questions by Committee Experts

JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Slovenia, commended the will and commitment of the State party to domesticate human rights standards into its national policies, legislation and practice, and to address issues related to persons with disabilities.  He acknowledged Slovenia’s adoption of the Action Programme for Persons with Disabilities 2014-2021, and of the Personal Assistance Act of 2017, which would enter into force in 2019.  

However, Mr. Ruskus regretted the social protection approach to disability instead of the human rights-based approach.  Medical and charity organizations framed disability policies, legislation and practice.  The legislation, policies and programmes were still poorly harmonized with the Convention, and many disability definitions were not aligned with the human rights-based concept of disability.  Some definitions were rather derogatory, pointing out the “unfitness” of persons with disabilities for regular education, and independent life and work.

Negative social attitudes towards persons with disabilities persisted, and there was a lack of awareness about their capabilities and rights, especially with respect to persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.  There was an absence of comprehensive action to combat stereotypes and prejudices through public campaigns, as well as the lack of awareness about the obligations of the State party under the Convention among authorities and decision makers.  

Mr. Ruskus reminded that Slovenian legislation maintained a parallel education system for children with disabilities.  There was lack of curriculum accommodation and low expectations for children with intellectual disabilities.  

Mr. Ruskus also highlighted deprivation of legal capacity for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, the absence of mechanisms for supported decision-making, and the very slow process of deinstitutionalization.      

According some European Union reports, corporal punishment was not sufficiently prohibited, Mr. Ruskus reminded.  When would Slovenia clearly prohibit corporal punishment?

Finally, Mr. Ruskus drew the attention of Slovenia, as a member of the Council of Europe, to the fact that the Draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine was inconsistent with the Convention with respect to forced institutionalization and treatment.

Other Experts inquired whether persons with disabilities had been consulted in the development of policies and plans that concerned them.  What was the percentage of children with disabilities benefiting from early intervention services?  What was the number of adopted children with disabilities?  Did the State party intend to increase web accessibility in schools and educational institutions?  

Why was financial compensation for the failure to provide reasonable accommodation not widely known among employers?  Was the denial of reasonable accommodation considered disability-based discrimination?  Was intersectional discrimination considered by the law?    

What measures had been taken to ensure the accessibility of safe houses for women and girls with disabilities?   Had there been any special trainings to deal with violence against women and girls with disabilities?

Were sanctions applied for the failure to respect accessibility standards?  How had Slovenia used the European Union structural funds to remove barriers to accessibility? What funds had been or were planned to be invested to ensure the implementation of the Programme of Action for Persons with Disabilities 2014-2021?

What kind of awareness raising campaigns would be organized to eradicate prejudices against persons with disabilities?  Have persons of all types of disability been involved in their planning?  Were there any court cases of disability-based discrimination?  

Some interpretation and translation of terminology from English to Slovenia failed to transmit the spirit of the Convention.  How would that be remedied?

How did the State party ensure that women with disabilities were economically empowered? How well were women with disabilities included in the general movement on women’s issues?  How did Slovenia ensure that children with violence could access inclusive and quality education?

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the existence of laws to combat intersectional discrimination, particularly of refugees, Roma, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons with disabilities.  

Replies by the Delegation 

MARTINA VUK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, said that the protection of persons with disabilities was a result of more than 100 years of legal development, which was still under way.  Ms. Vuk emphasized that the authorities were aware that the legal framework was just a baseline, and that awareness raising was necessary to eliminate negative stereotypes of disability.  

As for the coordination of work on disability, the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities had a specific directorate for disability.  In addition, there was the Council for Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Vuk explained.    

The delegation explained that the 2002 law on civil society organizations obliged the State to consult representatives of persons with disabilities when drafting new laws and policies.  In 2016 students with disabilities informed the National Assembly about the experience of being a disabled person.  The Equal Opportunities Act strictly prohibited any type of discrimination.  Laws did not spell out that adaptations be made to meet the needs of persons verbatim, but they did so in principle.  

Intersectoral discrimination was covered by Slovenian laws.  The principle of equality was of outmost importance in Slovenia, and women with disabilities participated in discussing draft bills.  Safe houses were adapted to the needs of women with disabilities.  The police paid special attention to victims of violence, and only female police officers were allowed to secure the first-hand information from female victims.

Slovenia had completely transposed the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in its national laws.  Corporal punishment in school was prohibited 2016, and the authorities provided positive parenting training to families, as well as seminars to teachers on violence in school.

Slovenia was one of the countries with the lowest number of infant deaths.  At the age of three, children were regularly screened for potential impairments.  In 2017 the Government had adopted an act on comprehensive early intervention services, which covered all children in the country.  Very few children with disabilities were placed in specialized schools because they required comprehensive care.  
 
The Government was currently in the process of adopting a draft bill on web accessibility.  All the press conferences of the Government and election debates were always translated in the sign language.  Accessibility for persons with disabilities was also required in public procurement.  

A new construction legislation would soon enter into force to expand the universal design from solely public buildings to residential buildings and maintenance work.   The European Union development funds were used to ensure sustainable mobility and friendly infrastructure.  The capital city of Ljubljana had won three prizes at the European Commission competition Access City Awards for its wide approach to accessibility.  Ljubljana had won the silver prize in 2018, the bronze prize in 2015, and a special mention in 2012.

During the financial crisis, the Government had not decreased funds earmarked for persons with disabilities and today’s approach to disability was a human rights-based approach.      

Questions by Committee Experts

What was the legal status of the sign language?  Were deaf persons could receive the services of sign language interpreters during court procedures and in police stations?  How much money was set aside for removing physical barriers to courts?  

Were there coordination mechanisms for including persons with disabilities in risk and emergency plans?  What information on disasters was available in accessible formats?

What steps and measures had been taken to move away from substituted decision-making?  Was training provided to the families of persons with disabilities on supported decision-making?  Were persons with disabilities sterilized without consent?  

What strategies did the State party have for collecting information on deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities?  What kind of support was provided to ensure affordable housing for persons with disabilities in their communities?

What was the number of disability-related complaints?  What was the representation of persons with disabilities in the Council for Persons with Disabilities?  How was the lottery fund managed and how was its independence ensured?  

What kind of scientific research had been undertaken to come up with innovative assistive devices for persons with disabilities?  Would the Government research the issues of women and girls with psychosocial disabilities living in institutions?

How were the European Union structural funds used to support independent living rather than to maintain the existing institutions?  

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, asked about the new Family Code and the prolonged parental right for persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, which was not consistent with the Constitution.  Did Slovenia support the Draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which contained provisions on forced institutionalization and treatment that were inconsistent with the Convention?

JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Slovenia, drew attention to the treatment without consent of persons with psychosocial disabilities and the use of electro-shocks in hospitals.  What progress had been made with respect to liberty and security of persons with psychosocial disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

MARTINA VUK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, noted that the Council for Persons with Disabilities had been granted its own budget line.   There was a very good example of how Slovenia guaranteed independent source of funding for persons with disabilities and humanitarian organizations through lottery proceeds.   The lottery managing board included ten representatives of persons with disabilities, ten representatives of humanitarian organizations, and only three representatives of the Government.  One third of the proceeds was earmarked for disability organizations and one third for humanitarian organizations.    

The delegation explained that specific needs of persons with disabilities were taken into account when designing disaster risk reduction plans, which were accessible in different formats.  Rescue drills for persons with disabilities were carried out on an annual basis, and persons with disabilities could receive assistance via text messages.  In 2017 Slovenia had enacted the obligation for communication operators to alert deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in case of emergencies.

Police officers were obliged to guarantee sign interpretation to deaf persons, and sign interpreters were available in all regions of the country.  The police website publicized short video clips on safety in the sign language, prepared in collaboration with the Association of Deaf and hard-of-Hearing Persons of Slovenia.  The sign language was recognized as the official language in Slovenia.  Interpreters had to pass specific training and be certified.  

The authorities had begun carrying out awareness raising programmes on disability for all judicial staff.   The invitation to a hearing had to include a component stating the equal right of persons with disabilities to participate in the proceedings.  The Government would follow up on the equipment that courts needed to adapt to the needs of persons with disabilities.  Seventeen persons with disabilities were employed as prosecutors in Slovenia.  

As for the accessibility of websites in schools, the Ministry of Education would promote the compliance with accessibility principles in kindergartens and primary schools, and would promote solutions that would allow all persons with disabilities to access information.  The Slovenian Digital Coalition was a platform to deliberate on those issues.  All children with disabilities and their families received adapted school materials from teachers.  

On the withdrawal of legal capacity of the extension of parental rights, the current procedures stipulated that a court would study each case and set an area in which the guardian would be responsible.  Hence it was not a blanket decision.  There was a series of support decision-making mechanisms, such as the child advocate.  

Slovenia was strongly committed to deinstitutionalization and European Union funds had been earmarked for that purpose, including for support to independent living.  In 2004 the authorities had for the first time transferred some 650 users of institutions to community-based living units.  The proportion of persons with disabilities receiving services at home or in communities was growing.  The authorities had approached the task of deinstitutionalization in a systematic way.  

Involuntary institutionalization could only be ordered by the court for persons who were a danger to themselves and others, and it could not last longer than a year.  Only the court could extend that period.  There were no provisions for permanent institutionalization.  Slovenia had a problem with overcrowding in safe wards and it was therefore exploring possibilities to accommodate persons from safe wards in communities, explained MARTINA VUK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia.    

Personal assistance had been in place in the country for ten years and it had always been financed from the public budget.  There were more than 30 organizations offering personal assistance.  The Personal Assistance Act of 2017 offered a possibility to receive an allowance to pay for personal assistance.  The Government used the European Union funds for the development of services.    

At the end of 2017, the Government had passed the Mental Health Resolution which was expected to be passed in April 2018.  In Slovenia disability did not constitute the grounds for sterilization or involuntary termination of pregnancy.  Cumulative conditions needed to be met for involuntary medical treatment.  In the field of psychiatry, the focus would be placed on community-based treatment.  

With respect to violence against women with disabilities, the authorities adopted a policy of zero tolerance and invested a lot in prevention and empowerment efforts targeting institution users.  In the event of any type of violence, the first step was to remove the victim to a safe place and provide her with assistance.  

Slovenia invested in the development of technical services and aids to the benefit of all vulnerable groups.  The health insurance covered the provision of technical services and aids, such as specialized vehicles and assistance dogs.  The Ministry of Infrastructure was designing a sustainable mobility project, which covered the entire territory of the country and all the services.  The project very much relied on the information and communication technologies.    

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts voiced concern that the draft bill on web and mobile phone accessibility was not made mandatory for educational institutions as a prerequisite for inclusive education.  
Who decided until when young persons with intellectual disabilities attended school?  Was there a programme for training of teachers working with students with disabilities, including training in the sign language?  Were persons with disabilities encouraged to teach?  

Under what circumstances were students with disabilities placed in specialized educational institutions?  What was the number of students in such institutions?  Were scholarships available to assist students with disabilities to attend universities?

Would the State party raise awareness for employers about how to employ persons with intellectual disabilities?  It appeared that Slovenia heavily relied on sheltered workshops instead on ordinary employment.  There were some 3,300 persons employed in such workshops, receiving very low salaries.  What was the taxation status of workers with disabilities?  Could they live decently?  

Was voting available in accessible formats to all persons with disabilities?  Experts noted that all voting stations should be made accessible.  How did the aid for visually impaired persons function in facilitating their right to vote?  How many persons with disabilities had been elected to serve in the Parliament and how many of their proposals had been taken up?  What measures were taken to ensure that persons with intellectual disabilities were not denied the right to marry?  

Could all persons with disabilities access health services on the same basis as all other persons?  What measures had been taken to prevent children with disabilities from being taken away from their families and placed in institutions?  

What measures had been taken to establish an independent monitoring mechanism in Slovenia?  How were disability issues included in plans to implement the Sustainable Development Goals?  How was data collection used to obtain relevant information about the situation of persons with disabilities?

What measures would be adopted to ensure that cultural, recreational, tourism and sporting services were accessible to persons with disabilities?  Could persons with disabilities receive Government subsidies to purchase assistive devices?

JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Slovenia, asked about the focal points within the Government for implementing the Convention.  Was there a coordination mechanism?  What measures had been taken to ensure the right to disability pension?  How many persons lived in small houses and what kind of services did they receive for full inclusion in the community?

DAMJAN TATIC, Committee Vice-Chairperson, inquired about the ways to ensure that the will, preferences and individual autonomy of persons with disabilities was respected when transforming institutions into small housing units.  Mr. Tatic also reiterated questions about Slovenia’s position on the Draft Additional Protocol of the Oviedo Protocol, and intersectional discrimination.    

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that persons with disabilities could cast their vote at home, with the assistance of another person, or by post.  Voting was also available in accessible formats.  When the court decided to remove person’s legal capacity, that person was not automatically stripped of the right to vote.

As for access to education, children with disabilities had the same right to education as other children.  Primary education was mandatory and financed by the State.  Adapted programmes were retained to ensure that all children received education.  Those programmes of equal standards as mainstream education were carried out by specially trained teachers.  School managers were sensitized to the issues and needs of children with disabilities.  

There were also specialized educational programmes for students with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities which lasted until students reached the age of 26.  Some schools provided a possibility for students who lived far away to stay in school during the week and the State provided them with transportation to home.  All students with disabilities enjoyed favourable conditions, such as additional exam periods.  

The authorities were working to establish an entire network of support services for kindergartens and schools to assist their work with children with special needs.  There were also programmes for children with behavioural issues.  In 2017 some 200 jobs for assistants for children with special needs had opened.  Students with disabilities at universities were granted benefits and scholarship bonuses, whereas teachers working with them had to undergo inclusive pedagogical training.

Traditionally, children with disabilities in Slovenia stayed within their families.  The maternity and paternity leave was extended by additional 90 days.  If parents were unemployed or working part-time, they received compensation for income loss.  Parents also received special child care allowance and support services at home.  Only in extreme cases when independent living was impossible would children with disabilities be temporarily removed from the family.  But, parenting authority was not removed.  Persons with intellectual disabilities were not denied the right to marry.  However, they had to understand the legal consequences of marriage.  

Slovenia did tackle intersectional discrimination and in 2016 it had adopted a general law against discrimination where that type if discrimination was prohibited.  As for its stance on the Draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, the Government acknowledged the sensitive nature of that area of medicine.  It could not provide a direct answer until its medical ethics committee had studied all aspects of the issue.

Since Slovenia traditionally was among those Central European countries that followed policies of institutionalization, it had to change its behaviour and that took time.  In the transitional phase towards deinstitutionalization, the State party paid special attention to the construction of housing units and to the design of accessible programmes for persons with disabilities.  The Government strived to ensure an individual approach in that process.  

Turning to employment, the delegation explained that the Government followed the principles of the Convention and that it banned any type of discrimination.  The authorities tried to raise the employability of people and to ensure equal opportunities for everyone in the labour market.  Individuals had the right to receive income compensation and training to become employable.  More than 20 centers offered relevant training, covering the entire country.  Most types of employment ensured social integration.  There were companies that had a quota of 30 per cent of employees with disabilities, whereas every company with more than 20 employees had to employ at least from three to six per cent of employees with disabilities.  If they did not meet those standards, they had to pay contributions to the special fund for improving the employment of persons with disabilities.  Slovenia was in the process of adopting a law to enable employees in sheltered workshops to find ordinary jobs.  

Slovenia collected data in various categories, but it did not have a central registry of data on disability.  It had adopted the Strategy on Sustainable Tourism Growth 2017-2021, which emphasized the accessibility of the tourist sector.  All museums in the country were accessible, and tourist taxes were waived for persons with disabilities and persons who accompanied them.

Civil society organizations were very active in the development of cultural activities for persons with disabilities.  The Government funded the purchase of interface, mobile phones and tablets for blind persons.  It also coordinated activities with respect to the inclusion of disability-related issues in projects to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Concluding remarks

MARTINA VUK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, underlined that since 2012 Slovenia had done its best to introduce many positive steps to implement the Convention and expressed hope that the delegation had managed to show that commitment.  The Government was looking forward to new development opportunities in areas that required additional work.  Ms. Vuk thanked the Committee for sincere reception, pertinent and direct questions, and she emphasized the importance of the contribution of civil society.    

JONAS RUSKUS, Committee Experts and Rapporteur for Slovenia, reiterated his praise for Slovenia’s adoption of the Personal Assistance Act and recommended that the State party reinforce the shift towards a human rights-based approach to disability and towards full social inclusion of persons with disabilities.  He also suggested that the State party give effect to full implementation of all rights of persons with disabilities and that it use all General Comments of the Committee.  

DAMJAN TATIC, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation and civil society from Slovenia, and all other participants in the dialogue.
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