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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities examines the report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

GENEVA (11 September 2018) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concluded today its consideration of the initial periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Dušan Tomšiæ, Special Counsellor, Cabinet of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in the introduction of the report, said special protection for persons with disabilities which guaranteed by the Constitution, which also created the conditions for their equal participation in social life.  The new draft anti-discrimination law considered disability as a prohibited ground for discrimination and defined disability in line with the European Union regulations.  Under the education strategy 2018-2025, a series of activities were being planned to support children with special education needs, ranging from instruments to monitor their advancements to inclusive programmes, while coordination teams for inclusive practices had been formed.  The transformation of the social protection system - key in building a society based on rights, solidarity, inclusion and wellbeing - was underway, said Mr. Tomšiæ, reiterating the commitment to reforming huge residential institutions and enabling social care for different users within a system of flexible community-based social services.  The new deinstitutionalization strategy, developed with the participation of persons with disabilities, activists, experts and practitioners, would be adopted this year, he said, noting that by 2020, no child under the age of three would be put in an institution.  The Law on Employment of Persons with Disabilities had been amended and labour assistance introduced, while The Ministry of Health was working on improving the type and quality of health care services offered to persons with disabilities.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts welcomed the establishment of the National Coordination Body for the Implementation of the Convention as it could serve as a bridge between the Government and the National Council of Persons with Disabilities, however its composition and the mandate were not in line with the Convention’s provisions.  There was a need to adopt a social model of disability, and to fully embrace inclusive education including by establishing the necessary support systems such as teacher training, early intervention programmes, and a comprehensive roadmap on educating children with disabilities in the regular education setting.  It was a matter of great concern that the guardianship system of substituted decision-making continued to prevail and the authorities continue to restrict and even deny full legal capacity to persons with disabilities.  There was a need for a continuous and systematic education of legal professionals on the Convention’s provisions concerning access to justice, while the State party should introduce affirmative action measures to promote the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes at all levels of the State.  The delegation was also asked about the measures to protect children with disabilities from ill-treatment and punishment, abuse and exploitation; sanctions for those who failed to comply with accessibility standards and requirements; and the role of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in policy and law-making processes.
 
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Tomšiæ expressed certainty that all the Committee’s recommendations would be diligently taken into account by the relevant ministries.

Mwesigwa Martin Babu, Committee Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that he could feel the good will and genuine intentions to implement the Convention and urged the country to include persons with disabilities in the processes aimed at improving their position in the society, the quality of their lives, and livelihoods.

Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, concluded by expressing hope that the Committee’s concluding remarks would provide precise guidelines for the improved implementation of the Convention in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The delegation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and Science, and the Permanent Mission of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will meet next at 3 p.m. on 11 September to start its consideration of the initial report of Malta (CRPD/C/MLT/1).

Report 

The Committee has before it the initial report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CRPD/C/MKD/1).

Presentation of the Report

DUŠAN TOMŠIÆ, Special Counsellor, Cabinet of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, began the presentation of the report by expressing the gratitude for the possibility to exchange the views on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the country, and recognized the important work of the Committee in eliminating all forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities.  The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had already made considerable progress, although several important tasks still remained to be done to ensure better implementation of the Convention throughout the territory, in particular in the area of employment and preparation for employment of persons with disabilities, the status of women and girls with disabilities, the situation of persons with disabilities in the rural areas, and improving access to social protection.  Article 35 of the Constitution guaranteed special protection for persons with disabilities and created the conditions for their equal participation in social life.  The complex area of the protection from discrimination involved many different actors and service providers and was integrated in several pieces of legislation including on social protection, protection of children, equal opportunities for women and men, family law, and others.  

Mr. Tomšiæ emphasized the new draft law for the elimination and protection against discrimination, which was currently in the parliamentary procedure, and which defined disability as a prohibited ground for discrimination.  The draft law defined persons with disabilities as a person with long-term physical, intellectual, mental or sensory disability, which in interaction with different social barriers, could prevent the person from full participation in social life.  This wide definition of disability was harmonized with the European Union regulations, and would be integrated in all other laws in the country.  The amendments to the law on child protection, currently in the parliamentary procedure, would make it easier for the parents of children with disabilities to obtain financial support, and would increase – by 15 per cent - the financial support to families, single parents and parents in unfavourable conditions.  Additionally, healthcare insurance was guaranteed for children with disabilities, in order to ensure equal access to healthcare institutions and health care protection.

In the area of inclusive education, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had conducted different training programmes to increase the capacity of preschool institutions; employed 131 special educators in 2016 in primary and secondary schools; and continued to increase the number of special education assistants.  In 2017, the rulebook on the number of students at special education needs in elementary schools had been adopted and 140 educational and personal assistants to students with disabilities had been trained educated in 18 municipalities.  This programme had been expanded in 2018/2019 school year to 46 municipalities, under which more than 300 personal and educational assistants to support students with special education needs would be engaged.  Under the education strategy 2018-2025, a series of activities were being planned to support children with special education needs, ranging from instruments to monitor their advancements to inclusive programmes, while coordination teams for inclusive practices had been formed.  

The transformation of the social protection system, the key in building a society based on rights, solidarity, inclusion and wellbeing, was underway.  The country was committed to reforming huge residential institutions and enabling social care for different users within a system of flexible social services within a community.  The new deinstitutionalization strategy, developed with the participation of persons with disabilities, activists, experts and practitioners, would be adopted this year.  The Government was committed to ensuring that by 2020, no child under the age of three would be institutionalized and was working on developing plans for long term accommodation of persons with disabilities in small group homes.  The first two such homes had been opened in Negotino and Timjanik municipalities where seven children had been transferred, and was working on establishing individualized services at local levels which would enable persons with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, to be equal citizens which would contribute towards the development of communities.  A campaign called Each Child Deserves a Family, developed in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund, would provide a systematic support to foster care and foster families.  The commitment to deinstitutionalization was demonstrated by the inclusion of a separate line in the public budget, which would enable the transparency of the financial allocations to this process.    

The Law on Employment of Persons with Disabilities had been amended and labour assistance introduced, while The Ministry of Health was working on improving the type and quality of health care services offered to persons with disabilities.  A decision had been adopted to establish a national body for coordination and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, composed of representatives of all the ministries, non-governmental organizations, and parents of the children with disabilities.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur 

MWESIGWA MARTIN BABU, Committee Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, congratulated the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on adopting a decision establishing a National Coordination Body for the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was a good beginning and would serve as a bridge between the Government and the National Council of Persons with Disabilities.  However, it appeared that the mandate and the structure of the National Coordination Body was not in line with the provisions of the Convention, which would hopefully change soon.

It appeared that there was an undue fragmentation in the laws and policies concerning persons with disabilities in as far as a definition of what and who a person with disability was, thereby rendering the national legislation and policies inconsistent with the Convention.  The Rapporteur emphasized that there was a need to review and amend those laws and adopt a social model of disability, in order to ensure greater consistency with the Convention.

The Rapporteur also stressed the importance of specific and effective measures to sanction the offenders of the Law on Buildings, Transport and Public Traffic and Public Roads when it came to providing systematized and complete approach to the right to physical access for all.  It appeared that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had not yet fully embraced the inclusive education, as evident in the lack of necessary support systems including teacher training, early intervention programmes, and a comprehensive roadmap on how to educate children with disabilities in the regular education setting.  The adoption of a sign language as an official language would significantly improve the position of deaf children and decrease their significant disadvantages in realizing the right to education.

The Rapporteur commended the explicit prohibition of discrimination in Article 6 of the Law on Labour Relations and regretted that numerous other laws did not uphold this prohibition.  Persons with disabilities continued to have their legal capacity restricted and even denied, and guardianship system still prevailed, noted Mr. Babu, urging the Government to take the necessary steps to repeal all discriminatory provisions and replace them with supported decision making mechanisms.  There was a need for a continuous and systematic education of legal professionals on the Convention’s provisions concerning access to justice, while the State party should introduce affirmative action measures to promote the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes at all levels of the State.

Questions by the Experts

The first question asked by the Experts was how the National Coordination Body established in May 2018 was constituted and how persons with disabilities and their representative organizations persons with disabilities were represented and involved in its work.  How was the disability-based discrimination prohibited and was the denial of reasonable accommodation recognized as a ground for discrimination?  

The Experts stressed greater vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities and outlined that they required specific measures to protect them from violence, ensure their access to reproductive health services, and ensure economic empowerment.  How were women with disabilities included in the law on equal opportunities for women and men?

What would be done to expunge derogatory terms from laws and policies, including “civil invalids of war” and “handicapped”, and bring the language in line with the Convention?  How were children with disabilities mainstreamed in the everyday life of the society, for example in Children’s Parliament, and what weight was given to their opinions, and how were they protected from ill-treatment and punishment, abuse and exploitation?  

Were there mandatory courses for engineers and designers at the universities and institutions and any sanctions for those who failed to comply with accessibility standards regulations?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation first addressed the question of the funding for deinstitutionalisation, stressing that all the financial resources came directly form the budget of the Government, while the services and service providers were envisaged by the law on social protection.  Starting in 2017, the national budget contained a separate line for deinstitutionalization, thus all the funding allocations were now clearly delegated to this line, allowing for greater transparency.  The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had also deposited the pre-accession instrument to the European Union to allow it to facilitate the deinstitutionalization process.
 
Over the last few years, several attempts had been made to come to a single definition of disability which would be in line with the Convention.  Disability was defined as “invalidity” in the Constitution and this term was being used in all relevant laws, the delegate explained, noting that the country intended to harmonize all the laws with the Convention.  It was being done with the new draft anti-discrimination law which would draw amendments to all relating regulations.  On 1 January 2018, an amendment had been proposed to the law concerning the definition of disability which would be aligned with the definition used by international organization.  The professionalism and independence of the Commission on the Protection against Discrimination would be increased and it was hoped that this would lead to a greater number of complaints submitted to this body.

When it came to the law on equal opportunities between men and women and the law on prevention from discrimination, there were no special provisions for women and girls with disabilities as their rights were included in the law on the rights of all women and girls.

The National Coordination Body for the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been set up and the Government was encouraging the Ombudsperson and non-governmental organizations to establish an independent body to serve as a watchdog of the Government’s activities in implementing the Convention.  The National Coordination Body had been operational for seven months and it had 15 members, two from the Government, eleven from the Ministries, one representing parents of children with disabilities, and a representative of the non-governmental organizations.  The increase of the funds dedicated to this body was planned and the action it undertook expanded.

When it came to accessibility, the issue had been resolved in several sections.  A curriculum had been introduced for adaptation and construction and design of facilities that would be accessible for persons with disability, both external and internal.  Article 18 of the Law on Construction stipulated that each facility had to be designed for persons with disabilities and would guarantee their unrestricted access.

In relation to the access to information for persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that there were sign language interpreters in some of the programmes at the national television, while there was indeed a need to adapt emissions to visually impaired persons.

This round of answers was concluded by emphasizing that persons with disabilities were employed in many governmental institutions in order to give an extra value to those institutions.  All draft laws were opened for public consultation for a period of twenty days, and there was a practice of setting up working groups with those population groups directly affected by the legislation in question, thus giving them an opportunity to contribute to the drafting process.

Questions by the Experts

In the next series of questions, Committee Experts first enquired about the role of the representative organizations of persons with disabilities in the law-making process, and whether the Government was obliged to provide support to and enable the participation of those representative organizations that were not members of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities.  

Was the emergency number 112 accessible, especially to those deaf, deaf-blind and persons with intellectual disabilities?

The concept of group homes for former residents of institutions was not welcome by many persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, Experts remarked and asked the State party’s position concerning the use of such homes in the deinstitutionalization process.

The delegation was asked to elaborate on reasonable accommodation measures for persons with disabilities in penitentiary institutions, to inform how persons deprived of their legal capacity accessed the justice system, and how the system was accessible to persons in institutions.  

On the matter of children with disabilities, the delegation was asked to indicate the percentage of those covered by the day care centre services, while on people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities living in institutions, it was asked to provide the number of such individuals and to describe the conditions and quality of life in those institutions.  What measures were in place to support alternative family care services for children with disabilities instead of placing them in orphanages?

Experts also asked about the disability assessment process, if it included representative organizations of persons with disabilities, and whether independent regular reviews and scrutiny of disability assessment were in place.  In terms of supported decision-making, the delegation was asked to inform how many persons with disabilities had been taken off the guardianship system, how many were receiving supported decision-making services, and how those services were evaluated and researched.  

How was the public procurement policy being used to enhance accessibility and were there any restrictions for persons with disabilities to enjoy the full spectrum of banking services?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that small group homes were only temporary solution on the road to an independent living; they were more adequate for small children while the adult persons with disabilities would be consulted on where and with whom they wished to live.  The Government was introducing gender-related budgeting and all the programmes and strategies would be monitored using gender indicators that were currently being developed.

The penalty for the violations of the accessibility regulations laid down by the law on construction was € 3,000 for both the offender and the developer.

The medical model of disability assessment and medical classification of illnesses was unfortunately still being used, the delegation said, noting that it represented a difficulty at every level.  At the moment, parents, educators of children with disabilities were not included in the assessment, which resulted only in a diagnosis that a person had a disability without addressing the specific needs of that person.  Aware of the need to change the system, starting from the kindergarten level, and introduce a diagnosis which would contain specific individual needs and how those needs could be met, the Government was taking constructive measures, including by gradually introducing international classification of functionalities.  

There was a strong political will and an important support for this measure including from the Prime Minister himself, the delegate continued, noting that it would contribute to accelerating the introduction of the international classification in the assessment of needs.  The classification had been translated into Macedonian language and more than 60 special educators, psychologists and teaching assistants had been trained.  The next step was to pilot the assessment in several municipalities to verify that it was well understood and implemented by the professionals, before undertaking its wide dissemination.

Responding to questions raised on persons with disabilities in situations of risks, the delegate stressed that the protection and rescue were guaranteed to all citizens and implemented by Government institutions and agencies and public and private entities.  A good part of the measures focused on prevention, while the regulations for the evacuation of populations at risk prioritized children up to the age of seven, pregnant women, and persons with reduced mobility.  Persons with disabilities were not considered as a specific group but were included in the category of persons with reduced mobility.  There was no specific emergency number of persons with disabilities, who could use the general emergency number like other citizens.

The coverage of children with disability with day care centre services could be indirectly assessed through the number of children who were reimbursed and compensated for the costs of care, which was a reliable source of information.  The delegation said that 7,295 children and persons with disabilities up to 26 years of age were receiving special allowance; 431 children with disabilities attended third-party day care centres and 187 were in Government-run day care centres.  In 2017, following the provisions of the law on child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had started to develop a registry, a national database of children with disabilities, in order to get precise data on the number of children with disabilities, type of disability, gender, place of residence, etc.  The database would be ready by the end of 2019.

The deinstitutionalization process had started in the 1990’s, the delegation continued, noting that the new deinstitutionalization strategy 2018-2027 was in place, which included support for independent living, return to biological family, and support for foster families.  The provision of social services was one of the key pillars for its implementation, the delegate noted, in which non-State actors and stakeholders, private persons and non-governmental organizations would be included as well.  The methodology and the price lists for five services for independent living, personal assistance and accommodation in the centres for rehabilitation had been developed in cooperation with the colleagues from Slovenia.  More than 29 million Macedonian denars had been allocated for deinstitutionalization, signalling the Government’s commitment to ensuring stable and sustainable grounds for deinstitutionalization process.  

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had allocated 17 million Macedonian denars in the current budgetary year to personal assistance, in support of independent living.  Starting in 2019, the funding would be allocated also for persons with intellectual disabilities, those with heavy disabilities and completely blind persons, and would also include the allocation of funds for personal assistance according to the individual needs.  The tasks of personal assistant would be led exclusively by the needs of a person with disabilities, stressed the delegate, adding that the providers of those services would be non-governmental organizations that met the professional standards and criteria.

As for the amendments to the Law on Health Care Insurance, the main intervention that concerned persons with disabilities was easing the procedure of receiving aid and assistive device by not making them conditional to the payment of six months of health care contribution.  Also, the beneficiaries of healthcare insurance were being given the right to purchase a device that was more modern than the one prescribed by the fund for health insurance, if he or she agreed to pay the price difference.

A working group on informed consent on abortion and pregnancy termination for women with disabilities, one of the measures towards a systematic solution to the issue, was active and included representatives of civil society organizations.

In regards to reasonable accommodation in places of detention, the delegation explained that the authorities were developing a special plan to implement accessibility measures in prisons, with an 2020 as an effective deadline for the implementation.  The plan included access ramps and specially designed and constructed cells for persons with disabilities.  The delegation stressed that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia did not intend to sign the Oviedo Convention.

On access to justice, the delegation stressed that this was a right that was guaranteed to all, including persons with disabilities, as was the right to file a complaint against actions and failure to act by the State and other institutions exercising public authority.  Unfortunately, only the court in Skopje was accessible, said the delegate, acknowledging that the issue must be addressed nationally.

The right to vote was guaranteed to all citizens above the age of 18.  Persons with disabilities who could not go to the voting station had the right to vote according to the guidelines set by the Electoral Commission and the Election Code itself.
commission and the election code itself.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had adopted the Law on the Prevention and Protection against Domestic Violence, the first systematic law in that area that improved and developed the comprehensive system of prevention and protection against domestic violence.  Three centres for victims of sexual violence and abuse had been established and were completely accessible to persons with disabilities.  

A new national strategy for mental health was being developed; it would provide a road map for improving the situation in that sphere and included all three levels of health care institutions. The delegation recognized that there was a lack of awareness and insufficient education on the diseases related to mental health, which was an issue addressed by the new deinstitutionalization strategy, which aimed towards a transformation of the psychiatric institutions in the country.

Questions by the Experts

In the final round of questions, the delegation was asked if social protection measures ensured adequate standard of living for persons with disabilities, and what was being done to address poverty and increase their standard of living.  Was the country providing public information in easy to read for citizens with intellectual disabilities?  What was being done to improve health outcomes of people with intellectual disabilities, especially those living in the institutions?

What percentage of persons with disabilities were employed and were their salaries sufficient to provide a decent living?  What measures, including awareness campaigns, were being taken to promote the employment of persons with disabilities and guarantee their equal opportunities for work and employment?

The Experts asked about the support provided to university students with disabilities, whether sign interpretation and books in electronic format and Braille print were available in schools and universities.  What concrete measures were being taken to ensure the accessibility of the polling stations and voting procedure for persons with disabilities?

Was it true that a person wishing to marry had to submit a certificate that he or she was genetically and otherwise healthy?  Which policies and measures had been enacted to provide accessible, gender sensitive, and quality healthcare services for persons with disabilities and what financial resources and trainings were being provided for that purpose?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia provided one of the highest allowances for persons with disabilities in relation to the minimum wage, which sometimes acted as a demotivating factor for persons with disabilities to enter the labour market.  A huge amendment of the system of social protection was being prepared, which would prescribe a minimum allowance or minimum income that would allow each family to fight poverty.

Turning to the employment rate for persons with disabilities, the delegation said that, according to the latest statistic from 13 June, 2,357 persons in protective employment had been registered within 200 companies; 1,300 persons were unemployed, of which 428 were women.  On the issue of equal work compensation, gender differences were present in general and not solely in relation to persons with disabilities.  Companies were becoming increasingly aware of the need to employ persons with disabilities.  The end goal was for the persons with disabilities to be fully included in the labour market and ensure a transfer from a protected to regular employment.  

Sign language had been recognized as an official language since 2009 and could be used in everyday life; the implementation was not however satisfactory - there was a need to standardize the sign language and increase the number of the sign language interpreters.  

The delegation explained that, in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund, 31 primary schools had been selected for the introduction of inclusive education.  Trainings had been organized in math, literacy and literacy in a mother tongue, while teachers and expert services were being trained in early detection of learning difficulties.  Menus for the expert services to support the students with special education needs had been developed, which was proving to be a very useful tool for teachers, and would aid in better analysing schools’ needs for additional services.

On the issue of voting rights and independent and secret voting process, it was emphasized that the Constitution guaranteed the right to vote to every person above the age of 18, with people deprived of legal capacity not having the right to vote.   At the moment, electronic voting was not enabled in the country, thus all the arrangements made to enable persons with disabilities to vote were made in good faith.

Since 2008, students with disabilities had been exempt from paying university fees; universities had introduced the rights to sign language interpreters, who were being provided by the Alliance of hearing impaired persons together with the Association of children and youth with disabilities.  Students with disabilities did not pay accommodation in the university campuses and scholarships were envisaged for this group of students.

Concluding Remarks 

DUŠAN TOMŠIÆ, Special Counsellor, Cabinet of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, thanked the Committee for the dialogue and the recommendations given, and said that they would be adequately addressed and forwarded to the relevant ministries.

MWESIGWA MARTIN BABU, Committee Rapporteur for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that good intentions and a genuine desire to implement the Convention in the country could be felt during this dialogue.  Hopefully, the new social policy would fix some of the lapses in regards to upholding and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, recommending the country to pay attention to a greater involvement of persons with disabilities in the decision-making process and in the implementation of the new regulations.

THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, thanked each and every one for their constructive participations and expressed hope that the dialogue would help a better implementation of the Convention in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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