GENEVA (1 March 2021) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities joined with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in characterising the recent European Court of Human Rights ruling that allows for a voting ban on people “who lacked the required level of mental skills” as a disappointing setback.
They hope that the decision is temporary and that the Grand Chamber of the Court will have an opportunity to re-consider the case. If so, they hope that the Grand Chamber can re-frame the issues around personhood, new understandings of decision-making, the paradigm shift in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the centrality of the right to vote to the legitimacy of the democratic process.
“There now seems to be considerable unevenness with which many sides of the Council of Europe deal with inclusion and the rights of people with disabilities,” said Gerard Quinn, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “At around the same time as the Court’s judgment, the Council’s European Committee on Social Rights issued a major decision which significantly advances the cause of inclusive education for children with disabilities across Europe.”
The UN experts said the Court had too readily accepted governmental restrictions that only people with the requisite ‘mental skills’ could vote. “Simply put, this does not accord with modern scientific understandings of human decision-making, including during elections,” they said.
Citing the World Bank’s 2015 pioneering report, ‘Mind, Society and Behavior’, the experts said most decision-making, include voting, does not hinge on rational ability. They said that balancing tests are not appropriate when it comes to the right to vote and that confining the right to vote to those with the requisite mental skills’ is no longer a ‘legitimate purpose.’ And they said that the disenfranchisement of a ‘discrete and insular minority’ needlessly places a question mark over the legitimacy of the democratic process. They pointed to the countervailing jurisprudence of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which deserves fuller treatment before the Grand Chamber.
For a more detailed analysis by the experts on the case read here.
Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors States parties' adherence to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which to date has 182 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Committee's concluding observations are an independent assessment of States' compliance with their human rights obligations under the treaty.
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