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

Committee on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities

14 March 2019

MEETING SUMMARY

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

Introducing the report, Ahmet Erdem, Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services of Turkey, stressed that Turkey adopted a rights-based approach to disabilities and regarded the measures taken for persons with disabilities not as a privilege or blessing, but as a human rights requirement.  Underlying the country’s approach to disability was the fundamental belief that reaching the national development ideals and goals would not be possible without harnessing the human potential of the country, without exception.  The 11th National Development Plan 2019-2023, therefore, espoused a more inclusive approach to persons with disabilities.  The preparation of the national strategy and action plan on the rights of persons with disabilities - a human rights-based roadmap for all sectors of the society – had been initiated, and the legislative framework had been revised to ensure equality of persons with disabilities.  The Government was studying the development of community-based services for persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities; steps had been taken to improve the accessibility to transports, services, and public building, including the polling stations; and the policy of open, inclusive and accessible labour market had been adopted.  Turkey hosted over 4.6 million refugees and asylum seekers, and all those with disabilities enjoyed the services and benefits on an equal basis with citizens and without any discrimination.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts recognized the foundation Turkey had established to seriously continue the efforts to improve the human rights-based disability policy in the country.  Accessibility was the backbone of the Convention, therefore the lack of a legal framework on accessibility, and on reasonable accommodation in all fields of life was an issue of concern.  The Experts asked about the competencies of the Human Rights and Equality Institutions of Turkey, the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making, and the support provided to them to engage in rights-based advocacy.  They stressed the critical importance of data for the planning of policies and programmes at the national level and urged Turkey to adopt the approach to data collection as laid down in the Washington Group Short Set of disability questions.  The medical model of disability still prevailed, with the assessment of disability still based on impairments and not on rights, they remarked, asking about steps taken to adopt a human rights-based approach to disability in line with the Convention and to promote such a view of disability among the general public and in the media.  Persons with disabilities were often viewed as a homogenous community, an Expert commented, but disability was an umbrella that included all types of impairments; it was, therefore, essential to recognize the diversity of the persons with disabilities and so ensure that no one remained invisible. 

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Erdem said that the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations were essential to achieving the final goal of creating an environment in which persons with disabilities were equal members and participants in all areas of life.

Laszlo Lovaszy, Committee Rapporteur for Turkey, concluded by acknowledging the mutual respect and thanked the delegation for the fruitful dialogue.

Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding observations expressed hope that the concluding recommendations would enable Turkey to achieve further progress in the implementation of the Convention.

The delegation of Turkey consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Education, Council of Higher Education, General Directorate of Security, Human Rights and Equality Institution, Radio and Television Supreme Council, Official Employment Institute, Supreme Election Council, Social Security Institution, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Turkey 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 next meet in public on Thursday, 14 March, at 3 p.m. to consider the initial report of Rwanda (CRPD/C/RWA/1).
Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Turkey (CRPD/C/TUR/1) and the replies to the list of issues (CRPD/C/TUR/Q/1/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

AHMET ERDEM, Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services of Turkey,in the introduction of the report stressed that Turkey adopted a rights-based approach to disabilities and regarded the measures taken for persons with disabilities not as a privilege or blessing, but as a human rights requirement.  Turkey had become a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009 and to the Optional Protocol in 2015 and had made significant progress in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in recent years.  The focal point was the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, which worked in cooperation with national and international stakeholders, and especially the organizations of persons with disabilities.  Turkey firmly believed that persons with disabilities must have a seat at the table whenever a decision was taken that concerned them, thus with the enactment of the Law on Persons with Disabilities in 2005, they became actors in policy making, implementation, and monitoring.  Turkey had furthermore invested significant efforts to strengthen the dialogue with non-governmental organizations and to increase the rights-based advocacy capacity of representative organizations of persons with disabilities.

Underlying the country’s approach to disability was the fundamental belief that reaching the national development ideals and goals would not be possible without harnessing the human potential of the country, without exception.  The 11th National Development Plan 2019-2023, therefore, espoused a more inclusive approach to persons with disabilities, in light of an overreaching aim of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.  The preparation of the national strategy and action plan on the rights of persons with disabilities - a human rights-based roadmap for all sectors of the society – had been initiated, and the legislative framework had been revised ensure equality of persons with disabilities.  The Law on Persons with Disabilities as amended in 2005 now constituted the framework for policy and practice in the field of disability.  The Government was studying the development of community-based services for persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities, while the practice of the so-called “hope houses” was expanding.  It allowed persons with disabilities, including those with mental and psychosocial disabilities, to live with others in the communities, in houses designed to meet their needs and their choices. 

Turkey had taken steps to improve the accessibility of voting stations, persons with disabilities had a priority during the voting, and the practice of mobile ballot for house-bound voters had been introduced.  Persons with disabilities were represented in the Accessible Transportation Services Board, while the 2023 Education Vision provided for inclusive education and for the setting up of inter-agency monitoring and implementation mechanism to ensure effective coordination of special education throughout the country.  Turkey also attached great importance to the employment of persons with disabilities; the main policy was an open, inclusive and accessible labour market. Over the past 15 years, the number of employed persons with disabilities had increased tenfold in the public sector and about threefold in the private one, while the pensions for persons with disabilities who were unable to work had been increased up to 300 per cent.  In addition, care allowances were provided to persons with severe disabilities to enable them to live at home with their families.  A guide for the personnel working on the guardianship issue and a guide on legislative regulations on the issue had been developed.  Turkey hosted over 4.6 million refugees and asylum seekers, and all those with disabilities enjoyed the services and benefits for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with citizens and without any discrimination, stressed the Minister.  Acknowledging the many steps that still had to be made, he stressed in conclusion that Turkey had the vision and the power to reach the ideals of the Convention.

Questions by the Committee Experts

LASZLO LOVASZY, Committee Rapporteur for Turkey, at the beginning of the dialogue with the delegation of Turkey, acknowledged the country’s sincere commitments to persons with disabilities and recognized the foundation it had established to seriously continue the efforts to improve the human rights-based disability policy in the country.  He said that the Committee would address, during the dialogue, the national plan of action and strategy paper on the rights of persons with disabilities, the competencies and role of the Human Rights and Equality Institutions of Turkey, and the absence of statistics and data from some sectors.

Accessibility was the backbone of the Convention, he said and raised the concern about the lack of a legal framework on accessibility, and on reasonable accommodation in all fields of life.  Turkey also lacked a comprehensive and transparent monitoring mechanism on those issues.  The justice system and the competencies and activities of the Ombudsman would be scrutinized as well, noted the Rapporteur.  He stressed the critical importance of data for the planning of policies and programmes at the national level and urged Turkey to adopt the approach to data collection and publication as laid down in the Washington Group Short Set of disability questions.

Other Experts asked about the support to representative organizations of persons with disabilities, whether persons with intellectual disabilities had their own representative organizations, and how those organizations were included in the decision-making processes.  What concrete steps had been taken to achieve gender equality, including in public services, and to empower women with disabilities and prevent them from violence, and was Turkey developing holistic and inclusive policies to protect children with disabilities?

The Experts remarked that the medical model of disability still prevailed, with the assessment of disability still based on impairments and not on rights.  What steps was Turkey taking to adopt a human rights-based approach to disability in line with the Convention, and to promote such a view of disability in the media?  Although the 2014 amendments to the Penal Code prohibited discrimination on the grounds of disability, its provisions did not seem to be sufficiently broad.  The Experts inquired about the status of the Convention in the domestic legal order, and whether it could be directly implemented and invoked in courts and administrative bodies.

The Office of the Ombudsman took the role in promoting and protecting human rights, noted the Experts and raised questions about its independence, the involvement of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in human rights monitoring, and the support the State provided to representative organizations of persons with disabilities to engage with the Ombudsperson.

Persons with disabilities were often viewed as a homogenous community, an Expert commented, but disability was an umbrella that included all types of impairments.  It was essential to recognize the diversity of the persons with disabilities and so ensure that no one remained invisible.  The Experts also addressed the issue of accessibility, particularly in schools, and inquired about the sanctions for non-compliance with accessibility regulation.  Was a sign language version of the Convention available?

Replies by the Delegation

At the beginning of their responses, the delegation stressed the importance accorded to services for persons with disabilities and said that disability was defined as a loss of abilitySince 2013, the paradigm shift to the rights-based approach to disability had been total; the internal legislation had been revised and amended to avoid any references to a medicalized approach to disability and the rights-based approach was now a must in all the laws.  A range of education, information and awareness-raising activities on the rights of persons with disabilities had been implemented, targeting public institutions and civil servants, and all stakeholders were involved in the efforts to overcome prejudices and stigma.

Turkey had invested significant efforts into amending its legal framework to protect persons with disabilities from all forms of discrimination, and in this, it had applied best practice of European countries.  Equal rights of persons with disabilities were now guaranteed in the law and discriminatory language had been taken out of the legislation.  Article 122 of the Penal Code had been amended to increase prison sentences for disability-based discrimination from six months to three years; the amendment had also added the qualifiers of intent and hate in order to strengthen the prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities.  Committing a crime against a person with disabilities was an aggravating factor. 

A national human rights institution, the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey, had been set up in 2016.  The Office of the Ombudsman was a constitutional institution in charge of monitoring public institutions; all its decisions were public and could be accessed through the Ombudsman’s website.  It had the competence to receive complaints of discrimination, including on the grounds of disability, and to issue recommendations to the parties concerned.  Each and every citizen had a constitutional right to address the Office, in person or in writing and in languages other than Turkish, and it worked with representative organizations of persons with disabilities to enable children with disabilities to directly address the Ombudsman.

In terms of access to justice for persons with disabilities, the delegation said that persons with disabilities, both victims and perpetrators, were entitled to interpreters and free legal aid.  If they were victims, that added more aggravation to the crime committed.  Turkey was making a significant investment in improving technical infrastructure to allow people to provide testimonies via video conferences, and over 60 million Turkish Lira had been allocated over the last several years to improve the accessibility of courts and other buildings.  Accessibility was one of the most important conditions in tenders for the construction of new court buildings.  Notaries would soon become active around the clock and the requirement of two witnesses for a statement by a blind person would be amended as soon as the required infrastructure was in place.  Sign language interpretation was the key priority, therefore, different departments in the Ministry of Justice were provided with related training to enable them to assess the quality of sign interpretation and pre-empt defence on the ground of inadequate sign interpretation.

According to the priorities set out in the national e-Government strategy, Turkey would revise its e-government services and make them accessible to all the citizens.  Additionally, there were communication centres that employed officials with sign language skills who assisted deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  Sign language interpretation was provided in the civil service.  Accessibility to all public spaces and mass transportation was obligatory and a commission had been set up in 2012 to monitor accessibility of the Government offices.  Accessibility standards had been adopted and non-compliance was sanctioned, while international standards were being applied in all modes of transportation.  There were measures to enable prisoners with disabilities to access legal aid and medical services.

The delegation emphasized that 15,753 schools, or about half of the schools in the country, had entrance ramps, while all special needs educational institutions had ramps, elevators and special needs toilets.  Turkey had developed an action plan to retrofit all the schools and make them accessible over the next three years and had allocated 3 billion Turkish liras for the purpose.  All new constructions, including schools, had to comply with all accessibility standards.

Children’s policies were based on the best interest of the child, said the delegation, adding that Children’s Rights Committees were active in all provinces.  The membership was open to all children, including children with disabilities, and there were over 14,000 members at the moment.  Child right monitoring mechanisms were in place as well and were supervised by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey.

Over 3,000 health staff and 600 vocational councillors had received a basic sign language training; a guide on working with persons with disabilities had been distributed to judges, prosecutors, as law students and work councillors had been trained on disability-related issues in matters of work and employment.  Support was available for the creation of workshops for persons with disabilities to enhance and build work capabilities.  A specific website had been set up to provide persons with disabilities with information about their rights and the availability of services.  Persons with disabilities were individuals with rights and were treated as such, stressed the delegation.  All Turkish citizens were covered by national insurance and that included rare diseases with costs of their treatment being fully covered.

Women and children with disabilities could access shelters for victims of domestic violence.  The 2016 Autism Plan was in place.  Institutions were responsible for the care of persons with mental disabilities and inclusion activities were being organized.  Special schools are provided for children with disabilities who could not attend public schools and special classes for those who had to stay in the hospital.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts raised a concern about the continued institutionalization of persons with disabilities and the violence and abuse in residential institutions.  They noted that the deprivation of liberty based on disability was not in line with the Convention and strongly encouraged Turkey to close the institutions and to ensure that all deaths were adequately investigated.  The Expert took note of the ongoing deinstitutionalization process and the setting up of community-based services and asked about services available to people who needed full-time care and wanted to live within the community.

Did Turkey plan to oppose the adoption of the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention for the protection of human rights and dignity of the human being in the biomedical field?  The delegation was asked to outline the measures taken to enable persons with disabilities, particularly those in rural areas, to access support services and assistive technology and devices, and to inform on the adoption of legislation or a policy to enhance accessibility through public procurement.

The Experts regretted the lack of data on persons with disabilities victims of violence and abuse and asked how many had been imprisoned or killed after the attempted coup d’état in 2016.  How many investigations in cases of torture or ill-treatment of persons with disabilities in detention had been conducted and what were their outcomes?  The delegation was also asked about measures to combat all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities, availability and accessibility of shelters, and the status of implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).

How were persons with disabilities and their representative organizations involved in the policies related to disaster management and responses and what system was in place to ensure that the messages and information given in emergencies and disasters reached all persons with disabilities?  The Experts asked about specific support for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers with disabilities and reasonable accommodation in immigration procedures.

What legal assistance was available to persons with disabilities whose rights were violated and how many lawyers and judges with disabilities there were in the country?  The Experts asked for detailed information on complaints against public officials for rights violation and how they had been addressed.  Was there a formal restriction on employment of persons with disabilities as judges and prosecutors and what was the availability of sign language interpreters in the judiciary system?

The Committee urged Turkey to ensure that all derogatory language and terms related to persons with disabilities were removed from laws and policies and not used.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained a commission composed of a range of stakeholders was mandated with the monitoring of the implementation of accessibility standards.  It assessed the accessibility of public institutions, and gave periods of adjustment to those who failed to meet standards, and issued fines for non-compliance.  The commission also organized training and awareness-raising activities for the existing institutions and provided accessibility advice.  Measures were being taken to increase accessibility to university buildings and to ensure that public transportation was fully accessible.  Numerous awareness raising activities advertised the improvements to the accessibility of the courts.

There were programmes to support airports to obtain accessibility certificates, and the majority of airports in the country had been certified.  There were accessible telephone lines, ramps, counselling desks for persons with disabilities, signs adaptation to Braille, as well as vision and auditory signs, among others.  The new legislation provided that any new railway infrastructure needed to comply with accessibility standards.  Accessibility improvements had been implemented in 858 train stations, such as the construction of ramps, addressing the height of sidewalks, introducing different kind of signalling including Braille, while five per cent of the car parking area was allocated to persons with disabilities.

The statistics department in the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services had been set up to collect disaggregated data and statistics on which disability-related policies would be based.

Home-based care for persons with disabilities would be included in the reform package for the setting up of community-based living; experts were currently visiting the homes of persons with disabilities to better understand their needs.  A project had been initiated to disseminate information in communities about the setting up of accessible community service centres; there were 99 such centres and they offered service to persons with disabilities free of charge.  810 persons with disabilities were living in “hope houses”.  According to the law, persons with disabilities living with their families could be transferred to temporary accommodation in case of crisis situations, while persons with disabilities without family support could join the centres. 

Daycare centres provided numerous services to persons with disabilities, including medical, leisure, professional training, and vocational education.  There were 86 centres in 81 provinces in Turkey which provided home-based health services to more than 1.3 million people, a hotline service, and as 180 community based mental health centres that provided support to families and various educational services to over 100,000 patients.  Each patient was provided with a treatment plan and regular home visits were organized to see how they progressed.  For the last ten years, a focus was on home-based services for children with disabilities, said the delegation, noting that protection from violence and abuse was primarily based on the importance of prevention.  This included training for families and authorities that worked with children.

Turkey was studying the French experience of supported decision-making which would serve as a foundation for the upcoming revision of the guardianship system.  A manual of best practices on the matter of guardianship was being developed and it would be distributed to the personnel in the care centres, as a first move in transferring from guardianship in the future.
 
Turkey stressed its zero tolerance to violence against women and said that it had ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).  There were social service points in all provinces and training activities for women in social support centres on issues such as healthcare and family planning, for example.  Once victims of violence were identified, psychosocial support was provided and first step actions were taken immediately.  Women with disabilities were recognized as more vulnerable and tailor-made assistance was provided to victims of violence. 

The delegation remarked that the data the Committee provided on torture did not reflect the truth and it did a huge injustice to Turkey.  Human rights were a fundamental part of the Constitution and that the country continued active cooperation with all international bodies that dealt with this question.  Zero tolerance policy to torture had been instituted in 2003.  Organizations that provided the cited data were terrorists who were hiding behind persons with disabilities.

Turkey hosted over 4.6 million refugees, the delegation stressed and said that each refugee received a temporary protection identity card; education and health services were provided free of charge and they also received working permits.  Hospital services had been provided to more than 1.2 million refugees; 420,000 had special needs and 25,000 were persons with disabilities, who could opt for placement in temporary care centres.  A hotline was available in six languages to enable refugees to report problems and issues, while a website for children, posters and leaflets, and migration counselling centres provided access to information and enabled them to learn about their rights.  There were also integration meetings in all provinces in order to facilitate better understanding between home and refugee population.  An international seminar on improving access to justice for refugees had been recently held in Antalya, and specialized training was being provided to judges, lawyers, and prosecutors on access to justice for refugees with disabilities.

Emergency administration was handling the national warning system, its current program was improving audio and visual warning system and in the near future, the improved early warning system would be spread out in the country.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Experts began the final round of questions by emphasizing that universal health coverage was one of the Sustainable Development Goals asked about legislative and other measures taken to ensure that health treatment was provided based on free, prior and informed consent.  How was the patients’ privacy protected?

The delegation was asked about the repeal of the legal provisions that discriminated against persons with disabilities in marriage, parenthood, and the right to have a family; measures to provide assistive devices at affordable costs; and the accessibility of the Internet.

The Experts asked about the legal status of Braille, steps to increase its use in all areas, and whether Turkey was a party to the Marrakesh Treaty (to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled).

Experts praised the improvements in inclusive education policy framework but raised concern by the fact that more than 30 per cent of children with disabilities did not attend any level of education.  Another concern was the number of students in special schools which had risen by almost 20 per cent which indicated obstacles in the implementation of inclusive education.

Laszlo Lovaszy, Committee Rapporteur for Turkey, asked how many television channels were available to vision and hearing impaired people, and whether there were any obstacles to persons with disabilities becoming foster parents.  Were there any plans to improve access to employment for women with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Turkish Employment Agency was cooperating with a number of institutions and representative organizations of persons with disabilities to improve their access to the labour market, and the fundamental principle was to focus on inclusive employment strategies and provide opportunities.  Currently, 210,000 persons with disabilities were employed in the public sector and progress was being made in the private sectors as well.  Incentives were available to employers, while those who refused to employ persons with disabilities were sanctioned.  A budget of 130 million Turkish Lira had been allocated to support training and campaigns to promote the employment of persons with disabilities.

All sexual and reproductive health programmes and services were inclusive of persons with disabilities.  In 2104, the Ministry of Health in cooperation with representative organizations of persons with disabilities had developed new content visually impaired and other types of disabilities.  Data and information related to patients were strictly confidential and reserved for the use solely by the health care system.  No treatment could take place without a signed consent form.

Special education needs of persons with disabilities were being addressed from a holistic perspective and there were capacity-building programmes for inclusive education teachers.  The delegation said that 51,000 of the 373,000 people with special needs were in special education while others were in inclusive education.  Home-based learning was also available, according to the curricula used in schools.

Teachers and families were critical for early detection of disabilities, therefore the Government had developed information and education activities to raise their awareness on the issue.  Children in rural areas, including children with disabilities, were provided with free transportation to the nearest school.  Teachers of refugee students with disabilities received continuous education on the matter.  Braille books were distributed free of charge to all students that needed them.  Schooling rates of children with disabilities were improving annually and Turkey planned to develop a national screening model to identify the needs of students with disabilities in the future, with particular attention being given to early detection.   

The elections in Turkey were free and based on confidential voting and public counting.  Electoral legislation provided for the right of persons with disabilities to voted freely and confidentially, with the assistance of the guardian if desired.

Concluding Remarks

Ahmet Erdem, Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services of Turkey, in his concluding remarks expressed appreciation for the contributions of representative organizations of persons with disabilities to further strengthening of the human rights-based approach to disabilities.  The country had come a long way but certain challenges remained; that was why the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations were essential to achieving the final goal of creating an environment in which persons with disabilities were equal members and participants in all areas of life.

Laszlo Lovaszy, Committee Rapporteur for Turkey, concluded by acknowledging the mutual respect and thanked the delegation for the fruitful dialogue.

Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, in his final observations, expressed hope that the concluding recommendations would enable Turkey to achieve further progress in the implementation of the Convention.

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