2 April 2015
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Turkmenistan on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Seyitmammed Akmammedov, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Turkmenistan, said that the 2013 Code on the Social Protection of the Population defined social protection policies for persons with disabilities, established quotas and work places for persons with disabilities, and also contained provisions on accessibility, reconstruction of buildings and social infrastructure, media and information opportunities. The rights of children with disabilities to receive education on an equal footing were reflected in the Code of Education, which provided for special facilities, teaching and education approaches. Special equipment facilities including telephone links in households were provided, and persons with disabilities had free access to sports facilities and special sporting items.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the reforms in Turkmenistan, including in early childhood development, and the improvements in economic and social spheres. Experts were concerned about the enjoyment of the rights of children with disabilities, and called upon Turkmenistan to address the situation of children with disabilities living in institutions, in particular those with Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum, to put in place inclusive education, including through the establishment of child-friendly schools, and to ensure that no birth of a child with disabilities remained unregistered because of social stigma. The absence of a baseline and statistical data on persons with disabilities, particularly on women and children with disabilities, hampered the development of informed disability policy and strategy, Experts said and raised concerns about discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities living in poverty, and the absence of a system of provision of social services to persons with disabilities.
In concluding remarks, Laszlo Gabor Lovaszy, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, thanked the delegation for their honest answers to sometimes hard questions asked, and said that this interactive dialogue enabled all to learn from each other.
Mr. Akmammedov, in concluding remarks, said that all the questions raised by Experts were important for the implementation of the Convention. Turkmenistan would examine them carefully in order to improve the implementation of the provisions of the Convention in the country.
The delegation included representatives of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, Ministry of Health and Medical Industry, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Turkmenistan at the end of the session, on Friday, 17 April 2015. The Committee next meets in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 April when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of the Dominican Republic (CRPD/C/DOM/1).
Report of Turkmenistan
The initial report of Turkmenistan can be accessed here: CRPD/C/TKM/1
Presentation of the Report
SEYITMAMMED AKMAMMEDOV, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Turkmenistan, said that since the presentation of Turkmenistan’s initial report, radical reforms had taken place. All citizens, including persons with disabilities, had the right to education, medical care, treatment in sanatoria, and access to sports and other facilities. The Code of Social Protection of the Population of 2013 defined social protection policies, including those regarding persons with disabilities. The Law on Employment, adopted in 1991, provided for employment of all persons with special provisions for protection for those unable to compete on an equal footing with others in the labour market. A Panel of Health Experts established the categories of persons with disabilities and decided on their employability status depending on the degree of impairment. The Code on the Social Protection of the Population established quotas for persons with disabilities, including establishment of work places for persons with disabilities. In 2011 a decree on the organization, financing, training and upgrading of qualifications of persons working on special employment places in Turkmenistan was issued. Vocational training was carried out on the basis of medical certificates. Special training facilities, if necessary, were provided.
There were 9,809 persons with disabilities recorded in 2015, of which 76 per cent had found employment. The rights of children with disabilities to receive education on an equal footing were reflected in the Code of Education, which provided for special facilities, teaching and education approaches. There were also facilities such as sanatoria for children who needed special treatment. There were facilities for studying at home. Children with disabilities had the right to full participation in society, including schooling treatment and rehabilitation facilities. The Code on the Social Protection of the Population had a special chapter on persons with disabilities, which included provisions on accessibility, reconstruction of buildings and social infrastructure, and media and information opportunities. Special equipment facilities, including telephone links in households, were provided. Free access to sports facilities, and special sporting items were provided locally. Persons with disabilities in first and second groups enjoyed a listed set of services, including monetary benefits of which the size increased on average by 10 per cent on an annual basis. The provision of medical treatment and services, including wheelchairs and prosthetic devices, was free of charge. By 2014, 1,780 wheelchairs had been given and over 200 operations were carried out. Over the last years the production of orthopaedic instruments, wheelchairs, and other services had increased.
Questions by the Committee Experts
LASZLO GABOR LOVASZY, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, stated that it was evident that Turkmenistan had taken the recommendations seriously, and had undergone many reforms. However, these achievements also meant further responsibilities to bear. Although many improvements had been seen in economic and social spheres, more had to be done to fulfil the obligations of the Convention. The reforms in early childhood development were commendable but more attention was needed for children living in institutions, in particular those with Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum. More information was needed on the implementation of recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and on the so-called Child-friendly Schools. In relation to this, the improvements in the field of education were commendable, however, there was no concrete definition of inclusive education or discrimination. In addition, regarding employment of persons with disabilities, concrete measures in national legislation with legal and financial safeguards were needed.
Another Committee Expert asked whether it was possible to revise the medical definition of the term “disabilities.” What was the involvement of voluntary organizations of persons with disabilities in the work of the Government and its bodies, and how were these supported? How did the Government cooperate with international agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and how did it see their role?
An Expert commented that due to social stigma, children with disabilities were apparently not registered by their parents. How was the public attitude towards persons with disabilities? What concrete steps were made to introduce the Convention to the public? Was the text of the Convention available in Braille? And were there plans to translate and disseminate it? Were there training activities to explain it to teachers, civil servants and other groups?
The delegation was asked to inform about the legal remedies of persons with disabilities who were discriminated against.
Was segregation in education, employment and living defined as a form of discrimination? Were parents of children with disabilities informed about consultations with other parents on how to raise children with disabilities, and what kind of measures were taken to ensure that children grew up in families instead of institutions? What measures were being undertaken to implement comments by the Committee on the Rights of Child that children with disabilities were given few opportunities to be adopted?
There were no statistics on the number of persons with disabilities. According to the latest report, the population of Turkmenistan was 6.2 million inhabitants, while according to WHO 15 per cent were persons with disabilities. The delegation had mentioned there were 700,000 persons with disabilities, of which 46,000 were women. These were all very low numbers. How could the State party develop disability policies when it did not have the basic data? Was the Convention included in these plans? It had been indicated that there were orthopaedic footwear services, as well as electoral prostheses. However, other services were not provided, such as wheelchairs.
An Expert wondered whether the scope of disability protected the relatives of persons with disabilities from being discriminated against. Several Committee Experts wanted to know what specific steps were made for women with disabilities as well as what mass media measures was the State using to raise awareness. They also wanted to know whether the State established measures to promote accessibility to existing and new structures? Was the new building code in line with the Convention and what was the State doing to tackle disabilities from an architectural perspective as well as in terms of transportation? Were there sanctions for those who refused to comply with new standards? Could the delegation present some pictures on the level of accommodation for persons with disabilities, especially in the transport sector?
There was a need to determine the exact needs of persons with disabilities. Would it not have been better, prior to starting to implement measures, to come up with a National Disabilities Strategy with short, medium and long-term goals? Could there be a more holistic approach, starting with a redefinition of the term “disabilities?” The term “invalidity” was still used in the Russian language, and was considered discriminatory. Had there been any reflection on the terminology?
LASZLO GABOR LOVASZY, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that there seemed to be a lack of concrete data on women, and on early childhood development. Was there the involvement of any other person, apart from the medical personnel, in deciding upon whether a child could pursue education? And what kind of support was available for parents with children with disabilities, and particularly with Down Syndrome?
The delegation was asked to comment on how they were working on a human rights-based approach.
Response by the Delegation
In response to the questions, the delegation stated that the Code on the Social Protection of People, in Article 1, provided a definition of the concept of disability which corresponded with international definitions of persons with disabilities. Women, minors, and persons with disabilities were protected from discrimination through this Code. It was compulsory to have civil society representatives in working groups drafting all legislation. On equality and discrimination, Article 24 on the Code on the Social Protection of the Population provided for prohibition on discrimination against persons with disabilities. Article 14 of the Criminal Code provided for liability for up to two years of imprisonment for cruel treatment against a person with disabilities.
The Ministry of Health provided medical services, drugs as well as the provision of wheelchairs and prosthesis and other orthopaedic devices and braces. Persons with disabilities in the third category were only required to pay 50 per cent of the cost of these services. In 2014 there were 30 surgical interventions to replace limbs, provided for free of charge. A medical company provided workshops, orthopaedic equipment and the reparation of prostheses. Since 2009, three times more devices had been manufactured, while orthopaedic shoes had been built six times more. The international Centre for Traumatology was working with several foreign companies to produce equipment. People were given household services on an outpatient basis. Between 2009 and 2014, 1,700 wheelchairs had been handed over free of charge to persons with disabilities, including children. There were 121,810 persons with disabilities receiving pension funds, divided in three groups.
The implementation of the Convention was discussed together with representatives of civil society organizations, as well as representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities. In terms of awareness raising campaigns, teaching aids were distributed in schools and various activities were undertaken by the Parliament, including round tables and seminars, to explain the provisions of the Convention to local and regional authorities in all regions of the country. Several resource centres had been established in all regions which raised awareness on the Convention through seminars.
Regarding information received by parents and the options for them to share it with others, in May 2011 a presidential decree establishing a National Programme for the Development of Children for 2011-2015 was issued. In January 2013, programmes for kindergartens with early childhood development centers were established, including children with disabilities. On the question of the National Strategy for Persons of Disabilities and attaching a budget to it, currently a National Programme for Human Rights was being developed, based on international obligations flowing from the Conventions that Turkmenistan was party to. The draft had a separate chapter on persons with disabilities; however the budget issue had not been resolved yet. A law on gender equality was also being drafted, which integrated issues of women and children with disabilities.
Regarding non-registered persons with disabilities, in 2014 the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection had conducted a study, finding 15 persons who were not employed, and for whom it found employment opportunities.
Regarding the question on the term “invalidnost” which was used in the Russian language as an equivalent of “disabilities”, the delegation agreed that the term was not acceptable and was not used in the Turkmen language. There were 200 children in early childhood shelters, of which 40 per cent had disabilities. The Government was working with UNICEF to develop national programmes on issues regarding children.
In 2014 a Law on Social Organizations had been adopted, pursuant to which the State ensured the rights and responsibilities of non-governmental organizations providing support to them. All operations relating to the purchase, sale and transportation of medication, as the provision of rehabilitation services and treatment of persons with disabilities, were released from the value added tax. In 2014, a law to combat corruption had been adopted. A number of working groups had been set up in an interagency group. The intersectional approach yielded productive results.
Questions by the Committee Experts
A Committee Expert wanted to know what measures were taken in national emergency protocols for people who were deaf. Was there a hotline for deaf persons? On access to justice, could the delegation provide information on how fair trials were guaranteed for persons with psychosocial disabilities? Could figures on the cases of administration of fines in cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities be provided?
There were a series of questions regarding compulsory medical treatment on persons whose legal capacity was removed. These were at risk of invasive and irreversible procedures of sterilization. There was ambiguity as to whether the law permitted medical experimentation of persons under guardianship. There was high concern about the institutionalization of individuals based on psychosocial condition without their consent. The Psychiatric Care Act of 1993 allowed confinement of 6 months and more in isolation for persons with disabilities, and this was scandalous. What plans were there to repeal this act and to reconsider the abolition of all types of forced psychiatric interment? Did the Government plan to abolish the regime of stripping persons with disabilities of their legal capacity?
There was no explicit prohibition of forced sterilization with respect to women with disabilities, including those under guardianship. There were also no specific legal provisions regarding violence, abuse, and exploitation in the home, the community and institutions of women with disabilities. Was there police training to work with victims of violence? What was the percentage of persons with disabilities in prisons?
The delegation was invited to clarify the concept of a “socially dangerous act,” which justified the interment of a person in a psychiatric institution.
LASZLO GABOR LOVASZY, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, asked whether there were available sign language interpretation courses, and whether a person involved in criminal procedures would be provided with sign language interpretation. Were there clear and transparent protocols for safeguards applicable with special regards to the needs of deaf persons? When was the notion of insanity applicable? Were there clear targets to reduce the number of persons living in institutions, were there other social services available, and what was the usual practice of starting independent adult life when maturity was reached?
Regarding awareness-raising, a Committee Expert wanted to know whether the Convention was taught as part of a general curriculum for law students and judges.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to the question concerning statistical data, a delegate said that in Turkmenistan there were 18,805 women with disabilities in institutions as well as 1,873 children with disabilities in institutions. The Action Plan 2015-2018 for the holding of the Asian Games would see the construction of adequate housing and education facilities, in accordance with international construction regulations. The legislation provided for protection and support for care takers of persons with disabilities: for example, parents of children with disabilities were entitled to part-time work, longer holidays, and a prohibition of night-time work.
The delegation stressed that the implementation of the Convention was a process which was gradually taking place. Turkmenistan had signed the Convention in 2008 and in 2012 had undertaken the review of the legislation and published the children’s version of the Convention. The National Strategy on Climate Change had been adopted in 2012, and it had been decided to establish a Central Asian regional centre for technologies regarding climate change, which would also provide early warning services to the population; in addition, Turkmenistan had also taken part in the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Various types of institutions had been set up to provide in-patient care which provided education and care for minors with psychiatric orders. There were training institutes for training of persons with disabilities in professions, and quotas for employment of persons with psychiatric disorders had been instituted. Mandatory psychiatric assistance measures could only be applied with a court order. The Law on the Protection of Health provided new methods of treatment, diagnosis, use of substances and carrying out of medical research; the consent of the person in question was mandatory and measures could not be used if they were not in the best interest of the patient. Everyone had the right to participate in medical trials at any stage and no one could force another person to participate in medical research or in a treatment that was not fully tested. Forced medical measures were a necessity and were geared to protect the individual and the society as a whole. The Criminal Code provided for forced medical measures for persons with psychiatric disorders who committed acts covered by the criminal law in a state of insanity, or with a lack of ability to recognize the consequences of acts and the danger imposed on others. The aim of the measures was to protect the person and to prevent the occurrence of future crimes.
The Constitution guaranteed honour and dignity to all persons, and the enjoyment of their rights; persons with disabilities could file a complaint in a court, and file for compensation for damages caused by unlawful actions. Persons with disabilities enjoyed the right to education and could access it if they so wished.
The Criminal Code covered situations of domestic violence, while the National Programme on Gender Equality included monitoring of violence. Turkmenistan had organized a seminar in 2014 to learn from others who had laws and programmes on domestic violence; those who participated in the seminar would be in charge of preparing the proposals for laws or programmes on domestic violence. There was a plan to hold a seminar on investigating domestic violence, which was a very sensitive area.
Persons with disabilities had the right to own property, inherit, manage their own financial resources and own a bank account.
With regard to forced abortions and medical sterilization, the delegation said that the prevention of abortion was the goal and that citizens were entitled to free health care which was provided through the public health system. Medical sterilization could be carried out only with the written consent of the person concerned; the person had to be at least 35 years of age or have three children. Turkmenistan had joined the United Nations Children Fund’s regional initiative to end institutionalization of children with disabilities under the age of three. It was clear that there was a need to strengthen service provision and support to families with children with disabilities locally, and early intervention centres had been established.
Parliament had established a Working Group to draft a law on the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman, which would be aligned with international law; the delegation was confident that the Office would be soon established, and would be based on experiences of other States in setting up their national human rights institutions. The Criminal Code contained the definition of torture and the sanctions included deprivation of liberty ranging from three to five years.
Questions by the Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked about inclusive education and the percentage of children with disabilities educated in segregated schools, and about groups of persons with disabilities which were able to work, and noted that the baseline situation of persons with disabilities was not in place.
On accessibility, an Expert asked about the implementation of the laws and fines for offenders, about television programmes broadcast in sign language, and whether old university buildings and polling stations were wheelchair accessible.
LASZLO GABOR LOVASZY, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, asked about the right of persons with disabilities to be heard in medical and education processes and about the applicable definition of persons with disabilities in the law.
The delegation was asked about support to persons with disabilities, who lived in poverty; putting in place more systematic coordination of activities on disability issues; development of a system of provision of social services to persons with disabilities and their families based on human rights, and plans to train social work professionals; how Turkmenistan welcomed non-governmental organizations; provisions for persons with disabilities in the Electoral Act; and about measures to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life.
Response by the Delegation
The determination of special needs of children was made in schools, and for children under the age of three, it was done by neurologists, paediatricians and child psychologists. Parents were taught to care for their children with disabilities and provide education. Turkmenistan was preparing for the post-2015 development agenda and supported the continuation of the work to achieve the established goals. The goal of eradicating poverty and ensuring full social inclusion still remained unfulfilled, but some progress had been made. Attention was on the development of human potential and Turkmenistan would use its resources to provide for sustainable socio-economic development. All the buildings of higher learning were modern and built to the code, while 60 per cent of all the schools in the country were newly built.
Turkmenistan had extensive cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund and with other United Nations and international agencies. There were more than 10 non-governmental organizations which were somehow involved in disability-related projects. All citizens were allowed to participate in the electoral process and to vote; persons who had been declared incompetent by the court did not have the right to vote. At the moment, there were no persons with disabilities in the Parliament; 19 per cent of its 126 members were women. There were no restrictions to the right of persons with disabilities to marry; reproductive health of persons with disabilities was regulated by the health act and was under the aegis of the Ministry of Health. Sport was part of the country’s culture, and persons with disabilities took an active part in sport activities, including in the Olympic Games. Turkmenistan intended to raise the age of majority from 16 to 18 years of age.
SEYITMAMMED AKMAMMEDOV, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Turkmenistan, thanked the Committee for their recommendations and comments and said that all the questions raised by Experts were important for the implementation of the Convention. Turkmenistan would examine them carefully in order to improve the implementation of the provisions of the Convention in the country.
LASZLO GABOR LOVASZY, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, thanked the delegation for their honest answers to sometimes hard questions asked, and said that this interactive dialogue enabled all to learn from each other.
MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and said that the Committee’s concluding observations should be taken as guidance for the future.
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