Lithuania Criticized by UN Disability Rights Committee

April 25, 2016

The UN Disability Rights Committee has concluded its review of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Lithuania. Next to the Government’s submissions, the Committee considered the alternative report compiled by NGOs, HRMI among them.

Unfortunately, the findings were grim – little to no progress had been achieved. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is urging Lithuania to abandon the use of inappropriate terminology that was offensive to the disabled in official documents — in fact, some of these terms, such as “disorder” or “deaf-mute,” even found their way into the report submitted to the Committee.

Furthermore, it was recommended that the definition of disability be revised, as it currently did not meet the requirements set by the Convention.

Change of perspective

According to Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, the legal director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the greatest obstacles to the implementation of the Convention in Lithuania are the attitudes towards disability and the disabled.

“To this day, disability and the disabled are predominantly viewed from a medical perspective, treating the disabled themselves, along with their disabilities, as the main problem. The Convention shifts this to a social perspective – in other words, treating a person’s disability as a social construct arising from the limitations of his or her social or physical environment.”

As Guzevičiūtė sees it, “The problem rests not with the persons or their disability, but with unfriendly environments that have not been adapted to their needs and are full of obstacles. If a person in a wheelchair is unable to access a building, then the problem rests with the lack of access, not the person himself. This is still not well understood in Lithuania.”

Rights violations

In the report, Lithuania was strongly urged to abolish forced hospitalization and treatment without consent. The Committee was also deeply concerned by the human rights violations in closed institutions, namely, in social care homes and psychiatric wards.

It was recommended that the state adopt measures to prevent violence and abuse of the residents of closed institutions, and to ensure that the latter have access to complaint mechanisms when their rights have been violated.

The on-going deinstitutionalization process, which involves gradually closing down care institutions for the disabled and replacing them with services provided by the community, has also attracted some criticism. The Committee was deeply concerned by the absence of some support mechanisms, such as independent living schemes, with disabled children and adults still being placed in residential care.

It was noted that the state has not adopted measures to combat the abuse (sexual or otherwise) of children with disabilities, both within and outside of institutions.

Inaccessible environments

Lithuania received further criticism due to instances of physical, informational and other forms of inaccessibility, and was urged to stop spending EU funds on inaccessible buildings, websites and other such spaces.

The Committee recommended that the concept of “working incapacity” be eliminated, instead working towards better integration of persons with disabilities into the labor market.

The state was also urged to not to restrict the voting rights of the disabled. The Constitution and current voting law do not allow persons lacking legal capacity to vote, and as such it was recommended that they be amended to abolish these restrictions. Unfortunately, the disabled will probably not have their right to vote restored in time for the upcoming Parliamentary election.