Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Hungary: Validity expresses concern that European anti-torture committee wrongly supports transinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities

By Erzsébet Oláh 26th March 2020

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Last week, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report following its monitoring visit to the country during 2018.

The body, which has the mandate to conduct rolling inspections of places of detention across the Council of Europe, visited Hungarian prisons, police stations and social care homes, including the infamous Szentgotthárd psychiatric facility which detains over 700 persons with psychosocial disabilities. The institution is the largest of its type in Hungary and one of the largest in Europe.

In November 2018, new admissions to the institution were halted amid serious concerns over poor conditions in the facility, severe overcrowding and understaffing. Plans were subsequently drawn up to progressively reduce capacity in the institution and transfer residents to smaller institutions of between 20 and 50 beds.

Hungary is a party to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), by virtue of which it has voluntarily accepted binding international obligations to guarantee the right to support and inclusion in the community for all persons with disabilities.

Yet, overall numbers of persons institutionalised in the country have not reduced in over a decade, with state efforts instead being directed to moving people to smaller, often-isolated, closed institutions. In a particularly worrying development, the country has pursued a flawed national “deinstitutionalisation strategy” with extensive financing provided by the European Union (EU), promoting congregate living settings instead of securing community inclusion. The decisions go against the standards set out in the CRPD and EU law.

Disability and human rights activists have expressed alarm about the erroneous approach taken by Hungary which buttresses the national system of segregating people instead of guaranteeing their freedom and inclusion. Earlier this month, the Hungarian National Federation of Associations of Persons with Physical Disabilities (MEOSZ) released a statement condemning the government’s approach to building “mini-institutions [which] should not be established [as they] only reinforce segregation”.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) has also emphasised that:

“Neither large-scale institutions with more than a hundred residents nor smaller group homes with five to eight individuals, nor even individual homes can be called independent living arrangements if they have other defining elements of institutions or institutionalization.” General Comment No. 5 on Article 19 CRPD, ‘Living independently and being included in the community’

Despite these clear standards, Hungary and the European Union (EU) have continued to build mini-institutions which deny genuine inclusion, are grounded in discriminatory attitudes and which will condemn people to segregation for a generation.

Instead of acknowledging these systemic problems, Validity is shocked to note that the CPT appears to support the Hungarian government’s strategy to transfer people to what it terms “appropriate smaller structures”. It also disregards concerns about other discriminatory and abusive practices such as chemical restraint and sedation, restrictions on personal liberty and the right to informed consent in the field of health.

Responding to the report, Steven Allen, Validity Co-Executive Director said:

“We are deeply troubled that the CPT appears to be supporting state policies which segregate persons with disabilities. This is not only wrong, but directly contradicts international human rights law. If the CPT is to maintain its position as an authoritative human rights body in the Council of Europe, it is imperative that its members properly engage with international disability rights law. The current approach is unsustainable and opens up the Committee to criticism that it is letting down persons with disabilities who are wrongfully deprived of their liberty on a discriminatory basis. Moving people to mini-institutions is not the answer.”

Validity further notes that the CPT acknowledges our organisation’s contributions to the Committee’s visit to the country yet appears to have ignored our submissions entirely. We wish to make it clear that Validity cannot support the CPT’s findings or recommendations on the Hungarian deinstitutionalisation process, including that “group homes” or “appropriate smaller structures” are acceptable. We will be requesting that the report is amended to make this clear.

We call on the Committee to open up a dialogue with us on this pressing matter with a view to updating its standards, which must be brought in line with international disability rights law.