Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

UKRAINE RECOVERY: Humanitarian Donors’ Obligations to Ensure Inclusion, Not Institutions for Persons with Disabilities

By Steven Allen 18th August 2023


Today, Ukrainian OPDs and civil society called on the political leadership and all humanitarian actors dealing with the crisis in Ukraine to ensure international assistance prioritizes deinstitutionalization and inclusion in the community for all persons with disabilities, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Guidelines on deinstitutionalization, including in emergencies (CRPD/C/5).  They also called for an immediate halt to investments into the construction and reconstruction of institutions for persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities are among those most affected by the ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. In violation of international law, health and residential care facilities have become targets; some were destroyed, many were damaged, and residents required evacuation. With the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine a threat exists of new people purportedly becoming in “need of residential care services”.

As the international community stands in solidarity with Ukraine, international agencies and donor states have unlocked unprecedented levels of funding and technical assistance to support reconstruction. Ukrainian OPDs and disability rights organizations are concerned to note that some international partners are investing in the rebuilding and reconstruction of institutions and residential services for persons with disabilities, in conflict with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In so doing, they are mistakenly strengthening an abusive system of segregation and isolation of adults and children with disabilities, instead of directing funds to ensure inclusion in the community, accessible housing and support for an adequate standard of living.

Ukrainian OPDs are calling for an immediate halt on investments being made in reconstructing institutions for persons with disabilities. We call upon the Ukrainian Government, EU, donor countries and agencies, UN agencies and humanitarian actors who support and invest in Ukraine to harmonize their efforts and support full community inclusion of all persons with disabilities. Participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organization is essential at all levels to ensure emergency planning and recovery efforts are fully inclusive.

In line with the priorities and challenges identified by the Ukrainian OPDs and civil society we issue the following recommendations.

  1. A broader discussion is needed on how to ensure humanitarian response and broader recovery support of Ukraine are human rights-based and are in line with the CRPD Committee’s Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization, including in Emergencies.
    1. We call for an emergency meeting between donors, UN agencies, EU, and disability organizations whose participation is necessary at all levels, during planning, implementation and monitoring, to ensure emergency planning that is disability inclusive.
    2. Involvement of persons with disabilities and civil society should be transparent, systematic and substantive through all levels of policy, law reform, coordination of aid, etc.
    3. We remind the Ukrainian Government that deinstitutionalization plans should prioritize the leadership of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, and those responsible for historic policies of institutionalization should not have control, pursuant to the DI Guidelines.
  2. A comprehensive Ukrainian DI strategy is needed which is in line with the CRPD and the UN Guidelines on deinstitutionalization, including in emergencies. Donors should finance civil society organisations, including OPDs to be able to meaningfully contribute to the development, implementation, and evaluation of a DI strategy including policy and law reforms. The strategy should include the following elements:
    1. Emergency measures to save lives of people in institutions that haven’t been properly addressed since the beginning of the invasion.
    2. Investments into the development of a range of high-quality, individualised support and inclusive mainstream services in the community; investments are needed in retrieving the overall health and well-being of the residents and ex-residents of institutions, and should prioritize the provision of accessible housing and ensuring an adequate standard of living for all persons with disabilities;
    3. Family-based placements for all children, including those with disabilities and living in institutions must be integral part of the strategy; “For children, at the core of the right to be included in the community is the right to grow up in a family” (para 43 of the Guidelines);
    4. Disability inclusion must be integral within all policies related to the current situation of war, emergency response and development;
    5. Constant independent monitoring of the rights and living conditions of persons with disabilities is needed with the meaningful involvement of OPDs and disability rights organisations.
  3. Bilateral donors and multilateral donor platforms including UN agencies, the EU and the joint EU/Ukraine Multi-agency Donor Coordination Platform for Ukraine should not invest in reinforcing segregation. Donors must:
    1. Refrain from investments in the building, refurbishment or reconstruction of institutions, including ‘small group homes’ and ‘family-type settings’;
    2. Ensure that funding does not support trans-institutionalisation, including the placement of refugees with disabilities in institutions outside of Ukraine;
    3. Provide equal access to recovery and rehabilitation services; proper support should be offered for refugees and internally-displaced persons with disabilities; all such measures must respect their rights, will and preferences;
    4. EU and other donors should allocate specific funding to support deinstitutionalization in Ukraine in line with the CRPD and the UN Guidelines on deinstitutionalization, including in emergencies.

A recording of the side event, hold on 18 August 2023 at the United Nations in Geneva, will be uploaded soon.