UN CRPD as a real engine of change – training experiences from Moldova

ImageThe DREAM project does not only train young research fellows to be the ‘future generation’ of disability rights academics, but goes beyond and guarantees the learning experience from excellent international stakeholders through a pulsing collaboration. Being involved in their important work may help us to become social entrepreneurs and take active part in the social change around the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). One of our associate partners is the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC), international and independent human rights NGO based in Budapest, Hungary. Since its foundation in 2002, MDAC is working in more than 15 countries across the world advocating the rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. These people are told to be ‘the most marginalized among the most marginalized’ therefore it is essential to empower their organisations and address their current human rights situation. More information on the work and projects of MDAC is available at: www.mdac.info

I had my first professional and personal connection with inspiring staff of MDAC back in 2010 attending their summer school in Budapest. A real mind changing experience to spend two weeks with activists and advocates from all around the world discussing the possible interpretations of articles of the Convention. The ways of translating abstract legal text into practice and apply it in everyday advocacy work is very important indeed. As much as I like to be in academia and doing my PhD at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy NUI Galway, I somehow miss the ‘action on the ground’ when one can really feel the power of change.

I was delighted that MDAC asked me to join their trip to Chisinau, Moldova and to train government and civil society representatives on the implementation of Article 33 CRPD. This article is the most comprehensive ever, included in international human rights treaties. What makes it innovative is the obligation to set up a framework with one or more independent element to monitor the CRPD. Nevertheless it gives an exact role to government to serve as focal point and coordinate national law and policy-making in a CRPD compliant way. The third component of the triangular Article 33 framework is the involvement of civil society and in particular persons with disabilities whose active collaboration with the government and NHRI is rather unprecedented. We live in a fascinating time, when the mantra of the Convention ‘Nothing about us without us!’ is becoming reality and State Parties can either pioneer or fail in making the first effective steps towards a more inclusive society.

Moldova is a developing country in Eastern Europe, who ratified the Convention on 21 September 2010. Thus, all the provisions articulated in the CRPD are legally binding to the country. The training was organized by UNDP Moldova, and without their local knowledge it would have been a real challenge to understand local politics and get relevant participants around the table. The training was a great learning experience for us as well. It has been emphasized several times that there is no perfect solution yet where to catch up, there are different solutions chosen by State Parties, some of them are maybe more promising than others. We therefore offered to present some of these international examples and discuss what could be used in the Moldovan context. On the first day, Oliver Lewis (Executive director of MDAC) and myself had about 20 civil servants in the room representing various departments of the government (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Culture etc.). Their interest is definitely a good sign of commitment. The designated focal point under Article 33.1, the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family also attended the event. We aimed to help them to better understand the concept of the CRPD, for instance the paradigm shift, the change from the medical to the social/human rights model or the concept of civil society participation. It was important to overview how to read certain articles of the Convention with the eyes of law makers and thinking in a structured manner when organising policy-making in disability related areas. Successful implementation of the CRPD requires the change of attitudes and mindset towards people with disabilities therefore we tried to capacitate participants through group activities to think about social barriers instead of individual limitations when it comes to disability. Generally speaking, Moldova has a great Article 33.1 structure established with a Focal Point and Ministries who already worked together when they put together the State Report to the UN Committee last year.

Article 33.2 CRPD requires the National Human Rights Institution -which is the Ombudsman in the case of Moldova- and civil society to work together in monitoring the implementation of the Convention. The Convention has a good reason to ask for this collaboration. The NHRI can bring its experience in general human rights monitoring, and most importantly serve as the independent element in the mechanism. Independence shall be guaranteed by its mandate and articulated in the distance from the government. In fairness, the Moldavian Ombudsman has been classified by the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) as ‘B’ status human rights institution due to the fact it is relying on the government when it comes to approval of yearly budget. It raises concerns towards the independence of the Ombudsman Office. The Ombudsman and civil society could not agree on the ideal form of collaboration within the framework, therefore there is no monitoring happening in this sense. UNDP has proposed a framework of 15 members – 3 delegated by the Ombudsman Office and the rest representing civil society. This level of presence in the framework did not satisfy the Ombudsman who sort of stepped out from the framework. Civilian forces intend to do the work on their own, however they are lacking coordination and adequate sources to provide secretariat for the framework. We strongly emphasized at a work lunch and a private meeting we had with the Ombudsman and his colleagues the necessity of the Ombudsman’s presence in the framework. This is an absolute prerequisite to achieve compliance with the CRPD. Representation of civil society is a very challenging issue articulated in Article 4.3 and 33.3 CRPD both from the structural and the functional point of view. Persons with disabilities have always been marginalized therefore capacity-building is a must to make them aware of their rights and the most effective ways to participate in policy-and decision-making processes. Selecting the organizations, who can represent persons with disabilities at high-level discussions is not an easy task to do. And who is entitled to decide? Some voices can be left out just because those are smaller or younger DPOs than the well-known traditional disability NGOs. In Moldova, the Ombudsman prefers to work with the NGOs who consist the most member organizations, however we know that they often function on an old, soviet-type bureaucratic base. The second day of the training has brought about 30 self-advocates to Chisinau from different parts of the country. They wanted to hear about how to organize the work of monitoring, what are the rights, which can be monitored and how is it happening in other countries. One could feel such a strong buzz in the room while talking and sharing experiences with these very powerful advocates who want to make a real change.

Moldova certainly has to struggle with financial burdens due to its economic situation, however there are issues mainly in the area of civil and political rights, which do not require major investments, but rather commitment from the State Party to comply with its international human rights obligations. The willingness to collaborate with experts from the disability movement is really one of the key prerequisites to ensure the spirit of the Convention is becoming reality at the National level.

The author would like to thank MDAC for the opportunity to participate as a co-trainer in their event in Moldova 11-12 March 2013.