How constructive a dialogue could be? – Hungary’s State Report has been reviewed by the UN CRPD Committee

The constructive dialogue on the first periodic report of the Hungarian Government to the UN CRPD Committee was held in Geneva, 20-21 September 2012. The hearing is a great opportunity to exchange information on what is happening in a certain country regarding the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A List of issues is previously provided by the Committee to highlight some of the concerning questions and to enable State Parties to prepare detailed information on their work. It is important to emphasize that the dialogue aims to help State Parties to better implement an International Human Rights Instrument, which the country signed and ratified. This shows its commitment to comply with those human rights standards.  Therefore it shall be a common interest of the Governments and the Committees to have a fruitful discussion during the reporting process and besides acknowledging the achievements also highlight in which areas the country needs to make more progress.

Hungary was the first European country ratified the UN CRPD (date of ratification of the CRPD: 30 March 2007) and its Optional Protocol (date of ratification of the Optional Protocol: 20 July 2007). Thus Hungary had 5 years to make progress in the implementation.

Rapporteur of the Hungarian State Report acknowledged in his opening the number of achievements especially in the field of sign language law and non-discrimination legislation. He mentioned in his presentation that Hungarian DPOs did a magnificent job during the preparations by providing the Committee with valuable reports and data. He made a remark on “We have to express regret we do not have DPO representatives here in the constructive dialogue.” The participation of persons with disabilities in all level of policy and decision-making and monitoring the Convention is a prerequisite of successful implementation, therefore it is a pity the Hungarian disability movement could not contribute to the constructive dialogue with their knowledge and first hand experience on the issues.

In the following I am giving a brief summary on some of the main areas were highlighted by the Committee during the session and give also my personal expressions about the hearing.

In the opening presentation, the Head of Delegation referred to the CRPD as a guideline, countries may live up to some day depending on their economic situation. Member of the CRPD Committee made a clear remark whether CRPD is a human rights instrument, which shall be legally implemented in each State Parties in a reasonable time.  Afterwards members of the CRPD Committee asked very precise questions based on the List of issues covering all the rights need to be guaranteed to persons with disabilities to achieve equal participation and full integration in our society. First of all, the Committee raised the issue that the definition of disability in Hungarian law excludes persons with psychosocial disabilities whose rights therefore cannot be protected in any ways in the scope of the CRPD. The Government is planning to review the Disability Act 1998 and involve a definition which is in line with the Convention.

However it is an improvement in Hungarian legislation whether persons with disabilities cannot be deprived automatically from the right to vote anymore, the Committee expressed its concern that according to the new Constitution (entered into force 1 January 2012) right to vote could be taken away on an individual court decision basis. The Committee was interested in the raison d’etre of such a deprivation in the new law despite of decision of the Venice Committee and Hungary’s obligation to implement the Convention. They also asked a question on the situation of those citizens with disabilities who have previously lost their right to vote. Article 12 CRPD on the equal recognition before the law and legal capacity was one of the most discussed topics during the session. The Committee complimented the Government for introducing supported decision-making in the draft of the new Civil Code, but asked for further information on the still existing forms of substantive decision-making and the possibility to get incapacitated. The delegation argued that it will only happen in particular cases with the possibility of regular revisions, it was emphasized that the right to make one’s own decisions is clearly guaranteed under CRPD, therefore the new Civil Code won’t be compliant with the CRPD.

As in many other Central Eastern European countries, there are still about 25 000 persons with disabilities living in big institutions in Hungary which is unacceptable in the scope of the Convention. The CRPD Committee welcomed that the Government has put together a deinstitutionalization strategy, but found the 30 years timeframe they are aiming way too long. Concerns were also expressed on the three types of housing forms they were mentioning as so-called ‘living centres’ could accommodate up to 50 people. This would probably create small institutions instead of ensuring reasonable accommodation and the possibility that one could live integrated in the community as anyone else.

There were a number of questions considering the involvement of persons with disabilities. “We would like to know what is precisely the mechanism used by the State Party to ensure civil society participation during the harmonization, planning phase when domesticating the Convention. I want to know directly at what level DPOs are involved”. The delegation has referred to the role of the National Disability Council who seems to be the major and only guaranteed formal platform for consultations between government and civil society. The Council indeed has a great number of government representatives among its members (13 out of the 27 members), therefore its independence when comes to monitoring is strongly questionable. The Committee asked the government to designate an independent, Paris Principle compliant framework to monitor the implementation of the Convention. There was a misunderstanding in the concept of involvement as the government was keep referring to a few meetings they held to discuss some of the draft legislation or strategy they put together with civilian forces.  This does not fulfil the requirement of involving the disability movement at all levels of policy –and decision-making process.

One could have the impression that there were two different discussions taking place in Palais Wilson over the last two days. While the CRPD Committee has raised important, precise and concerned questions relating to the implementation of the Convention in Hungary, the delegation of the Government failed to give very clear answers and a timeline on the implementation process. Unfortunately most of the answers of the delegation were capturing Hungarian legislation and services in general without a special regard to persons with disabilities. A great example may be when a Committee member asked for direct measures to see if there are any policies to protect women and children with disabilities, the representative of the Ministry read out a number of general programmes on crisis centres and initiatives to decrease domestic violence. At the end of the first day, one of the Committee members warned the Government that neglecting to follow the guidelines of the Committee on the issues being discussed is sort of a violation of the Convention itself. Sadly, most delegates used a non-CRPD compliant language during their presentations and represented rather the old medical model of disability (some of the words have been used: ‘pitiful’, ‘curing’, ‘genetically injured’, ‘healthy children versus disabled children in schools’) instead of considering it exclusively as a human rights issue. It may show their unfamiliarity with the Convention and its principles. There were several remarks on the bad interpretation therefore some of the questions may have been misunderstood.

In summary, the government of Hungary could have used this opportunity to make a more constructive dialogue with the Committee and looking for great solutions together to better promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Might be useful for any delegations to consider in the future a more profound preparation to be able to answer the excellent and detailed questions of the Committee and to have a more precise focus on the CRPD and its implications to national legislation. It is a common interest of State Parties to use the limited time and resources of the Committee in the most effective way. Hopefully, the Concluding Observations of the Committee will serve as a guideline and help the committed work of Hungary to continue the implementation process of the CRPD and achieve full compliance as soon as possible.