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Siarhei Drazdouski: Words about preparing Belarus to sign the Convention don’t prove to be true

16.10.2015  |  Society   |  Yauhenija Burshtyn, EuroBelarus,  
Siarhei Drazdouski: Words about preparing Belarus to sign the Convention don’t prove to be true

“Socially oriented” Belarus has become the last country of Europe that has joined the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But should we really feel euphoria about it?

On the eve of departing to the UN Summit in New York Aliaksandr Lukashenka signed the Decree No.401 about joining the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The required formal step has been made; however, it isn’t enough for the Convention to become a full-fledged legal international act for Belarus. It still awaits ratification and implementation. For now the document will spend 30 days in the UN depositary and after that Belarus will get all rights to ratify it, i.e. make it valid at the Belarusan territory.

Siarhei Drazdouski, the coordinator of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, told “EuroBelarus” Information Service about the benefits our country gets after joining the Convention and whether we should expect real changes after the ratification.

- We shouldn’t count on some changes until the document is ratified, should we?

- According to the Vienna Declaration, the countries that signed some international document take upon themselves some responsibilities not to introduce any new laws that would contradict the signed Convention even before the ratification. And though this is a mild norm, it’s still a big hope.

After that the country has quite a big way according to Convention. Implementation presupposes putting the national legislation, national practice, and national policy in accordance with the norms of the Convention. Obviously, it cannot be done in one day. A number of problems, or opportunities for improving the national practices, arises.

- What are these opportunities that the Convention bring to Belarus?

- First of all, it brings new understanding of disability. Medical attitude towards disability prevails in our country; or, if we exaggerate, a disabled person is an ill person. Even though Belarusan norms declare somewhat different, the essence remains like this. Whereas the Convention brings new approach and understanding that disability is an obstacle in fulfilling person’s rights. And that is discrimination; while the Convention brings strong antidiscriminatory message.

Belarusan right declares equality, but there are obvious moments of inequality. And it turns out that we are trying to build this equality; but when inequality happens we are not protected. There is no institute of protection against discrimination in Belarus.

The Convention is based on the same principle that the human rights are – it is in the center of all events. Politics should be build on the basis of human rights, and help to provide this equality. However, here we face the problem when there is some society or state that helps a person. It concludes: “well, we have that amount of money and that number of the disabled, so we are going to help them in the following way”. In this case the opinion of the person and his needs recede into the background. And here is when a number of paradoxes appear: how can it be that these people need help and demand equality at the same time; they are dependent by definition. But we should understand that dependence is quite artificial there. When we talk about the disabled, we mean people with specific needs. And specific services cover these specific needs. However, if we count the spectrum of services a normal person uses there won’t be many. A normal person cannot assemble a computer or build a house; we depend on each other somehow. But for some reason a question about guardianship appears. And why should we ask the opinion of the disabled if they are dependent on our help?

 - In a sense, it is beneficial for the state, isn’t it?

- Of course. If we look at the Belarusan state, today the creation of “special services” lies in state monopoly. There are a number of mechanisms when the state can subsidize these services if someone else provides them. But even this happens under the total control on the part of the state.

The Convention by itself doesn’t bring any new rights. The other question is that it specifies all human rights in unusual form sometimes. For example, Article 18 that states the need to provide people with independent lifestyle and life in local community sounds weird for a regular person; while for the person with disability it has crucial meaning since he or she may be forced to move into special institutions, which isn’t a person’s choice. And that is already the final step: a person comes to dormitory when social services and family admit their inability to continue supporting this person. And the person either refuses from life in the dormitory and most likely, dies, since he or she is unable to take care of him- or herself or has to put up with the dormitory.

Becoming a part of the Belarusan legislation, the Convention immediately presents a formulation of discrimination. It means that becoming a victim of discrimination, a person with disability can appeal to court using this formulation, which is a chance, however small, to use the system of justice of Belarus for protection.

- What responsibilities does Belarus take upon itself when signing the Convention?

- The state has to issue reports about the progress in realization of norms of the Convention – first after two years and then every four years. There is also an optional agreement that our country refuses to sign no matter what. That agreement creates conditions for responsibility before the Human Rights Committee established in New York. The Committee can send commissars to the country to study the situation as well as allows for the possibility of private appeal that a citizen can make if he or she didn’t secure his or her right re the Convention.

- The way to sign the Convention took eight years for Belarus. Why did it take so long and what kind of path was it?

- From the very start, when the Convention took effort, a number of Belarusan organizations of the disabled appealed to the Council of Ministers with a request to consider the question of joining the Convention. Apart from that, Belarus got a letter from the UN Headquarters in New York with an offer to consider this question.

In 2009 the UN Representation Office together with the Ministry of Labor implemented a significant project named “Promoting access to the Convention”. In the course of this project two important researches have been carried out; one about the situation with the disabled that revealed quite good situation in comparison to most countries in the world; and the second was the research of the National Center of Legislative Activity that gave scientific and legal evaluation as to which degree Belarusan legislation and law contradict the norms of the Convention. In result, few contradictions were found.

After that some unclear closed process of elaborating the draft law on joining the Convention started. Everything that we saw were annual statements that the country is getting ready to join the Convention. In the last four years the country took upon itself the duty to consider the question about signing the Convention before the world community during the universal periodic report on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Two years ago the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offered for all interested organizations and state institutions to formulate the tasks for the future state programme – a practical instrument on realization of the national policy, that would have contained the provision about our joining and implementing the Convention. Unfortunately, last year the Ministry of Labor managed to rush a scandalous law on integration of the disabled and the aged, which isn’t a way of implementation but repetition of the former programmes.

Well, we should also say that there are a number of elements of the social politics in the country that can be viewed as approach to Convention. The trouble is that they aren’t systematized and for that reason hardly efficient. Last year demonstrated that words about preparation of the country to the Convention don’t prove to be true in practice.

Belarus is the last country in Europe that signs the Convention. Our neighbors – the Polish, the Lithuanians – demonstrate that this is an impulse for progress. So the prolongation was weird and ungrounded.

On the other side, signing the Convention before the elections causes high apprehension. It’s hard not to link these two events. And when it took so long for the country to sign it, it can take just as long to ratify the Convention. We believe it to be very dangerous and inadmissible. Cause half-signed document is a crime against those who have been waiting for it so long.

- Why do we need the Convention at all?

- Our monitorings indicate a number of problems that are not resolved in any way. And without serious conceptual approaches they won’t be resolved. The Convention will enable it.

It will one more time emphasize the need of high-quality dialog between the state and the disabled. Because in most cases the state makes decisions and only informs citizens about them afterwards. Basing on the slogan “Nothing about us without us”, the Convention demands not only participation in the life of the society, but participation in decision-making.

- How real is it in the Belarusan situation?

- It is a challenge for Belarus. Ratification in itself isn’t a magic wand; nothing will change by itself. First, thanks to the Convention Belarusans will get exact formulations of how it should be and will be able to use them for fighting for their rights. On the other hand, restructuring social institutions is a question of how Belarusan society can use the Convention. It is an instrument that we should learn how to use and make efforts for that.

If the Belarusan society will conscientiously use the document, it will bring unique opportunities for us. We will be able to build mutual relations between the state and the disabled from zero in the way it has never been before.

- For whom is it harder to act in accordance with the norms of the Convention – for the state of for the society?

- The Convention has certain pressure, and for this reason the state gets responsibilities before the society. A need to at least read the document appears among concrete officials – it turns out that is hard just to read it. If we say that the realization of Convention requires money, we need to take into account the fact that the state apparatus we have now is very unwilling to reorient money flows. So the first thing to do after the ratification should be the creation of an independent body that will watch how the Convention is observed. After that the creation of a legal institution of prohibition of discrimination should follow – reconstruction of social support so that the disabled are able to choose living at home... It’s hard work, but we should do it anyway, since we are stuck in the past and the situation won’t get any better. I believe that there is equal pressure at the state and at the society.

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