Despite the formal adherence to international standards our country continues to consider the issue of disability from a social rather than a legal point of view.
Last year Belarus acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities becoming the last country in Europe to join. The document provisions have the anti-discrimination message and indicate the need for persons with disabilities to fully exercise their rights. Despite the lofty words of the authorities Belarus continues to approach disability as solely medical, rather than a legal issue.
"EuroBelarus" Information Service asked Siarhei Drazdouski, the director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whether the Convention has pushed Belarusian government towards changes.
- The Parliament ratified the Convention on October 3, it is a formal step forward. With considerable delays but still they began to write the National Action Plan on the implementation of the Convention, which is necessary for facilitating the Convention to be integrated as a part of our reality until 2030.
We can see some formal actions and there are even some representatives of civil society included in the formation of the plan. Our organizations made dozens of proposals, but after receiving the latest edition of the National Plan, we realized that it does not contain the extremely important provisions we insisted on.
- What are these provisions?
- In fact, this plan is very similar to the previous plans for implementing the state policy in the country. Yes, it raises the problem of discrimination, which was not voiced before, but not quite in the context it is supposed to be in. It does not raise the issue of absence of non-discrimination policy in Belarus, a number of provisions on anti-discrimination measures proposed are important, but not systematic. This plan will not create a system of protection from discrimination for person with disabilities.
It is also noteworthy that the National Plan is not built based on the structure of the Convention, but on the Belarus state policy understanding of disability issue.
The plan virtually has no section dealing with independent living of persons with disabilities in local communities. A person must make an independent choice of life strategy. But today a person with severe disability, i.e. even their relatives and local social services can not provide the assistance needed, has only one choice - a hostel. And our officials say, "What's the problem? You have a choice: if you want, you can go to a hostel, if you do not want – do not go there." But if a person refuses to go to hostel, they just die.
The Action Plan has received criticism from the majority of persons with disabilities organizations, as it does not intend to reform the system and doesn’t include the main Convention provision on the involvement of the person with a disability in all processes. The plan does not cover reforming our financial system as well. There are almost no attempts to reform the system of work and employment, to solve the problem of inclusion in all areas, to fill the "blank space" of our legal practice as to how to deal with persons with disabilities in emergency situations.
- What are the ways to change the situation with disabled persons rights in Belarus?
- It is necessary to adopt the structure of the Convention. We must take every right and check what is needed to be done in the country to implement it. Then it is fairly easy to see the indicators for achieving the goal.
We are receiving a large number of complaints concerning social security: the economic crisis hit this area first. Also, the government continues increasing the number of hostels (conditions in which the monstrous), rather than expanding the range of social protection measures.
The Convention requires an equal dialogue between the state and the society, and we have seen none.
- Can the International organizations influence this process?
- Convention is not the only way to interact with the international community, and we strive to use all the possibilities. But Belarus has a rather peculiar attitude towards the international recommendations – it just ignores them, without burdening need for self-explanation. We believe that all the actions must be carried out within the country and by national activists - organizations and the people themselves.
- Does the government take public demands into consideration?
- I would say they are not totally ignored. We regularly see new system weaknesses demonstrating that otal control leads to a dead end without democratic methods. And sometimes there’s just no other way but to communicate with non-governmental organizations.
Disability issues relate to the whole civil society. But we insist on the voice of persons with disabilities to be stronger. Therefore there is a need for civil society to consolidate around persons with disabilities.