A workshop in which key stakeholders validated the results of the Situational Analyses about the Position of Persons with Disabilities in Serbia took place in Mona Plaza Hotel, Belgrade, on June 22, 2023. in architecturally accessible premises, and with sign language interpretation.
Executive Director of the National Organization of Persons with Disabilities, Ivanka Jovanovic, opened the conference and introduced Milana Rikanovic, a head of the UN Women Office Serbia and a representative of the coordinating body of UNPRPD (six agencies joined in the UN partnership for rights of persons with disabilities). Milana Rikanovic greeted the participants and emphasized the importance of joint work, which begins based on situational analysis and, as she said, will move the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in Serbia from a standstill.
Representatives of other UN Agencies, members of UNPRPD (UN Human Rights Team, UNDP, UNFPA, International Labour Organization), independent institutions (Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Ombudsman of Serbia, Provincial Ombudsman), ministries (Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, Ministry of information and Telecommunication), state bodies and institutions (Republic Fund of Health Insurance, the Chamber of Social Protection, Republic Institute for Social Protection, National Employment Service, Institute of Mental Health), and civil society organizations (Serbian Association of Employers, Autism Serbia, Youth with Disabilities Forum, Mental Disabilities Rights Initiative Serbia, IZ KRUGA VOJVODINA, Muscular Dystrophy Association of Zlatibor County, Nasa Kuca, Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Serbia, Association of Young Deaf people Serbia) participated in the workshop.
A consultant, Biljana Janjic, presented the results of the situational analyses conducted based on desk analysis, four focus groups with forty-two participants, six interviews with key stakeholders, and one hundred and eighty-nine questionnaires done by persons with different types of disabilities. She pointed out that the results are a cross-section of the subject matter rather than an overview of what has been done.
Key state stakeholders for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities don’t have sufficient capacity to carry out the responsibilities which arose from The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, represent persons with disabilities insufficiently, and the gap between politics and practice is evident. For example, the Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the highest expert advisory entity, has twenty-six members, among which only seven are representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities, the Council’s reports are not publicly available, and accomplished activities and guidelines are indistinctive. Furthermore, the anticipation of persons with disabilities as beneficiaries of social protection funds rather than human rights holders is apparent. The same applies to other relevant ministries and boards, adding the fact that governmental bodies that don’t deal solely with persons with disabilities don’t deal with them sufficiently or at all (Sector for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy, Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Recommendations of the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality, Committee on Labour, Social Issues, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction).
Independent institutions significant for the advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities (Ombudsman, Provincial Ombudsman, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality) emphasize in their reports the need to strengthen the capacities of persons with disabilities and their associations to recognize discrimination and violation of rights and use existing mechanisms.
More than half (54%) of persons with disabilities that took part in the analyses think that the position of persons with disabilities hasn’t improved in the past ten years, 40% anticipate that associations do not suitably represent their needs and that the movement of persons with disabilities does not participate sufficiently due to low level of capacities, knowledge, skills, information about the process and structural obstacles ( inaccessibility, stereotypes, prejudice, and lack of support services). There are no self-representative organizations of persons with intellectual disabilities. Persons with disabilities point out three key points in relation to government and institutions: disappointment that their rights are not honored and recognized, the invisibility of persons with disabilities, lack of trust in institutions, and disbelief that what the institutions are doing will lead to change.
Equality of persons with disabilities is questionable for reasons that follow: denial of reasonable accommodation is not defined as a form of discrimination against persons with disabilities; an Action plan 2022-2024 for administrating the strategy for the advancement of the position of persons with disabilities hasn’t been adopted; accessibility of institutions and services is not sufficient, access to services, education, work and employment, and health and social protection is difficult; women and girls with disabilities are exposed to multiple, intersectional discrimination; persons with intellectual, cognitive, and psycho-social difficulties are at excess risk from discrimination (deprivation of employability and institutionalization).
There are numerous domains where the rights of persons with disabilities are violated: architectural and communicational (in)accessibility, communal services underdeveloped and insufficient, (de)institutionalization, health protection, sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls with disabilities, education, labor and employment, access to justice (assisted decision making). An additional problem is the assessment of disability. The evaluation should be individualized and in accordance with the specific activities and obstacles the person with disabilities faces. That it is multidisciplinary and recognizes constant changes and life circumstances and that it varies over time. It is necessary for a person with a disability to be involved in the decision-making process and to respect his or her will, and not to act according to the medical model and foster a user approach that leads to the denial of rights.
Four key domains have been identified in which work needs to be done in the next two years to progress in realizing the human rights of persons with disabilities in Serbia: 1) building up capacities of the persons with disabilities movement for meaningful participation, representativeness, and influence; 2)disability assessment as a basis for access to services and rights; 3)assessment of the impact of budget allocation for improving the position of persons with disabilities; and 4) development of support services.