The CRPD Committee announced the adoption of the Guidelines on Deinstitutionalisation, including in emergencies (hereafter ‘DI Guidelines’). This document is the result of a two year long highly participatory process triggered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities in institutions, which had been documented in a report by the Covid-19 Disability Rights Monitor. The DI Guidelines are designed to complement General Comment No. 5 on Article 19 (Living independently and being included in the community) and the Guidelines on Article 14 (Liberty and security of person).

With the logistical support from the International Disability Alliance (IDA), the CRPD Committee held seven online regional consultations in the first part of 2021. Throughout the consultations organisations of persons with disabilities, disability activists, survivors of institutionalisation and other civil society actors shared their life experiences and their views on how States should move forward with deinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities, including in emergency situations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and other humanitarian emergencies.

The work continued under the leadership of the CRPD Committee´s Working Group on Deinstitutionalisation throughout the 25th, 26th and 27th sessions, including a call for comments prior to this last session. In response to this important process, the Global Coalition on Deinstitutionalisation was created by civil society actors, including IDA, to promote and support the participation of organisations of persons with disabilities and other civil society organisations, through dissemination of information and explanatory webinars.

The DI Guidelines strongly calls on States Parties to “abolish all forms of institutionalisation, end new placements in institutions and refrain from investing in institutions” (paragraph 8). The Committee further clarifies that “[t]here is no justification to perpetuate institutionalisation” (paragraph 9). Indeed, no excuse is satisfactory: neither lack of support and services in the community, nor poverty or stigma on persons with disabilities. Building upon the impact of persons with disabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic, theCommittee clarified  that “[t]he exercise of the rights under article 19 of the Convention cannot be suspended in situations of emergency, including in public health emergencies” (paragraph 8).

Importantly, the DI Guidelines, in paragraphs 14 and 15, outline the  defining elements of an institution, such as “obligatory sharing of assistants with others and no or limited influence as to who provides the assistance” and the “isolation and segregation from independent life in the community”, among others, and by providing a conceptualisation of “institutionalisation” as follows:“any detention based on disability alone or in conjunction with other grounds such as “care” or “treatment” (paragraph 14).  

Throughout the DI Guidelines, the Committee  successfully tackled the specific situations of different groups among persons with disabilities, including women and girls with disabilities, children with disabilities and older persons. In particular, it has stressed that, for children with disabilities, “institution” is any placement that is not family-based. In the same direction, the Committee called for the review of any remaining “[i]nternational standards that justify or encourage the maintenance of residential care…”

Section VI “Inclusive community support services, systems and networks” and section VII “Access to mainstream services on an equal basis with others” provide concrete guidance highlighting the main elements required for States to keep in mind when moving forward with deinstitutionalisation. Disability related and other support, including personal assistance, and access and inclusion in mainstream services are the positive elements to be provided to persons with disabilities leaving institutions to ensure their inclusion in the community.

Many other parts, notably section VIII focusing on emergency deinstitutionalisation and section IX reflecting the importance of access to justice and a reparations approach to institutionalisation, not only consolidate but also bring new important elements to the CRPD Committee jurisprudence. For instance, on reparations, the Committee clarified that “[they] should go beyond financial compensation, to include restitution, habilitation and rehabilitation – which may include measures covered in article 26 of the Convention, legal and social services to assist establishment in the community and securing all rights and entitlements, including health services and healing modalities to repair the damage caused by institutionalisation – and should be accompanied by guarantees of non-repetition.”

The elements outlined above in the previous paragraphs, should make this document mandatory study material for States, organisations of persons with disabilities and all other stakeholders involved in deinstitutionalisation efforts,  as well as those still -unfortunately- involved in their perpetuation. The International Disability Alliance warmly welcomes the adoption of these guidelines and calls on States and all relevant stakeholders to initiate and/or resume dialogue and constructive collaboration to move forward in the direction of the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community. The vision enshrined in the CRPD, the inclusive communities we want and need.    

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