The road to change is marked with crucial milestones. Today we report on one such milestone: a landmark opinion of the Serbian Commissioner for Protection of Equality. In today’s blogpost, Biljana Janjic, an advocate at Mental Disability Rights International-Serbia (MDRI-S), describes the historic step toward achieving equality before the law for people with disabilities in Serbia. This post also provides an insight into the superb work that organisations like MDRI-S are doing every day to achieve disability justice worldwide.
In summer 2014, a married couple addressed MDRI-S for support because their newborn baby was appointed a temporary guardian, taken from parents while still in the hospital, and placed in residential institution. In the meantime the center for social work initiated a procedure for legal capacity deprivation of a mother who has intellectual disabilities, and it started a procedure for deprivation of parental rights to both parents. While she was still pregnant, the mother, A.B. went to the center for social work for financial assistance, which was granted, but the center immediately initiated a procedure for deprivation of legal capacity and appointed her a temporary guardian. In several cases, we have recognized a trend of making illogical and detrimental connection between granting some services and depriving someone of his/her legal capacity. For the Social Center in this case, they responded to A.D’s request for financial support by placing her under guardianship. The UN disability convention is an authoritative legal instrument affirming that people with disabilities should not have to compromise their equality and autonomy in order to receive support.
MDRI-S supported a couple to address relevant institutions and civil society organizations to represent them in the court cases and provide additional support.
The couple sent a complaint to the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Serbian independent equality body mandated to act on protection from discrimination and improvement of equality, and they complained against the center for social work, which initiated all these procedures against the mother and parents. During the complaint procedure before the Commissioner, the center for social work said in its written response that mother A. B. had intellectual disabilities and the center assessed that “she and her husband do not cooperate, she acts as her husband tells her, she is easily manipulated and doesn’t have support of the primary family.” The center also assessed that A.B. did not “have intellectual pre-conditions for counselling services.” It should be stressed though that this is a case of a woman who finished secondary school, lives independently with her husband, and the employment committee assessed that she was capable of working at the open market.
The Commissioner emphasized that the center’s decision on initiating procedures for deprivation of legal capacity and parental rights was “not based on expert assessment and facts, but on the fact that a mother has intellectual disabilities,” and that “the attitudes expressed by the center that a mother was not capable of taking care of a child are not objectively grounded in facts.”Therefore, the Commissioner issued an opinion that the center violated the Law on prohibition of discrimination, namely that the act of discrimination on the grounds of disability has been committed.
The opinion of the Commissioner is of great importance, because, for the first time in Serbia, it connects the initiative for deprivation of legal capacity and parental rights with the discrimination on the grounds of disability…
It is interesting to note that the Commissioner observed the procedures simultaneously, namely it examined whether the decision to initiate a procedure for legal capacity deprivation influenced the subsequent acts against this woman and her family. The Commissioner concluded that the fact that A. B. has intellectual disabilities also influenced a decision on her capabilities to take care of her child. The assessment on father’s lack of parental capabilities was also based on the fact that his wife has intellectual disabilities (statements such as “he is not critical of her condition,” his confidence in mother’s abilities is subjective”).
The situation of this family shows all the discriminatory, stigmatized and problematic aspects of legislation and practice in Serbia in regard to human rights of persons with disabilities. The system is restrictive and not supportive as in this case where the basic and additional support to improve living conditions, employment, enabling financial stability, and family care was missing.
The opinion of the Commissioner is of great importance, because, for the first time in Serbia, it connects the initiative for deprivation of legal capacity and parental rights with the discrimination on the grounds of disability, while also finding the theoretical and legal grounds in the international standards of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the General Comment no. 1 of the CRPD Committee. We hope that this opinion will set the standards for recognizing and reacting to this form of discrimination, and that it will significantly contribute to the change of practice and legislation in the Republic of Serbia.
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of PERSON (Partnership to Ensure Reforms of Supports in Other Nations) and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.