“Romania must accelerate the introduction of the National Prevention Mechanism”, warned the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, present, on 1st April 2014, at the debate on access to justice for and the rights of children and young people institutionalized, suffering from mental disabilities, organized by the Centre for Legal Resources.
“I would like toreiterate my conviction that Romania needs to introduce the National Prevention Mechanism, which must be initiated and funded by the government, but implemented as an independent body, which should lead to the observance of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and monitor compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, stated the Commissioner forHuman Rights, Nils Muižnieks.
Thisstatement was made at the release, by the Centre for Legal Resources (CLR), of the synthesis paper including the observations made during the inspections carried out in 30 residential centres in which persons – children and youth – with mental disabilities were secluded. These visits have highlighted a range of serious violations of the rights of the persons secluded in such institutions, ranging from torture, inhuman and degrading treatments, limitation of access to justice, non-settlement of the complaints lodged by the people secluded, to the lack of investigations into cases of death, limited, and sometimes non-existent, access to social rehabilitation and medical care within the community.
Following theirregularities found, the CLR has filed three criminal complaints. All these problems have been presented to the Commissioner by CLR monitoring experts.
“One of the most difficult visits was conducted at the Aldeni Centre for Youth and Seniors, Buzău. Here, more than 100 beneficiaries were monitored by five employees, the centre was shortstaffed, patients were heavily sedated. Nine people in three beds, locked up in a room, heavily sedated and barely breathing. We found six people in three beds, sedated, tied to the bed, by their hands and feet, with a rope. The UN Convention governs the standards, but these are very often violated in Romania. We had the courage to report the findings of Aldeni. Although this was a clear case of torture, it took the prosecutor a month and a half to initiate the criminal proceedings in this case. He did not even go down to the Centre, but sent a police officer with a limited warrant, unable to hear all the persons involved in this case. That is why we ask ourselves what is the extent of these persons’ real access to justice”, said, during the debate, Silvia Tăbuşcă, CLR monitoring expert and university professor.
“I am sorry to hear aboutthe situation presented by your colleague, related to the prosecutor’s delayed response in the case of Aldeni. I think that we must become these children’s advocates. I can assure you that the Public Ministry is paying special attention to cases involving people with disabilities, but we are faced with a very high number of files, about two million files per year”, declared Bogdan Licu, First Deputy Prosecutor General of Romania.
“I would like to draw your attention to the way in which these children arrive in institutions for people with disabilities. In the Băbeni Centre, Vâlcea, for example, a young man had been transferred from a foster care centre to this centre for people with mental disabilities after a conflict, as a punitive measure. In fact, most children in this centre should not attend a special school. Another example: a young girl was told that she had to be transferred to a centre for young people with mental disabilities and she had no possibility of challenging this decision, although she should have this right. Suddenly, one night, the transfer took place. At the Voila Psychiatric Hospital, Câmpina, a 7-year old girl had no disability, just a social need. The girl told us that she had arrived there after a dispute with one of his teachers who told her that she should attend the special school within the hospital, attended also by her sister. So the problem is how they arrive in such centres and their inability to challenge this decision”, said Horaţiu Rusu, CLR monitoring expert and university professor.
Elena Tudor, Director of the Directorate for the Protection of Children’s Rights of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and the Elderly, declared, during the debate, that “the kind of situations presented by the CLR are regrettable”. “As for the transfer of children, the law is clear, it is up to the court of law to decide. But although the existing legislation is compliant with the requirements, there is always room for improvement and we have always been open to any proposal. This is a problem of legislation implementation”, said Elena Tudor, while reminding us that, starting with this year, the Authority for Children’s Rights, which will be set up, will include a distinct structure for monitoring the observance of children’s rights.
“I hope that this institution will be headed by an expert on children’s rights. The setting up of such an institution is good news, but it is important to have a proper operation of the institutions themselves”, added the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks.
In the context of the violations of the human rights of people with mental disabilities identified by the CLR, the Commissioner stressed the importance of non-governmental organizations in protecting the rights of institutionalized persons with disabilities, while reminding the CLR case on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu vs. Romania, pending before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.
“If NGOs cannot defend in courts of law the persons secluded in various institutions, abuses may be committed at any time. The access of these people to justice is very important, which is why I wanted to speak on behalf of a third party in the CLR lawsuit on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu vs. Romania, before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. We must eliminate all barriers related to access to justice and hope for a positive outcome before the Grand Chamber. I congratulate the CLR for their work in the Valentin Câmpeanu case. You are true advocates of human dignity”, said the Commissioner.
The CLR debate was also an opportunity for colleagues from other NGOs to present the problems faced by people with mental disabilities and their families.
Here are some statements made during the debate:
“We are closing down the foster care centres, but most of the young people taken out of there remain under State protection and care even after turning 18. For example: a 16-year old boy is sent to a family type home, but at the age of 18, due to budgetary separation – different budgets for children and adults in different institutions – he is taken out of this home and transferred to a classic centre. We must put an end to this practice. Another problem is related to the freeze on hiring that started back in 2009. This led to a current shortfall of 14,000 employees in the protection system set up for children and people with disabilities, resulting in a lack of protection and care, at the level of the direct contact with young people and children”, said Ştefan Dărăbuş,CEO of Hope and Homes Romania.
“As for the complaints system, we made things simple: people are free to express themselves, if there is no dissatisfaction then we have a problem. The people that we took out of such institutions can speak their mind at any time. But none of them know how to write and read. So what is the point of having a book of complaints? If we do not consider people with disabilities in the context of their rights, any action is useless”, said Cerasela Predescu, Executive Director, Pro ACT Suport.
“Discrimination at work continues to exist for people with mental disabilities. In Romania, it is specialists who always decide what is best for the beneficiary, who is not consulted or involved in the decision concerning its recovery”, said Amedeea Enache, Executive Director of the Estuar Foundation.
“In the countryside, we can find families with several children, of which one or two are disabled. Parents raise them until the age of 6-7, and then, following the advice of various directorates for the protection of children, they send them to various institutions. The children are then transferred from one centre to another until their parents lose track of them”, said Mădălina Turza, President of the European Centre for the Rights of Children with Disabilities.
“The only thing that I ask of the education system is what is provided by law, but the only reaction I get is the reproach that I am overdemanding. I wish to be involved in the recovery plan, but I am constantly denied this. I am told that I do not have the right to make statements concerning what is happening. There is no mechanism for parents to express their opinion. The only alternative is to bring the Ministry of Education to justice. I have been trying to express my opinion for almost 10 years now. The only person guilty of anything was my child for not being able to rise to the level of the demands of the school curriculum”, told Liuba Iacoblev, President of the Autism Romania Association.
For details aboutthe National Prevention Mechanism, the irregularities found by the CLR during its inspections and the criminal complaints lodged following findings of violations of human rights, click HERE and HERE
For details aboutthe first case brought before the European Court of Human Rights related to the deaths of patients, and, at the same time, the first case dealing with the issue of access to justice for people with mental disabilities, locked away in institutions without legal representative, click HERE.