Disability Rights International (DRI) has long been concerned about the human rights of people with disabilities in Armenia. In the 1990’s we trained and supported many impressive disability activists in the country. We worked closely with activists committed to ending the institutionalization of children and people with disabilities in orphanages and other institutions. While there were clearly large challenges to ending serious problems of segregation in Armenia, we were impressed by the government’s commitment to full community integration of people with disabilities.

We were therefore surprised and deeply disturbed to learn of the Caritas plan to construct a “City of Children” in Armenia. After reviewing the plans, it is clear that the “City of Children” is a segregated environment from the community, where children with disabilities will be separated from the rest of society. The City of Children concept is a dangerous idea that will violate the fundamental human rights of children with disabilities and it should be stopped.

The placement of children with disabilities in segregated environments is contrary to international standards, particularly those recognized by the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which Armenia has signed and ratified. The CRPD recognizes the right of children with disabilities to live fully included lives in the community (Article 19) and to grow up in a family (Article 23). The segregation of children in an institutional model like the “City of Children” contravenes these standards and any plans to do so must be immediately stopped. The funding, by

international and governmental agencies alike, of new institutions and segregated environments for children with disabilities further contravenes the CRPD (Article 32). In relation to international funding of institutions, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) has called on State Parties to the CRPD to “ensure that funding sourced from international cooperation is used in accordance with the Convention.”

Armenia has an obligation to ensure that funding from international agencies is not used to build new institutions. Instead, these funds must be used to guarantee the rights recognized to all children with disabilities to a family and to grow up in the community. As such, international funding of the “City of Children” should not be permitted. The government of Armenia must also stop any allocation of resources and financial incentives –including tax exemptions- to the “City of Children.”

DRI has investigated the human rights situation of children and adults with disabilities placed in orphanages and institutions across Armenia. In order to stop abuses against this population, Armenia must create community programs and supports to ensure that no child or person with disability is placed in an institutional and segregated environment.

DRI urges the government of Armenia, in the strongest possible terms, to stop the plans to construct the “City of Children” as it violates international standards and the rights of any child that might be placed in that institution.