Belgrade, Serbia--July 28, 2011-- Disability Rights International's partner in Serbia, Mental Disability Rights Initiative (MDRI-S), supported by a wide network of human rights and disability groups, succeeded this week in pressuring the European Union to back down from funding the reconstruction of six institutions for people with disabilities in Serbia. The €5.1 million ($7.3 million USD) project has now been redrafted to support the creation of community services that allow children and adults to leave institutions and live in the community, with choices equal to others. Disability rights activists have organized to demand that the European Union enforce their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and succeeded.
There is increasing worldwide recognition that no amount of renovations to institutions can solve the core human rights abuses being perpetrated within them. Institutions by their very nature segregate people with disabilities and violate their basic human rights. Dragana Ciric Milovanovic, Executive Director of MDRI-S, explains, "Spending money to fix up these buildings is not the answer. New, shiny, facilities create magnets for new placements. Parents who want their children to live at home are forced to give up their child to an institution because it's their only option. They don't get any support to do otherwise. Even in a clean institution, people are still restrained, overmedicated, neglected and sexually abused."
Residents of institutions have no way to exercise their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to live in the community; have access to justice, education and employment, or to be protected from torture and ill-treatment. Disability Rights International is thrilled that Serbia and the European Union have recognized the error in such approach--and we are enthusiastic about working with them to create an international development strategy that respects the dignity of an individual with a disability, creates the possibility for them to be a meaningful part of society, and keeps families together.