“Belgium is failing to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community. Planned measures to improve the situation should be implemented as a matter of priority” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing a report on his visit to the country, carried out from 14 to 18 September 2015. The report also focuses on the human rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and Roma and Travellers.
The widespread institutionalisation of persons with disabilities, combined with a lack of community-based services, limits these persons’ possibilities to lead an autonomous life, a right enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This problem is compounded by the high number of children with disabilities who are educated in specialised schools, separately from other children, with little prospect of being reintegrated into mainstream education. Commissioner Muižnieks calls for a nation-wide commitment towards the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education.
Additionally, the detention of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in overcrowded psychiatric wards in Belgian prisons, without providing them with adequate treatment, remains an outstanding serious problem, in spite of several judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which found Belgium in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in this area. “Belgium must take swift action to address these violations. Some positive steps have been taken in 2014, such as the building of a new specialised facility and the adoption of legislation easing transfers from the penitentiary system to health care institutions. The implementation process must now accelerate.”
As regards migration and asylum, the Commissioner welcomes Belgium’s bolstered reception capacity and increased resettlement quota. However, he urges the authorities to speed up the registration of newly arrived asylum seekers so that they are not left without accommodation while registration is pending. He also deplores the widespread practice of detaining asylum seekers at the border and the lack of systematic judicial review of detention. Moreover, the Commissioner welcomes that families of migrants with children are currently accommodated in open family units and calls on the authorities to refrain from resuming the practice of detaining these families in closed detention centres.
As regards Roma migrants, the marginalisation and acute destitution of a limited number of families is of serious concern. “Promising practices providing targeted social assistance and using mediators have been implemented in some cities, notably Ghent. These examples should serve to develop sustainable solutions to improve the situation of Roma families.”
The Commissioner also strongly recommends increasing the number of encampment sites available to Belgian Roma and Travellers and addressing the reported over-representation of foreign Roma children and children of Roma and Traveller background in specialised schools. It is also important to tackle more forcefully all instances of hate speech and discriminatory practices against these communities.