PODGORICA – In the run-up to the 12th meeting of the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC), taking place in Podgorica on 19-20 May, Member of European Parliament, Anneliese Dodds gave an interview to MINA News Agency, focused on the rights of persons with disabilities.
MINA News Agency: Are you aware of the problems faced by persons with disabilities in Montenegro when it comes to accessibility of state institutions, educational facilities, local administration buildings, but also when dealing with daily life issues (healthcare, banks, post offices…)?
Anneliese Dodds: Accessibility of public buildings is one of the major problems people with disabilities face in Montenegro. The European Parliament has raised the issue repeatedly in its resolutions. That is why we are pleased that the Parliament of Montenegro adapted its facilities to make them accessible to wheelchair users. This also opens a possibility to have persons with disabilities employed in the parliamentary services and administration. But this can only be the beginning. We wish to see more action on this such as the adaptation of all ‘priority buildings’ which have been identified by the government in its law on spatial planning. It is also of crucial importance to ensure full accessibility of schools and universities in order to ensure inclusive education.
Besides securing physical access to buildings, the government should ensure full participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities by providing full access to services found in the community. In addition to that, it is important to evaluate the effects of every policy decision on the rights and living conditions of people with disabilities. This analysis should be conducted together with disabled people. A positive example in this regard is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which was negotiated with direct and continuous participation of persons with disabilities.
MINA: To what extent are persons with disabilities deprived of their fundamental human rights in this context?
AD: If wheelchair users cannot access a court then this will hamper their access to justice, if voting documents are not available in brail then this impedes on the right to political participation of people with visual impairments, to name just a few examples.
Accessibility to the physical environment, including buildings, is required by Article 9 of the UN Convention CRPD, which was ratified by Montenegro. Furthermore, it is a key feature of the European Disability Strategy (2010-2020).
MINA: At the recently held local elections in Tivat Municipality, only 6 out of 19 polling stations were accessible to persons with impaired mobility. Do you think that an urgent reaction is needed in this regard, in order for persons with disabilities to be able to fully exercise their civic rights at the parliamentary elections?
AD: It is absolutely vital to guarantee that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is guaranteed by Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is also protected under EU law. In my home country, the UK, every polling station has to make arrangements to ensure disabled voters have the same access to the electoral process as anyone else.
MINA: How far is Montenegro, as a candidate country, from European standards in this area?
AD: Montenegro has taken some important steps in the last couple of years – for instance, the Law on prevention of discrimination of persons with disabilities was amended to provide for more effective protection of people with disabilities. I think it is also very good that Montenegro has a fund for professional rehabilitation and employment of persons with disabilities but it is incomprehensible why only approximately 6% of the fund has been spent for that purpose since 2009. In general, Montenegro has adopted important legislation to further align itself with EU standards, such as the Law on Higher Education which ensures a more inclusive and affirmative environment for students with disabilities in Montenegro. This is important groundwork and has borne first fruits but Montenegro will need to speed up the process of implementation of the new laws in order for Montenegrin citizens to really feel the difference in their day-to-day lives.
Source: Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro