“They need space for a full life”

21 April 2021

Public observers from 18 regions will study the observance of the rights of people with disabilities in places of detention.

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, any discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited. The prohibition of discrimination is also contained in the Russian law “On Social Protection of Disabled People in the Russian Federation”. Despite this, in Russia, conditions for people with disabilities are often not created both in freedom and in prison.


From 29 to 31 January, the interregional human rights organization “Man and Law” held a seminar in St. Petersburg for representatives of public monitoring commissions, public councils under the regional Federal Penitentiary Service, expert councils under the Human Rights Commissioners from 18 regions, during which participants studied the features of public monitoring of the rights of people with disabilities in places of detention and drew up a plan for further work to improve the situation.

Obligations of the State in relation to people with disabilities in custody


The obligations of the State in relation to people with disabilities are approved by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the UN in 2006.


In Russia, there is a law No. 181-FZ “On social protection of disabled people in the Russian Federation”. This law reflects the medical rather than social nature of the State’s work with the disabled. 181-FZ defines the disabled as a person who has a disorder of body functions due to diseases, causing the need for his/her social protection.


Article 1 of the Convention also states that the disorders present in the body “when interacting with various barriers can interfere with the full and effective participation of a person in the life of society on an equal basis with others”.


Both documents prohibit any discrimination against a person on the basis of disability.

As a human rights organization, “Man and Law” is more focused on the social side of working with people with disabilities. The problem lies not in the characteristics of the person who has limitations, but in the physical, organizational and “relational” barriers that exist in society, based on stereotypes and prejudices. 


Andrey Bulanov, chairman of the Nizhny Novgorod regional public organization of disabled people “Invatur”, spoke about the basic concepts of observing the rights of people with disabilities in accordance with the international standard and shared his experience in protecting the rights of people with disabilities in prison.

Studying the rights of people with disabilities in custody


Places of deprivation of liberty are the most “barrier” environment even for a healthy person. In detention, human rights can be violated behind closed doors. To prevent this from happening, public monitoring commissions (PMC) and other mechanisms of public control of places of incarceration were created. They give prisoners the opportunity to talk about what is happening to them, and conduct a dialogue with representatives of the Federal Penitentiary Service.

The seminar in St. Petersburg was dedicated to the work with people with disabilities, because this is a more complex form of work of the PMC. The observer should be able to conduct proper interviews and interviews with prisoners and promote a more attentive attitude of the authorities towards prisoners with disabilities.


— The task of conducting the study is to see how the colonies in which convicts serve their sentences are adapted for the full life of people with disabilities, – says the chairman of the organization “Man and Law” Irina Protasova. – Starting with the possibility of movement and the provision of natural needs, ending with participation in the cultural and sports life of the institution and communication with the outside world. People with disabilities, if they cannot be released, should serve their sentences in the colony on an equal basis with other prisoners and not experience difficulties.


To study the situation in detail, after the seminar, a working group of observers from 18 regions will conduct a study and report the results to the Federal Penitentiary Service.

Features of the work of observers and interaction with employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service


— One of the principles of our activity: working with employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, we mutually learn, – says Irina Protasova. — Therefore, in order for observers to conduct a proper dialogue, they must have the human rights terminology that is used all over the world when talking about people with disabilities.


In her opinion, the Federal Penitentiary Service is now more open than other authorities. But the system itself is closed. Different countries have different models of public control over the observance of human rights in places of detention. In Russia, these are PMC, Public Councils, Public Chambers, Commissioner on Human Rights, and deputies of legislative assemblies.

“Everything depends on the people in the process of exercising public control. If they genuinely want to help protect human rights, the system will change. If people protect the system from society, it will remain the same, and rights may be violated there. Members of the PMC need to go to places of detention and see everything with their own eyes and hear with their own ears,” Irina Protasova believes.


Yuri Blokhin, candidate of legal sciences, former employee of the Federal Penitentiary Service and member of the Public Council of the GUFSIN of Russia for the Rostov Region, former member of the PMC, spoke at the seminar. He gave the participants an analysis of the legislation of the Russian Federation related to the detention of people with disabilities, spoke about working with requests to the authorities and interviews of prisoners. 


 What’s next?


The participants were satisfied with the seminar. As a result, they said that they delved into the topic, learned a lot, and a lot was a surprise for them. Participants from all 18 regions intend to study this topic further and demand the creation of humane conditions of detention for people with disabilities in places of detention, hold conversations with employees of the penitentiary system and hold round tables. They hope that the situation will improve, as it was in the previous two stages of the project “Strengthening civic monitoring of detention facilities in Russia” when NGO “Man and Law” studied the situation with respect to the right to privacy in places of detention and with the access of prisoners to justice. Then, during the study, many regional departments changed some practices, eliminated some shortcomings. Members of the PMC helped people in places of detention to improve the situation in these two areas. And now we hope that the situation for people with disabilities will also improve in the course of the study.

The project “Strengthening civic monitoring of detention facilities in Russia” is implemented by the human rights organization “Man and Law” together with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw). The European Commission is supporting the project within the frames of the programme “European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights”.

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