This memorandum, submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“the Committee”), ahead of its review on Russia, highlights areas of concern that Human Rights Watch hopes will inform the Committee’s consideration of the Russian government’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“CRPD”). This submission draws primarily on Human Rights Watch’s research in Russia from 2013-2015 on the rights of people with disabilities and relates to Russia’s compliance with the CRPD, including articles 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30.
I. Abuses against Children with Disabilities in State Institutions
Human Rights Watch conducted research from 2013-2014 in 10 state institutions for children with disabilities in 6 regions in Russia and conducted more than 200 interviews with parents, children, and young people who currently live or lived in these institutions, as well as interviews with orphanage staff who work or worked in these institutions and with local activists. The information in this section is based on material published in Human Rights Watch’s September 2014 report: Abandoned by State: Violence, Neglect and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages.
Physical and Psychological Violence
Physical violence against children with disabilities in institutions documented by Human Rights Watch included beating; pouring cold water over children’s heads; use of physical restraints, including binding children to cribs or wheelchairs; the frequent use of sedatives to control or punish children rather than for therapeutic purposes; and forced psychiatric hospitalization as a form of punishment. Psychological violence included forced isolation; denial of contact with family members; death threats and threats of beating or psychiatric hospitalization; insults, such as calling children “vegetables”; humiliation; and lack of attention from caregivers.
Human Rights Watch documented the segregation of children whom staff deemed to have the most “severe” disabilities into so-called “lying-down” rooms where they are confined to cribs. Many of these children received little attention except for feeding and diaper changing. Many children in these settings are rarely if ever given the chance to leave their cribs, interact with other children, or go outside.
Denial of Family Contact
Staff in two institutions visited by Human Rights Watch reported that they discouraged visits by children’s parents and in some cases denied children contact with their families, claiming that children become “spoiled” after visits with families.
Neglect and Lack of Adequate Nutrition, Health Care, Education, and Play
In all 10 institutions that Human Rights Watch visited, we documented instances of neglect, poor nutrition, inadequate health care, lack of access to rehabilitation services, lack of access to education, and insufficient access to leisure and play activities. For example, Human Rights Watch found that some children did not have a varied diet, were fed by inappropriate methods, or lacked sufficient drinking water. Activists interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that children in institutions lacked individualized attention or stable caregiver relationships.
Human Rights Watch found that many staff employed in institutions did not have appropriate professional training. None of the children or young people interviewed by Human Rights Watch had access to appropriate mechanisms to report abuse to independent authorities.
Human Rights Watch has determined that some cases of physical and psychological violence, described in the report, may rise to the level of torture, particularly given the combination of different types of physical and psychological violence used against children, use of physical and chemical restraints, and psychiatric hospitalization. Other forms of violence against children that may contribute to treatment rising to the level of torture include forced isolation from parents and families, as well as malnutrition and neglect.
Pressure to Institutionalize Children
Human Rights Watch identified obstacles to raising children with disabilities in the community, including lack of community based services such as health care and rehabilitation services, lack of access to education and inadequate financial support. These obstacles may compel some parents to relinquish custody of their children at birth, or at older ages, to institutions. According to the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Partnership for Every Child, over 95 percent of Russian children who live in orphanages or foster care have at least one living parent.
Underdeveloped Alternatives to Institutionalization
On the basis of interviews with activists, foster care, and adoptive parents, Human Rights Watch determined that obstacles to securing alternatives to institutionalization for children with disabilities, include a lack of mechanisms to place children without parental care in families; lack of social support provided to foster and adoptive parents; and attempts by local-level officials to discourage families from becoming adoptive or foster parents.
Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of Russia:
- What steps is the government taking to prioritize family based care and to develop a time-bound plan for deinstitutionalization, including: 1) moving children out of residential institutions and reuniting them with their birth families or placing them with adoptive or foster families and 2) ensuring available, accessible services in the community to support people with disabilities, including children with disabilities and facilitating their right to live in the community? How have persons with disabilities been involved in these measures?
- What steps has the government taken to prioritize funding to community and support services for children with disabilities and their families above funding from institutions?
- What specific steps is the government taking to stop instances of neglect, physical violence, psychological violence, and abuse in institutions for children with disabilities?
- Do children with disabilities living in institutions have accessible complaint mechanisms to report their treatment? What are the mechanisms for children to file such complaints?
- Under what circumstances can a child living in an institution be segregated and isolated from other children? What measures have been adopted to eliminate isolation of children on the basis of their disability and ensure that all children with disabilities living in state institutions are free from discrimination?
II. Lack of Accessibility
In 2012-2013, in 164 interviews, including with 123 people with disabilities in six cities throughout Russia, local NGOs, and representatives of organizations for people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch documented how the physical environment, public transportation, employment, and healthcare are not adequately accessible for persons with disabilities. The information in this section is based on material published in Human Rights Watch’s September 2013 report: Barriers Everywhere: Lack of Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Russia.
Approximately 13 million people with disabilities live in Russia, representing 9 percent of the national population. Russian law requires the physical environment to be accessible for people with disabilities. However, lack of enforcement mechanisms described in the law mean regional and city governments may avoid implementing such accommodations where they are necessary. The lack of accessibility hinders access to private businesses, entertainment venues, educational facilities, etc. as well as to administrative buildings for activities such as voting, filling out benefits forms, and participating in public hearings.
Many people with physical disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch were, at the time of the interview, almost completely confined to their apartments and homes due to the lack of accessibility in their apartment buildings, as well as in the community, with obstacles such as narrow doorways, complete lack of ramps and elevators, or ramps that are too steep or otherwise not usable, and elevators that are too narrow, for example, for wheelchair users. People with physical disabilities also reported that street crossings and underpasses are frequently inaccessible. In winter months, ice and snow become additional barriers and dangers.
Under Russian law, people with hearing disabilities are entitled to 40 hours per year of free, state-sponsored sign language translation services, but many interviewees reported that the 40 hours is insufficient. The government does provide free hearing aids, but users have found the state-provided aids to be poor quality, uncomfortable, and incapable of separating human voices from background noise. In some cases, individuals may obtain reimbursement for self-purchased hearing aids, but the reimbursement provided is several times less than the items’ actual cost.
People whom Human Rights Watch interviewed who had submitted official complaints to local officials about the lack of accessibility received inadequate responses or no response at all.
Barriers to Accessing Transportation
Public transportation is frequently inaccessible to people with disabilities. Though the number of buses with accessible wheelchair lifts has increased, their overall numbers are still limited, and infrequent or inconsistent bus schedules and overcrowding mean that most people with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they use buses “as the last resort” despite limited alternatives. The metro systems, including in the major metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg, have limited access for people with physical disabilities. The Russian transportation system also overwhelmingly lacks visual and auditory signals necessary to accommodate individuals with vision or hearing disabilities. “Social taxis” in many cities are typically a more accessible option for people with disabilities; however, people with hearing disabilities cannot access this service independently because, at the time our report was published, reservations could only be made by phone.
Obstacles to Accessing Healthcare and Rehabilitation
People with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported many barriers to healthcare and rehabilitation services: inaccessible clinics and diagnostic equipment; lack of available rehabilitation facilities in communities and trained personnel within those facilities; lack of information regarding available resources and services; lack of available resources to assist people with a hearing disability to make appointments or communicate with medical personnel; lack of respect on behalf of the healthcare workers to women with disabilities and their right to have a family. For example, Human Rights Watch documented how in some cases, upon finding out that a pregnant patient has a disability, doctors discouraged the patient from continuing with the pregnancy, pressuring the patient to terminate.
Obstacles to Accessing Employment
In Russia, unemployment disproportionately affects individuals with disabilities. According to Russian government officials, in 2012 only 20 percent of working-age adults with disabilities were employed. Employers regularly underpay, refuse to hire, harass, and fail to accommodate workers on the basis of their disabilities, without sanction. The majority of people interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that they had been denied employment on at least one occasion due to their disability. For instance, Yuliana, a 28-year-old woman with low vision interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2013, was rejected for multiple teaching jobs for which she was professionally qualified. Each time, prospective employers refused to implement her Individual Plan for Rehabilitation, the legally-binding document which specifies the accommodations to which she is entitled. No action was taken against the would-be employers.
Other people interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported being underpaid or not considered for promotion because of their disability. Limited access to education serves as one of the main barriers preventing people with disabilities from finding adequate employment (see below, regarding education). Public statements by some Russian officials have called for the creation of “special” jobs for people with disabilities rather than ensuring equal employment opportunities.
Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of Russia:
- What specific measures is the government taking to increase accessibility for people with different types of disabilities, including to government facilities as well as in housing, transportation, healthcare services, other buildings, and public spaces, to facilitate their right to live in the community and other rights? How does the government enforce accessibility requirements?
- What measures does the government take to effectively respond to official complaints from people with disabilities regarding accessibility and other types of discrimination?
III. Obstacles to Education for Children with Disabilities
Human Rights Watch research in 2012-2015 found that children with disabilities in Russia face severe obstacles in accessing quality education. The information in this section is based on material published in Human Rights Watch’s September 2015 report: Left Out?: Obstacles to Education for People with Disabilities in Russia. The report is based on over 200 interviews with children and adults with disabilities, their families, and children’s and disability rights activists, as well as visits to 10 state institutions where children with disabilities live.
We documented many barriers that prevent children with disabilities from studying in mainstream schools, including lack of ramps or lifts to help children enter and move within buildings, lack of accommodations for people with sensory disabilities, such as large-print textbooks for students with low vision, and a lack of teachers and other school personnel with training to provide for the diverse learning needs of students, including those with developmental disabilities. Additionally, infrastructure barriers and limited accessible transportation prevented some children from being able to leave their homes and reach school.
Russian law allows children with disabilities the choice to either study in a mainstream school, a specialized school for children with disabilities, or at home, through distance learning programs or visits from teachers. We found however that children with disabilities often attend specialized schools because mainstream schools do not have the reasonable accommodations that children need, so this decision is not the result of a meaningful choice.
Human Rights Watch found that some school administrators refuse to admit children with disabilities based on assumptions that they are unable to learn, are unsafe around other children, or engage in disruptive behavior. Many children with disabilities remain segregated in specialized schools, schools often located far from children’s homes, and that may offer limited academic programs. Other children with disabilities stay isolated in their homes, with visits from teachers a few times a week and limited interaction with peers.
Parents also told Human Rights Watch that officials evaluating their children’s disability frequently recommended a specialized school. Although these recommendations are not legally binding, parents often did not receive sufficient information on the rights to inclusive education and sometimes understood the recommendations of school officials to be compulsory.
The tens of thousands of children with disabilities living in state orphanages often receive poor quality or little education, and many receive no education at all.
Serious obstacles also exist for older children and young adults to access vocational training and higher education. Because many children and young adults with disabilities have not received quality education, as adults, they frequently struggle to enroll in universities or gain meaningful professional skills necessary to secure employment.
Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to ask the government of Russia:
- What specific steps is the government taking to guarantee access to a quality, inclusive education for all children with disabilities, including children with intellectual disabilities, children living in state institutions, and children in special schools who may be there due to the lack of access to mainstream schools?
- What steps is the government taking to achieve maximum inclusion in mainstream schools and avoid exclusion, including the segregation of children with disabilities in separate classrooms, with respect to revised federal curricular standards that went into effect in 2016?
- What steps has the government taken to ensure reasonable accommodations are in place to allow people with disabilities to enjoy their right to education?
- What is the government doing to ensure that core teacher training for all current and student teachers includes inclusive education and practical skills for teaching children with disabilities?
 Human Rights Watch, Abandoned by State: Violence, Neglect and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages, September 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/15/abandoned-state/violence-neglect-and-isolation-children-disabilities-russian
 Human Rights Watch, Barriers Everywhere: Lack of Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Russia, September 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/09/11/barriers-everywhere/lack-accessibility-people-disabilities-russia
 “State program of the Russian Federation ‘Accessible Environment’ for the years 2011-2015 [Государственная программа Российской Федерации «Доступная Среда» на 2011-2015 годы], Federal Government Statistical Service, March 17, 2011, http://fcp.economy.gov.ru/cgi-bin/cis/fcp.cgi/Fcp/ViewFcp/View/2015/392 (first accessed May 15, 2013).
 Russian Federal Law “On the Social Protection of the Disabled”
 Human Rights Watch, Left Out?: Obstacles to Education for People with Disabilities in Russia, September 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/01/left-out/obstacles-education-people-disabilities-russia