Israel Is Violating the International Convention on Disabled Rights, Report Finds

A coalition of rights groups submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons after dismissing the government's version as 'very partial and lacking'

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A protest of disabled groups in Tel Aviv, 2019
A protest of disabled groups in Tel Aviv, 2019Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Israel is violating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country is a signatory to, says a report submitted by some 30 organizations representing people with disabilities and other social rights groups to the United Nations committee overseeing compliance with the convention.

According to the report, sent on Thursday on the occasion of the International Day of Disabled Persons, Israel callously violates some of the articles, like the right to independent living (Article 19) or to an inclusive educational system (Article 24), while it has only partially fulfilled the commitments made in other articles. Israel signed the convention in 2007 and ratified it in 2012.

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Contrary to the official report submitted by the Justice Ministry, the unofficial report submitted by the social rights organizations pointed out major gaps between the articles and the status quo. Likewise, the alternative report notes the absence of a comprehensive plan to reduce the gaps.

The alternative report addresses the situation of disabled persons on multiple levels – including equality, access to justice, health, employment and respect for privacy. At the end of each chapter, the authors suggest that the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities demand focused, detailed answers from Israel rather than rely on the “very partial and lacking” report submitted by the government.

“The findings indicate that there are still many intolerable barriers preventing the full participation of disabled persons in society,” said Odelia Fitoussi, who was chosen this week to serve as a member of the UN committee and serves on the board of Bizchut, an organization working for disabled people’s rights in Israel.

Fitoussi, along with Bizchut’s director of monitoring and policy implementation, Idit Saragusti, and disabled social activist Yoav Kraim, say that individuals with disabilities still do not fully and equally enjoy human rights and basic liberties, as the convention obliges, and continue to suffer from discrimination, exclusion and denial of rights despite significant progress made over the last 30 years.

The official and alternative reports present two different worlds. Article 19 of the convention states, for example, that every person has the right to live independently and be included in the community “with choices equal to others” and that parties to the convention “shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right.” While the official report quotes Israeli legislation without mentioning segregated housing that the convention opposes or the number of people who live in such housing, the alternative report finds that in practice, Israel violates the right to independent living in the community. It notes that the section dealing with “housing in the community and the personal aid package” in the law on equal rights for disabled persons has never been legislated due to government opposition.

“Nearly 20,000 people with disabilities still live in institutions, without the ability to make basic choices like who they will live with in the room, when they will go to sleep and what they will eat,” says Saragusti. “And this doesn’t even get into the widespread phenomenon of abuse, neglect and violence against people with disabilities in some of the institutions.”

The alternative report notes other violations connected to accessing the general education system as well as transportation, information and communication, technology and other publicly provided services. The government report details the various accessibility regulations, but omits two principle failures. Although implementation of all the regulations were supposed to be completed by 2006, some of them still haven’t been implemented (like accessibility of stairs or public transportation on intercity lines), mainly because of the high costs they incur. Moreover, the target dates for regulations that were approved have been repeatedly pushed back. The government is now working on a further postponement to the end of 2022.

Hovering over much of the criticism is a lack of data, which is needed to formulate and implement policy. The government relies primarily on the Central Bureau of Statistics’ social survey, but authors of the alternative report say it presents only a partial picture, in part because it excludes institutional residents and people “who cannot respond because of their disability.”

The Justice Ministry responded: “Israel is committed to fulfilling the convention regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Israel submitted a preliminary report in 2017 regarding the convention’s implementation, which was put together on the basis of information received from the relevant state ministries and policy bodies. Despite the positive work of the state, various challenges remain, and we need to advance the rights of people with disabilities.” The ministry added that the UN committee recently submitted a list of subjects about which it sought a written response, which it is in the process of compiling.