The EOOO report indicates that most investigations into possible discrimination on the ground of disability were launched as a result of complaints concerning the actions of state or municipal authorities (48%); 25% of complaints related to the provision of goods and services; 15% related to employment; 12% to education.
A study was conducted in 2013 in order to determine the opinions, experience and knowledge of discrimination against various groups in society held by Lithuanian residents. 7-8% of the respondents said they knew a lot about discrimination; 8% claimed they knew a lot about discrimination on the ground of disability; residents of major cities were more likely to know about discrimination on the ground of disability.
Social stigma around people with disabilities, especially the mentally disabled, strongly influence the quality of life in society enjoyed by persons with disabilities, as well as their social integration. Public opinion studies revealed that the majority believe that people with mental disabilities should live in specially adapted homes (46%); 12% believe that they should live in hospitals; and 10% thought that persons with disabilities should live further away from cities, where their safety would be ensured. Thus, the majority supports the idea of specialized institutions isolated from the public. Only 27% of respondents felt that these people should be able to live anywhere – just like all other people.
Persons with disabilities face discrimination in many areas of life. For example, children with intellectual disabilities have limited possibilities to exercise their right to education in Lithuania. The 2011 Order of the Minister of Education and Science established that, as of 1 September 2012 onwards, students with special needs due to an intellectual impairment who have completed their individualized basic education programme would be able to continue on to either professional education or social skills training following.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides that persons with disabilities have the right to education – in order to realize this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, the state must ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and life long learning directed to the development of the personality, talents and creativity, as well as mental and physical abilities, of people with disabilities to their fullest potential.
However, the aforementioned provision of the Order of the Minister of Education and Science, prohibiting students with special education needs due to an intellectual impairment (such as autistic children) from moving on to secondary education following the completion of their individualized basic education programmes, effectively prevents them from attaining secondary education, discriminating against persons due to their disability and violating their rights.
A number of problems arise due to the failure to adapt the physical environment to the needs of people with disabilities: it is still not possible to access most shops, cafés or various service providers with a wheelchair due to lack of adaption. People with disabilities are also unable to access beaches. Even the so-called beaches for the disabled are not adapted to their needs since it is not possible to reach the sea via wooden pathways.
Yet another problem lies with structural discrimination, which is evident from the failure to implement and monitor the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Lithuania ratified in 2010.
The Convention obliges states to appoint one or more government authorities to supervise the implementation of the Convention; and to consider the possibility of creating a co-ordination mechanism within the government, which would allow for action – in relation to the implementation of the Convention – in different sectors and at different levels.
In Lithuania, coordination functions have been assigned to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour – however, it is incapable of exercising them: there is no mechanism by means of which the Ministry could influence other public authorities in order to ensure that they implement the provisions of the Convention within their respective fields of competence.
The Convention covers a very wide spectrum of legal regulation, which is why national coordination structures for the implementation of the Convention must operate at the highest levels of government and be authorized to set appropriate policies. The Convention also obliges states to establish independent mechanisms for the promotion, protection and monitoring of the implementation of the Convention.
In Lithuania, the task of monitoring the implementation of the Convention had been assigned to the Council for the Affairs of the Disabled under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and to the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office. In accordance with the Convention, monitoring should include three separate functions – promotion, protection and monitoring – but the Government resolution establishing the monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Convention in Lithuania does not provide for much detail on these functions, i.e. it does not indicate which function should fall to which designated authorities. Thus, the monitoring function with regard to the Convention is not being carried out at all in Lithuania.
The Council for the Affairs of the Disabled examines the key issues relating to the social integration of persons with disabilities and submits proposals on the implementation of the social integration policy to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. The decisions of the Council are advisory in nature.
The Council for the Affairs of the Disabled is formed on a voluntary basis, from delegates of state institutions and associations of the disabled working together as equal partners. The Council is not an independent mechanism and as such does not comply with the principles of the Convention that relate to the status and activities of national institutions working in the field of human rights protection and promotion. The effectiveness of its work is also debatable: vice-ministers representing seven Ministries often fail to turn up at the Council meetings, so some of these meetings do not take place due to failing to reach a quorum (i.e., at least half the members of the Council); moreover, there is a high turnover of vice-ministers, making it difficult to ensure continuity in the Council's activities; the Council lacks the information from various authorities required for the exercise of its monitoring function. Therefore, in reality, the Council is incapable of performing the functions provided for in the Convention – to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention.
It was recommended to the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office to monitor the implementation of the Convention provisions on ensuring equal treatment, but there was no delegation of any specific monitoring function. Even though the Lithuanian state had indicated that the monitoring function with regards to the implementation of the Convention includes the powers of the EOOO "to investigate complaints of discrimination on the basis of disability, to monitor that there are no announcements in media that are discriminatory with regard to disability, examine cases for administrative infringements, impose administrative penalties, etc.", this function is not exercised in the context of monitoring the Convention.
The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office investigates complaints and acts only with ensuring equal treatment and non-discrimination. Thus, the scope of the Office's activities does not cover the whole wide range of areas regulated by the Convention – for example, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson cannot monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Convention relating to personal liberty and security, private life, the inviolability of the home and the family, adequate living standards and social security. It is clear that until the law is amended to provide for the legal authority of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office to conduct monitoring, the Office will not be able to carry out these functions effectively.
It should also be mentioned that the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office had been working without a direct chief for two years in a row now: in two separate secret votes, the Parliament had refused to appoint competent candidates that fully satisfied all of the requirements to the position of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. The Parliament's reluctance to appoint a competent person to this position reflects the indifference that politicians feel towards human rights issues and ensuring equal treatment for vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities.
It should be noted that, despite numerous criticisms of the inadequacy of the mechanism for implementing the Convention in Lithuania, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour is not planning to initiate any reforms or amendments until the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities identifies the flaws in the implementation of the Convention and provides its recommendations to Lithuania – that is, until April 2016, when the Committee will be considering the official initial report of Lithuania.
Notably, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, after considering the reports on the implementation of the Convention of other countries, had emphasized the importance of the coordination role in the implementation of the Convention, the requirement to ensure the highest possible level of coordination, as well as the independence of and adequate funding for monitoring bodies.
It is clear that analogous observations on the low level of coordination, as well as the fact that independent monitoring had not been ensured and is not being carried out, are also in store for Lithuania. As such, the state must quickly start taking steps to ensure that the mechanism for the implementation of the Convention complies with its provisions.