A landmark ruling by a United Nations body found that Hungary’s voting laws are disenfranchising people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling applies to all 137 countries that have adopted the international disability rights treaty. These governments are required to review their laws and practices to eliminate any provisions that prevent people from voting due to their disabilities. The UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the panel of experts who interpret the international disability rights treaty, ruled that Hungary’s restriction on the right for people with intellectual disabilities to vote violates international human rights law. Under the recently amended Hungarian constitution, people under guardianship are automatically excluded from voting unless a judge determines they have the capacity to vote. The ruling said that any exclusion of the right to vote on the basis of “perceived or actual disability,” whether as a general rule or following an individual assessment, was discrimination in violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Instead it said governments were under a duty to ensure all people with disabilities could exercise their right to vote, including in the way they design voting procedures and in providing assistance where necessary.
“This decision sends a strong message that people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else, including when it comes to voting,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “How would any of us feel if required to appeal to a judge for the basic right to vote?”
Hungary ratified the CRPD and its Optional Protocol in July 2007. The Optional Protocol provides a mechanism for individuals to send complaints to the committee, if all national legal remedies have been exhausted.
In its ruling the committee found that, regarding people with intellectual and mental disabilities, “their automatic disenfranchisement regardless of the nature of their disability and their individual abilities was discriminatory and unjustified.” The committee also ruled that Hungary failed to guarantee to people with disabilities the right to exercise their legal capacity – the right to make decisions about one’s life – a key provision in the disability rights treaty.