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At last: the Venice Commission backs up the universal suffrage!
Some countries do not allow people with intellectual disabilities to vote.
A group of people called the Venice Commission used to say this was right.
Now the Venice Commission changed its opinion.
Inclusion Europe congratulates the Venice Commission on its decision to finally revise its legal opinion on the right to vote during its latest session on 17 December 2011.
After more than one year of intense pressure from disability and human rights organisations, the advisory body of the Council of Europe revised its Interpretative Declaration to the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters on the Participation of People with Disabilities in Elections.
The latest text supports universal suffrage as “a fundamental principle of the European Electoral Heritage. People with disabilities may not be discriminated against in this regard, in conformity with Article 29 of the Convention of the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the caselaw of the European Court of Human Rights."
The European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, advises the Council of Europe on constitutional matters and works in key areas such as elections. The Venice Commission adopted the first version of the Interpretative Declaration during it 84th plenary session in October 2010. The text allowed for deprivation of the right to vote by an individual court judgement based on the grounds of a proven mental disability.
A revision of this original text was proposed following a statement by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, supporting the right of persons with disabilities to vote, and the complaints from civil society organisationsarguing that the declaration was violating the rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
However, the second version of the Interpretative Declaration, proposed in March 2011, still maintained discriminatory content. The revised provision stated that "a court, in an individual decision, may consider that the lack of proper judgment of a disabled person may prevent him or her from exercising his or her right to vote or to stand for elections."
A range of NGOs intensified it advocacy efforts towards the Venice Commission, individually as well as within the framework of the Save the vote campaign led by the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre. In November 2011, the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe adopted its Recommendation on the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life. At the same time, several Members of the European Parliament launched a written declaration on the right of persons with disabilities to vote regretting that the Venice Commission continued to support the practice in EU members’ states to strip people with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems of their legal capacity.
The latest decision of the Venice Commission to comply with the international human rights standards has thus been widely welcome. The deprivation of the right of persons with intellecutal disabilities to vote due to restrictions posed by legal capacity legislations was also highlighted in the Recommendations for Accessible Elections in Europepublished in May 2011 within the framework of the project "Accommodating Diversity for Active Participation in European Elections" (ADAP). The recommendations are available in all EU languages and easy-to-read at the project website: www.voting-for-all.eu.