UN Torture Expert: No More Treatment Without Consent

Geneva and Budapest. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center welcomes the groundbreaking report and statement on torture and ill-treatment in healthcare settings by Professor Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Professor Méndez presented the report yesterday to the UN Human Rights Council, and this morning States gave their formal feedback on the report. This afternoon MDAC co-sponsored a side event ‘Towards Preventing Torture and Ill-Treatment in Health-care Settings’ where participants from UN agencies, governments and NGOs discussed the report with Mr Méndez.

The report and the statement are together groundbreaking contributions to global efforts to mainstream standards of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) across all human rights mechanisms. This has been a key strand of MDAC’s advocacy for the last three years. The word “groundbreaking” is, of course, overused in human rights advocacy. But Professor Méndez’s report deserves this accolade because for the first time the UN’s top expert on torture (not disability, or mental health) has established that:

- It is unacceptable for laws to allow doctors to enforce mental health treatment on people when that person is refusing such treatment. This means that laws should be adjusted to give primacy to the consent of the person concerned.

- Any form and duration of restraint and seclusion should be immediately banned, wherever they occur, including in psychiatric hospitals.

- Mental health services should be oriented to voluntary community-based services rather than compulsion-based hospital confinement and treatment.

“MDAC urges governments to reflect on the report, engage in dialogue with the disability and human rights community, and initiate law and policy reform to implement its recommendations,” said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director. “MDAC pays tribute to Manfred Nowak, Professor Méndez’s predecessor who initiated this process in 2008. We also put on record our appreciation to Professor Méndez for the participatory way in which he consulted civil society organisations, a process in which MDAC was privileged to take part.”

In his powerful speech to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, Professor Méndez explained that “the severity of the mental illness cannot justify detention nor can it be justified by a motivation to protect the safety of the person or of others.” In discussions this morning diplomats from Pakistan and Russia accused Professor Méndez of stepping outside his mandate because healthcare is about treatment, not ill-treatment. These statements were vigorously rebuffed by many other States which strongly welcomed the report’s focus on abuses in healthcare. Responding to these comments Professor Méndez accepted that this topic is controversial, adding “It is my role to elicit debate and not to state the obvious.”


MDAC’s role

MDAC has participated in several briefings with the Special Rapporteur in New York and Geneva over the past year, working in coalition with the Open Society Foundation’s Stop Torture in Healthcare campaign. Not only people labeled with disabilities mistreated in healthcare, but others too – women giving birth, drug users, LGBTI people, people denied pain relief. Learning about the intersections between these people’s experiences has often been intensely moving and an important learning for MDAC, which firmly believes in advancing rights for all discriminated against groups.

MDAC has further submitted detailed written comments to Professor Méndez with its partner NGOs including the European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP), the International Disability Alliance (IDA), and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP). MDAC’s work on preventing torture and ill-treatment has been kindly supported over the last three years by Zennström Philanthropies. This funding is running out this month, so if you would like to support MDAC to continue its work in this area, please make a donation.


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