Norway must fully respect rights of people with disabilities, says Muižnieks

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has called on Norway to end coercive practices against people with mental disabilities, respect their autonomy, and give full effect to international disability rights law. The Commissioner also criticised Norway’s restrictive interpretation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which amount to “de facto reservations” (see MDAC’s legal opinion here). MDAC joins the  Commissioner and calls on the Norwegian Government to withdraw its reservations to the CRPD.

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. Photo: CoE.

On 3 June 2013, Norway ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD). For the disability movement, however,  the celebration was dampened when the Government sought to avoid core obligations under the Convention: the right to equality before the law, and the right to give consent to healthcare.  Norway’s ratification  signalled commitment to international law, but only on its own terms. The effect of “declarations” made by Norway was to continue depriving people with disabilities of legal capacity, and to allow forcible detention and non-consensual medical interventions.

These “declarations” amount to reservations under international law. As MDAC pointed out in a 2013 legal opinion, they undermine the very object and purpose of the CRPD, and  leave people with disabilities without access to justice in cases where their rights have been violated. The reservations not only call into question Norway’s commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, but are fundamentally at odds with the international standard to abolish abusive guardianship regimes.

MDAC is pleased that the Commissioner for Human Rights has come to a similar conclusion in his report on his January 2015 visit to the country.

36,000 Norwegians not allowed to author their own lives

The Commissioner pointed out that more than 36,000 people with disabilities are denied the right to make even basic decisions about their own decisions (para. 13). Legislation enables guardians to make decisions on behalf of people with disabilities and to intervene in numerous personal areas of life including marriage, adoption, abortion, sterilisation, medical treatment, and the acquisition of a passport(para. 11). Guardians can have up to 30-40 “wards” and under such circumstances it is unlikely that the guardian would be able to act in a manner respecting the person’s will and preferences (para. 14) – a position fundamentally at odds with Article 12 of the CRPD.

Muižnieks went on to point out that Norwegian law continues to allow for the denial of legal capacity on the basis of a psycho-social disability or intellectual disability, and is therefore automatically discriminatory on grounds of disability (para. 10). MDAC pointed out in 2013 that this situation brings into question Norway’s commitment to purpose of the CRPD, and called on the new Prime Minister to revoke their reservations.

Thousands detained and coerced into treatment in Norway because they have a disability

The Commissioner for Human Rights’ report also reveals that in 2013 alone, 5,400 people were involuntarily detained in psychiatric facilities in Norway, and 1,426 people had been under continuous compulsory care for at least one year (para. 18). Some people with psycho-social disabilities are subjected to  electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without their free and fully informed consent and to lengthy use of restraints (para. 19). These practices potentially amount to torture of ill-treatment prohibited under international law. In 2012 the UN Committee against Torture had also expressed concern at the widespread use of restraints and other coercive methods in psychiatric institutions in the country (para. 30). These practices are continue to be allowed due to Norway’s reservations on the CRPD.

Recommendations

MDAC joins Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, and calls on the Norwegian Government to:

  • Withdraw its two reservations to the CRPD (or the so-called “interpretative declarations”);
  • Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRPD on an individual complaints mechanism which would improve access to justice for people with disabilities;
  • Take immediate steps to abolish the system of guardianship, instead ensuring that all people with disabilities have access to support in making decisions in their lives; and
  • End practices which result in forced institutionalisation and treatment of people with disabilities.

What can you do

Join our efforts and write to the  Norwegian Ambassador in your country, or directly to Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway (postmottak@smk.dep.no), calling on the country  to remove its reservations to the CRPD.

Example of letter to send:

 

Dear Prime Minister/ Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my concern regarding ongoing violations of rights that  people with disabilities in Norway. Following the visit in your country of Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, I understand that such violations are still common.

It has been brought to my attention by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center that thousands of people with disabilities are denied the right to make decisions in their lives, even in such personal matters as marriage, adoption, abortion, sterilisation, medical treatment, and the acquisition of a passport. Thousands of others are forcibly detained, subjected to forced treatment, isolated and restrained.

This situation is unnacceptable for a country such as Norway, which has a global reputation promoting and protecting human rights.

I support the call for Norway to withdraw its reservations to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities .

With high consideration, 

 

 

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