Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday - Professor Herman Schwartz on Mental Disability Rights

I'm amazed how fast Sunday arrives here on this blog!
In real life it does not rush like this.
This little text by Professor Herman Schwartz raises a good view on how mentally disabled human rights are neglected not only in US but around the world and how inhumane institutionalized persons are treated. It was written for the 1995's project for Human Rights and Mental Health in Uruguay and Professor Schwartz demonstrate how important this project is not only for measures in this country but also around the world.
I would be very glad if those who are regulating or have any link to treatments could start paying a little bit of attention on this subject and human rights advocates started paying attention to this sad situation.

"After centuries of indifference, human rights concerns are now recognized as essential to a free, democratic and humane society, of concern to all decent people everywhere. Because human rights issues arose originally in political contexts, primary emphasis has understandably been given to political rights like speech, press and association. The rights of institutionalized persons were of concern only if they were associated with political abuses.
That has changed somewhat, but the rights of the mentally disabled are still not on advocates' radar screens. Yet, if experience in the United States is any indication, few groups are subjected to as much discrimination, cruelty, and just sheer neglect and indifference. Only pretrial detainees are treated as badly, and as to them, there is at least a suspicion of wrongdoing, despite the presumption of innocence. People with mental disabilities are, however, completely innocent. The only crimes in which they are involved are those that are perpetrated upon them.
Nor is it likely that the United States is unique in this regard. Even in other free democratic societies like Uruguay, where the mental health workers are dedicated to humane treatment of the mentally disabled, this report finds that:
Conditions in Uruguay's psychiatric institutions violate a broad range of rights codified in the [United Nations Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Disabilities], including protections against harm and unjustified medication, respect for personal dignity, privacy and choice, and the right to treatment directed toward the preservation and enhancement of personal autonomy.
So little attention has been paid to these unlucky people, that despite international treaties, United Nations action, and other well-intentioned initiatives, human rights advocates know little about the treatment of the mentally disabled, and have done even less.
That must change. Those of us concerned about human rights must become aware of the inhumane treatment that even the most civilized societies inflict on the mentally disabled, and start doing something about it. This may be an especially auspicious moment for that, for there is increasing international interest in the treatment of the disabled, as reflected in Article 22 of the Declaration of the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993, and in the appointment of a U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
This report by the Mental Disability Rights International project of the American University Human Rights Center on the treatment of the mentally disabled in Uruguay is a major step in that direction. It documents the combination of neglect, indifference and outright cruelty that is perpetrated on these helpless people in one country, and it charts a strategy for change that takes into account the economic and social situation in that country. It is indispensable reading for all who are concerned about what has been, until now, a dark corner of human rights abuse. With luck it will be just a beginning.

Professor Herman Schwartz
Co-Director, Center for Human Rights
Washington College of Law, American

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