Press Release

IACHR Urges States to Protect the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at Mental Health Facilities

December 2, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – In the context of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is observed on December 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities in mental health facilities.

“Persons with disabilities in psychiatric institutions are at particular risk,” said Commissioner James Cavallaro, the IACHR President and Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “In many cases, the deprivation of legal capacity of these persons leads to arbitrary deprivation of liberty and the impossibility of access to justice,” the Rapporteur added.

Through its various mechanisms, the Inter-American Commission has received information about the special vulnerability faced by persons with disabilities in mental health facilities, particularly those with mental and intellectual disabilities. Notable among the specific abuses they suffer:  lack of access to justice; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; total denial of the right to decide on their medical treatment or other day-to-day activities; negligent medical care; lack of habilitation and rehabilitation; physical and sexual abuse; violation of their sexual and reproductive rights; and lack of privacy. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has addressed the vulnerability that persons with disabilities face in psychiatric institutions and has determined that their situation makes them more susceptible to abusive treatment, such as torture or ill-treatment.

In the context of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Inter-American Commission recalls that states have a special duty to protect persons with disabilities detained in psychiatric institutions. In this regard, besides improving the living conditions for these persons and putting institutions providing psychiatric care under strict oversight, the Commission urges States to take the necessary measures to ensure persons with disabilities live in the community, by creating and establishing community-based services in accordance with international standards.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 179/16