Tuesday, March 26, 2013

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calls for immediate ban on forced psychiatric interventions, including drugging

Via MindFreedom, a statement from Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In a statement to a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 4, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment called for a ban on forced psychiatric interventions including forced drugging, shock, psychosurgery, restraint and seclusion, and for repeal of laws that allow compulsory mental health treatment and deprivation of liberty based on disability, including when it is motivated by “protection of the person or others.”

The statement (available at the link above) discusses several areas in which human rights violations occur under the label of medicine or health care, but psychiatric practices are of special interest. Importantly, these “treatments” are now being viewed through the lens of human rights:

My main report focuses on certain forms of abuse in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The report sheds light on often undetected forms of abusive practices that occur under the auspices of health-care policies, and emphasizes how certain treatments run afoul of the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment.

…The significance of categorizing abuses in health-care settings as torture and ill-treatment and examining abuses in health-care settings from a torture protection framework provides the opportunity to solidify an understanding of these violations and to highlight the positive obligations that States have to prevent, prosecute and redress such violations. Furthermore, by reframing violence and abuses in health-care settings as prohibited ill-treatment, victims and advocates are afforded stronger legal protection and redress for violations of human rights.

Méndez calls for immediate and fundamental changes to prevent such violations:

Free and informed consent should be safeguarded on an equal basis for all individuals without any exception, through the legal framework and judicial and administrative mechanisms, including through policies and practices to protect against abuses. Any legal provisions to the contrary, such as provisions allowing confinement or compulsory treatment in mental health settings, including through guardianship and other substituted decision-making, must be repealed.


States should impose an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs, for both long- and short- term application. The obligation to end forced psychiatric interventions based on grounds of disability is of immediate application and scarce financial resources cannot justify postponement of its implementation.

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