Human rights

People with mental health problems often fall through the human rights safety net. The mental health system has extensive powers to detain people, to deprive them of their liberty, to restrain them and to force people to take life-changing drugs. To ensure people's rights are not violated, these powers must be subject to rigorous checks and balances. Worryingly, however, we know this is not always the case.

Interview by Hannah Gibson of the Africa Research Institute with Victoria de Menil, researcher at the London School of Economics, following the mass uprising in Mathare psychiatric hospital that took place in May 2013.

Eric Rosenthal receives 2013 Charles Bronfman Prize

Posted by Gulbenkian

Eric Rosenthal receives 2013 Charles Bronfman Prize

Eric Rosenthal, founder and director of Disability Rights International, has been awarded the 2013 Charles Bronfman Prize for his global leadership in the field of human rights, advocating for those most vulnerable to abuse. For the past 20 years, Rosenthal, 49, has traveled around the world, documenting abuses against children and adults with disabilities in two dozen countries in North and South America (including the United States), Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia.

Read more here.

Click for the 2013 announcement video.

This is the second story in the Global Mental Health Inside Stories series on this in2mhconnect website. In this series I want to collect and spread information/ideas from people active in mental health from all over the world and specially from low resource settings or fragile countries.
I hope this series contributes to more insight in the challenges and wishes from people active in these settings and adds to a more bottom up movement in global mental health.

In this second story, Nir Prakash Giri, service user, human rights activist and member of the Nepal Mental Health Foudation, answers 10 questions. Including a few pictures about his work.

Disability Rights International

DRI Submits amicus brief to Mexican Supreme Court in a landmark case for disability rights




Mexico City, Mexico- July 16, 2013 - Disability Rights International (DRI) and partners in Mexico presented an amicus brief last week to the Mexican Supreme Court in the case of Ricardo Adair, a 24-year old Mexican youth with Asperger Syndrome. Ricardo has lived under the legal guardianship of his parents since 2007, when a judicial review decided he was unable to make decisions on his own. As a result, Ricardo is now unable to make fundamental choices about his own life.  


 DRI's work on this case was handled by our Mexico City office, which manages our work throughout the Americas.  We worked closely with the Mexico City Human Rights Commission and other human rights organizations to submit this amicus curiae brief before the Mexican Supreme Court. We asked the Court to take into account international standards to protect the right to legal capacity of persons with disabilities as established by article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). DRI, which took the lead in the analysis of international law in this case, finds that the Mexican legislation governing guardianship is clearly not compatible with new legal standards under the UN CRPD.


It is the first time the Supreme Court has heard this type of case, which may set a new precedent in advancing the right of persons with disabilities to maintain their legal capacity.


DRI and our partners presented the amicus at a press conference in Mexico City last Tuesday, July 9th.  The press conference received extensive media coverage in Mexico.  CNN Mexico aired  an in-depth story about  the press conference and case. Click here to watch the CNN coverage (in Spanish).     



DRI Americas Director profiled by Notre Dame Magazine for path-breaking work in Guatemala 

Guatemala City, Guatemala - July 16, 2013 - The director of DRI's Americas Office, attorney Sofía Galván, was profiled by her alma mater in the Notre Dame Magazine for her successful petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect people detained in Guatemala's psychiatric facility. A reporter for the magazine accompanied Sofía and another Notre Dame alumna working for the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City (ODHAG) into the country's most decrepit and dangerous institution for persons with disabilities, the Frederico Mora hospital.

"Most unsettling is the pervasive sense of disorder, with patients wandering aimlessly, barefoot and in ragged clothes, sleeping on benches and on the bare concrete. There are broken toilets and no heat or hot water. There is no budget for shoes or soap. One orderly tells me, 'Nos falta todos.' We lack everything."

-Notre Dame Magazine

DRI and ODHAG recently won a favorable ruling on a "precautionary measures" petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of more than 300 children and adults at Federico Mora Hospital who are subjected to life-threatening abuses. The case documented extensive physical and sexual abuse as well as trafficking of women with disabilities at the facility.

The Inter-American Commission called on the Guatemalan government to take "[i]mmediate preventive measures aimed at protecting all patients, particularly women and children, from physical, psychological and sexual violence by other inmates, guards and hospital staff." DRI continues to work with the government of Guatemala to push for full implementation of the Commission's ruling.

Read the full Notre Dame Magazine article, called Dignity for Forgotten Soulshere.

NGOs can play a decisive role in ensuring that those with mental health problems aren't misdiagnosed, and receive treatment that takes cultural and educational barriers into account.

patient indonesia
A mentally ill patient, takes a bath at a small mental rehabilitation centre in Bekasi, West Java, Indonesia. Photograph: Mast Irham/EPA

The United Nations regularly declares that "there is no health without mental health." It's a statement that holds much truth, yet little meaning in relation to mental health's standing in the development sector and governmental policies.

About 13% of all global illnesses are said to be related to mental health, and in low and middle-income countries it's reported that up to four in five people fail to receive proper treatment or care. This, combined with the fact that a majority of the developing countries dedicate less than 2% of their health budget to mental health care (pdf), is a reflection of how inadequate awareness of the issue is.

NGOs can play a decisive role in ensuring that those with mental health problems aren't neglected; they can help rebuild community resilience, develop relationships between patients and carers, or those administering treatment, and create greater awareness of mental health issues. Understanding mental health as a disability is beneficial. Yet, even organisations who work with the world's 1 billion disabled population can often fail to deal with disability at a macro-level – for example, lack of awareness of the issue in their literature – so mental health as part of field work, at a micro-level, is vulnerable to being mismanaged too. This mismanagement is partly the result of a lack of comprehensive data and the way data collation is implemented.


Bali psychiatrict patient

A patient is released from chains in North Bali by Professor Luh Ketut Suryani, founder of the Suryani Institute for Mental Health. Photo: Suryani Institute for Mental Health

For an estimated 20 million Indonesians who suffer a mental health illness, the chained or shackled conditions seen in this photo are an everyday threat. This practice, known as pasung, has been banned in Indonesia since 1977 but Holly Ryan reports for Asia-Pacific Journalism that it is still a problem.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Holly Ryan

The practice of “treating” mental health patients through electro-convulsive therapy or lobotomies and locking them up or shackling them to the floor, is widely regarded as a primitive treatment of the past.

However, for many of the 20 million people in Indonesia who suffer a mental illness, these practices – known as pasung – are still a reality.

But a new national programme is now trying to eliminate pasung once and for all, with the Indonesian government saying that it plans to make the training of mental health professionals a priority, and increase the accessibility of mental health services.

May 16, 2013
Every Thursday here on Impatient Optimists, you’ll find stories, written by one of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition's 30 member organizations, about the inspiring work of health workers on the front lines of care in developing countries and how United States leadership can help ensure that everyone has access to basic care by skilled, supported and motivated frontline health workers.