Forced Psychiatric Treatment is Torture, Says United Nations

January 6, 2009

[Note: The following press release from the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry refers to a recent Interim Report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. For more information on that report, or to download a copy, go to http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/disability/torture.htm and also go to http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/disability/index.htm.]

Date: September 24, 2008

The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry welcomes the Interim Report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture

The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP) welcomes the Interim Report by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, which signals an end to impunity for psychiatric torture and ill treatment. The report focuses attention on torture and persons with disabilities, applying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to the obligations of states to prevent and punish torture.

The Special Rapporteur names forced psychiatric interventions (such as psychosurgery, electroshock and administration of mind-altering drugs including neuroleptics) among practices that may constitute torture or ill treatment. Other medical practices that may constitute torture or ill treatment are restraint and seclusion, forced abortion or sterilization and involuntary commitment to psychiatric institutions. The medical context itself is one where “serious violations and discrimination against persons with disabilities may be masked as ‘good intentions’ on the part of health care professionals.”

In his conclusions, the Special Rapporteur calls on states to ratify and implement the Convention and its Optional Protocol, to legislate recognition of the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and ensure that support in decision-making is provided where needed, and to issue guidelines on free and informed consent in line with the Convention. He calls for independent human rights monitoring of institutions where persons with disabilities may reside, and for UN and regional human rights mechanisms to take account of the Convention and integrate its standards into their work.

“This development is significant for several reasons,” said Tina Minkowitz, founder of CHRUSP. “It makes explicit what the Convention had left implicit: that forced psychiatric treatment is a serious violation of human rights, even when done with the best intentions. States that do not make the necessary reforms to eliminate forced treatment and institutionalization and to respect the legal capacity of persons with disabilities may run afoul of their obligations to effectively stop torture and ill treatment. The report gives us new tools for legal advocacy and redress of violations, in states that have ratified the CRPD and in those that have not yet ratified.”

About the Center for Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP):

The purpose of the organization is to work for full legal capacity, an end to forced psychiatric treatment, and equality and advancement for users and survivors of psychiatry within a human rights framework.
The aims of the organization are to:

• Advocate for the advancement of the human rights of users and survivors of psychiatry.
• Provide international consultation to influence key decision-makers regarding matters that affect users and survivors.
• Develop model legislation focusing on legal capacity and free and informed consent.
• Facilitate sharing of information and knowledge among user / survivor organizations around the world
• Monitor progress on human rights instruments including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with respect to issues affecting users and survivors of psychiatry


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