National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy
From: Judi Chamberlin
Date: November 10, 1999
Subject: Amnesty International
Advocates have long been hoping that AI would become more responsive to our concerns. In my opinion, AI has been less than helpful over the years. They seem to think it's perfectly OK to lock people up in mental hospitals as long as they're "mentally ill."
Below is an e-mail received from Eric Rosenthal of Mental Disability Rights International. Eric's analysis makes perfectly clear where AI stands. The report he's referring to about Romania was in connection with AI's complaint that ECT was being given without anesthesia. AI's conclusion was that since these were medical treatments being administered to sick people in a very poor country, they were not within the purview of AI's concern. When AI used to publicize the "misuse" of psychiatry in the old Soviet Union, their materials used to say things like "He is being given powerful drugs cause terrible suffering, and that should only be administered to schizophrenics." Our suffering was invisible to AI investigators, who would go into a mental hospital to visit a particular "prisoner of conscience" and ignore the people they saw as "real patients."
I'm sending you this information for whatever use you want to make of it. Eric is a good ally and really wants to get the international human rights community on board, which they have distinctly not been so far.
The country in question is Romania, and the publication is "Psychiatry: A human rights perspective" July 1995. In it, AI explains that "While there are many aspects of psychiatric ethics which are of major importance to the profession and to the public at large, many are outside the capacity of a human rights organization such as Amnesty International which has a limited focus...." (p.2) Among them, "Amnesty International opposes as a violation of human rights the compulsory admission and detention of people in mental hospitals solely because of non-violent political activities or thoughts; it would view such detainees as victims of the abuse of psychiatry for political endss. The determining factor for AI in making this assessment would not be primarily the mental health of the person so treated but rather whether their detention was a direct consequence of their political behavior and did not conform to national and international legal and ethical norms regulating the treatment of the mentally ill."
In this policy statement, Amensty essentially limits itself to abuses motivated by political goals. International legal norms, such as the "UN Principles for the Protectoin of Persons with Mental Illness" make it clear that practices constitute a human rights abuse whether or not they are intended as a form of political repression. But note that the language of the Amnesty statement refers to repression as a consequence of "political behavior AND" a violation of international law. The language of the Amnesty statement appears to require both political repression and a violatoin of international law.
We do need to do something about this. Amensty Internatoinal has established a new campaign in the US is designed to build on grassroots US support. Holly Burkahalkter, who is on the board of Mental Disability Rights International, has been asked to help out with this campaign. We need to be able to go to Amnesty and tell them that they are not going to get grassroots support with an analysis of human rights that discriminates against people with disabilities.
I am very sorry to say that I am not going to make it to NARPA this year, but I would really like to get NARPA's backing on this. I should also get a few other groups together before I go to Amnesty.