By Keiran Gibbs

In 2006 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has since gained worldwide support faster than any human rights convention in history [1]. The CRDP was first proposed by Gilberto Rincón Gallardo, a former Mexican politician appointed as the head of the Anti-Discrimination Council. Mexico was also the first country to ratify it, yet, the CRDP has had little effect on Mexican law and practice. Such a lack of political will on Mexico’s part has resulted in severe continuous violations of the rights of at least thousands of people detained in psychiatric and social security institutions throughout the country.

In November, 2010, Disability Rights International (DRI) and the Mexican Commission for the  Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (CMDPDH in Spanish), released a report[2], that revealed a tragic reality that vividly depicts  Mexico’s breach of acceptable norms. While the living conditions in many of Mexico’s psychiatric and social welfare institutions are appalling[3], the legal structure that denies  autonomy to those diagnosed as having a disability is arguably just as troubling. This legal structure which allows for voluntary or involuntary internment is virtually identical in all of Mexico’s thirty-two states, and it often keeps the thousands of people living in  these institutions unable to ever leave, regardless of whether not they have a disability at all[4].

Generally all that is required for ‘voluntary’ internment into an institution for the disabled is the signature of a family member and a medical professional (i.e., a psychiatrist validating the diagnoses of ‘disabled’). Often the institution itself retains tutorship[5]; the person with a disability then deemed  incapable of ever making decisions for her or himself. Needless to say, involuntary incarceration creates an even lower standard for the exercise of autonomy; the requirement for a family member’s signature is eliminated. An aggravating factor is that such decisions to institutionalize people with disabilities are virtually never reviewed by a third party[6].

One particularly stark example of the detrimental effect this can have is illustrated in said report, where a child who had no disability whatsoever, spent her entire formative years in an institution, in which she might expect to be adhered to an object for prolonged periods of time[7]. Yet, as an abandoned child her legal guardian, the institution and the very same actor causing the harm, had complete authority over her and her whereabouts.  It is in fact a ludicrous circumstance and it would be practically impossibly not to sympathize with the feelings of  helplessness that such official barriers to the exercise of autonomy must cause this child and others like her. Whether or not one has a disability should not eliminate one’s capability in having reasonable autonomy over the decisions in one’s life.

While it isn’t unreasonable for States to ask for some patience as they attempt to reach the ideal situation that the Convention demands, any stalling on Mexico’s part in revising the laws that act as an impediment to making the Convention a reality, specifically the laws dealing with tutorship and capacity,  is not only unreasonable in this instance, it is indeed criminal.

[1] [1] U.N. Enable, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

[2] Abandoned and Disappeared: Mexico’s Segregation and Abuse of Children and Adults with Disabilities [ November, 2010]. Available at: Also see some of the video documentation which contributed to the report at: Neglect at a Mexico mental institution, ABC News, Nightline,

[3] Ibid. See for example Section I: Conditions in Institutions, which documents many institutions that leave the patients in urine and feces, leave them in restraints for prolongued periods of time, distribute pills from the same cup to all patients, as well as other incidents of physical and verbal abuse.

Ibid. See especially Chapter I: Segregation from society of people with disabilties (A) & (B).

[5] Ibid. Chap I : As many as 80% of many of the institutions visited were considered ‘abandonados’, making the institution itself the legal guardian.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.