2015-Boychuk-ClaireBy Claire Boychuck

During my brief stint with Disability Rights International (DRI) in Mexico City, I’ve quickly come to understand the urgency of the movement to de-institutionalize persons with disabilities. The living conditions in many psychiatric facilities around the world are shocking. Here in Mexico, glimpses of these institutions and the loneliness and suffering of the individuals detained therein haunt me long after our human rights monitoring team departs their sterile corridors.

In Mexico, DRI has documented the prolonged use of physical constraints, isolation cells, cages, forced sterilization of women, and physical and sexual abuse in psychiatric facilities across the country. These are egregious forms of abuse and even meet the definition of torture. But in the face of such tremendous abuses, my colleagues remind me that simply “cleaning up” these institutions is no solution. Children and adults, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents, and all persons with disabilities have a right to live in the community. They have a right be a part of the world.

Article 19, arguably one of the most important and ambitious obligations of the 2008 UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), recognizes the right all people with disabilities to live in the community. Instead of institutionalizing people with disabilities – which results in total social segregation – advocates at DRI are calling for community support services so that people with disabilities can enjoy full lives as active members of society.

From a legal standpoint, the demand for services in the community is a complex and daunting problem. Unlike many human rights cases which demand the cessation of an action (torture, forced disappearances, etc.) the demand for compliance with art. 19 of the CRPD speaks to a violation by omission.

State Party X’s failure to invest in community-based services is a violation of the CRPD. This is an act of omission, a legal category often treated differently than positive actions. Further, if a court grants a demand for government investment in community based services it can be seen as overstepping the limits of the judicial branch – and into social spending that comes with a price tag.

These may seem like abstract legal questions but they have concrete and immediate consequences. To understand the urgency of Article 19 of the CRPD and ending institutional torture, abuse, and segregation take a look at a recent case that DRI has been working on, the Federica Mora Hospital in Guatemala, featured in this recent BBC documentary. Warning: images in this video are disturbing.