By Claire Boychuk
It smells of cleaning chemicals and urine. Outside, a courtyard in the middle of the hospital explodes with tropical colours; red hibiscus, yellow sunlight. Inside, the colour of loneliness is gray-blue. The images will haunt me later: this man with calloused skull and twisted ankle has lived in this metal crib for fifty-two years. A sound like a zipper from the crunching jaw of a little boy whose arms are tied in bed sheets. Screams and rocking wheelchairs.
I shadow our medical expert and record her observations in my notebook. Age, treatment, diagnosis. We ask, how many hours a day is she restrained in this chair? Do the patients ever leave? Do they have families? And sometimes, are the women sterilized? Between me and this great suffering is my notebook. Later we will type up these notes, connect facts and law, cite UN conventions, write letters and reports demanding that this torture end.
This is the cadence of human rights monitoring with Disability Rights International (DRI) in Mexico City. It’s hard but meaningful work. By July, much of this evidence comes together in the form of a report, No Justice: Torture, Trafficking and Segregation in Mexico. Within hours the report is picked up by every major news outlet in the city. Soon after, ABC News airs a report on DRI’s yearlong investigation into shelters for children and adults with disabilities in Mexico City. The Mexican government responds, promising to end the use of restraints and cages. This is an historic victory. DRI has been advocating for change in Mexico for over twenty years.
I leave Mexico knowing that there are still so many notebooks that could be filled with the stories of children and adults who have survived torture and abuse, who may never see justice or redress. I leave with a heightened awareness that there is so much more work to be done in Mexico and around the world to guarantee that this generation of persons with disabilities and the next live in a world free of torture. But I also take with me a simple insight that seems to be at the heart of DRI’s work. When you begin from premise that all people are entitled to live in dignity, the only logical conclusion is that change is necessary.