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Council of Europe in big controversy on human rights abuse

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The Committee on Bioethics, a Committee working at the Committee of Ministers’ level of the Council of Europe is meeting this week to discuss a final draft of a new legal instrument that was to protect human rights and dignity of persons with mental disorders. The document however has received severe criticism culminating in the United Nations stepping in with a joint statement of its human rights experts requesting the delegates of the meeting to “object to the draft Additional Protocol in the upcoming meeting and we urge the Council of Europe to end legitimising forced institutionalization and the use of coercion against persons with disabilities, including older persons with disabilities.”

we urge the Council of Europe to end legitimising forced institutionalization and the use of coercion against persons with disabilities, including older persons with disabilities“.

UN Experts

About the draft of Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe.

The United Nations experts, which include their Special Rapporteurs on rights to physical and mental health and on disability and the UN Committee specialised on Disability, stated that, “The coercive approach to mental health is doing harm to people with disabilities and we should not go backwards to authorize this outdated approach. People with psychosocial disabilities have the right to live in the community and to refuse medical treatment.”

Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE against the drafted Protocol

The statement follows a long series of protests already voiced. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has worked over several years looking in to the matter and already in 2016 issued a recommendation stating that “Involuntary placement and involuntary treatment procedures give rise to a large number of human rights violations in many member States, in particular in the context of psychiatry.

The Parliamentary Assembly with the Recommendation stated, “While the Parliamentary Assembly understands the concerns that prompted the Committee on Bioethics to work on this issue, it has serious doubts about the added value of a new legal instrument in this field. Nevertheless, the Assembly’s main concern about the future additional protocol relates to an even more essential question: that of its compatibility with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” (read full Recommendation here)

The Parliamentary Assembly noted that the United Nations’ Committee monitoring this Convention “interprets Article 14 as prohibiting the deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability even if additional criteria, such as dangerousness to one’s self or others, are also used to justify it. The committee considers that mental health laws providing for such instances are incompatible with Article 14, are discriminatory in nature and amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

Since then, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly issued another recommendation in 2019, “Ending coercion in mental health: the need for a human rights-based approach.” The Assembly reiterated “the urgent need for the Council of Europe, as the leading regional human rights organisation, to fully integrate the paradigm shift initiated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) into its work regarding the protection of human rights and dignity of persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities.(full recommendation here)

In a follow-up Resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly noted that “The overall increase in the use of involuntary measures in mental health settings mainly results from a culture of confinement which focuses and relies on coercion to “control” and “treat” patients who are considered potentially “dangerous” to themselves or others.”

The Assembly based a concern on evidence from sociological research in the field on persons with mental health conditions “points to overwhelmingly negative experiences of coercive measures, including pain, trauma and fear. Involuntary “treatments” administered against the will of patients, such as forced medication and forced electroshocks, are perceived as particularly traumatic. They also raise major ethical issues, as they can cause irreversible damage to health.”

The Assembly further considered that “Mental health systems across Europe should be reformed to adopt a human rights-based approach which is compatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is respectful of medical ethics and of the human rights of the people concerned, including of their right to health care on the basis of free and informed consent.”

Commissioner on Human Rights: the draft endanger protection

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, in a written comment to the Committee on Bioethics called on the Committee to not adopt the new legal instrument. She added that “While noting that the Committee on Bioethics started this work with the commendable intention of improving the protection of persons with psychosocial disabilities with regard to involuntary measures ordered in a medical context, she considers that the draft Additional Protocol [the new legal instrument], rather than satisfying that ambition, unfortunately risks provoking the opposite result.”

Civil society is against the draft

The International NGO Human Rights Watch in a statement on the Committee on Bioethics’ document noted “In what may seem like a contradiction, the Council of Europe—the continent’s leading human rights body—continues to pursue a new legal instrument that would undermine the rights of people with disabilities. Today’s meeting of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics— the body responsible for this treaty known as the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Bioethics, signals that states are prepared to adopt new rules regarding forced treatment and detention of people with psychosocial disabilities, despite existing human rights obligations.”

The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) earlier called upon the Council of Europe Committee on Bioethics to withdraw the document. They followed up with a new statement, that “The draft Additional Protocol creates the risk of a conflict between international norms at the global and European levels” as the document “lacks clear, strong procedural safeguards to ensure respect for the rights of persons with disabilities.”

The European Disability Forum, an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities defending the interests of over 100 million persons with disabilities in the European Union, together with their members, in particular the European Network of (Ex)-Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Mental Health Europe, Autism-Europe, Inclusion Europe and the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities, have been in strong opposition to the drafted new legal instrument and expressed deep concerns over the human rights violations potentially about to be undertaken by the Council of Europe.

These comments of the European disability representative organizations were also endorsed by the International Disability Alliance, an umbrella organisation bringing together over 1,100 organisations of persons with disabilities and their families from across eight global and six regional networks.

Committee on Bioethics is aware of the critics

Ms. Laurence Lwoff, the Head of Council of Europe’s Bioethics Unit told The European Times, that “The delegations to the Committee on Bioethics are aware of the statement released by UN Rights experts which will also be referred to at the meeting by the Chair of the Committee on Bioethics.” She refused that the Committee does have the intention to disregard the views expressed by the UN Rights experts.

The meeting at which the possible new legal instrument will be reviewed starts today. The European Times was informed that “it is not possible to attend the meetings of the Committee on Bioethics (as this is the general rule for any other intergovernmental committees’ meeting) which are not opened to the press.”

The meeting at which the possible new Legal instrument will be reviewed starts today. When the meeting is done, the Committee either have tied down the Council of Europe or as the UN Experts put it, used the “unique opportunity to shift away from old-fashioned coercive approaches to mental health, towards concrete steps to promote supportive mental health services in the community, and the realization of human rights for all without discrimination on the grounds of disability.”

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This article has been referenced by the EDF

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