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Parliamentary committee: Refrain from endorsing legal texts on coercive practices in mental health settings

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A new report and resolution which was considered and adopted in the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this Thursday stress the need of human rights compliant mental health legislation. The resolution re-state the commitment of the Parliamentary Assembly towards ending coercion in mental health.

The parliamentary author of the report, Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman, told the European Times, that the report is on deinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities. And she added, but it’s also a follow-up to my last report on “Ending coercion in mental health: the need for a human rights-based approach”, which led to the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2291 and Recommendation 2158 in 2019, and which were also supported by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

While this report is not the place to analyse the legal text on the protection of persons subjected to involuntary measures in psychiatry, that currently is being considered by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, in any depth, I believe it is my duty to recall that this Protocol, in the eyes of the Assembly, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the responsible UN mechanisms and bodies, and representative organisations of persons with disabilities and civil society organisations advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, goes in the wrong direction,” Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman noted.

In the report, she added that the adoption of the legal text (additional protocol) on involuntary measures “would make the deinstitutionalisation of persons in mental health care services more difficult. This is why my report will touch upon this issue.”

Vulnerable individuals

The reports laid out, that persons with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. It noted that Institutionalisation in and of itself should be recognised as a human rights violation.

“Being placed in institutions further puts persons with disabilities at risk of systemic and individual human rights violations and many experience physical, mental, and sexual violence. They are also often subjected to neglect and severe forms of restraint and/or “therapy”, including forced medication, prolonged isolation, and electroshocks,” Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman pointed out.

She explained, “Many persons with disabilities are wrongfully deprived of their legal capacity, making it difficult to contest the treatment they receive and their deprivation of liberty, as well as their living arrangements.”

Ms Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman added, “Unfortunately, several Council of Europe member States still hesitate to close down residential institutions and develop community-based services for persons with disabilities, arguing that institutional care is necessary for persons with multiple or ‘profound’ disabilities, or for persons of ‘unsound mind’ (as the ECHR calls them) on the spurious grounds that they may pose a danger to public safety or that their own interests may necessitate their detention in an institution.”

Committee call on stakeholders to not endorse text on involuntary placement

Following a nearly two-year-long investigation and work which included a public hearing composed of three sessions the Committee now unanimously adopted the report and a resolution based on the findings.

The Resolution‘s final point note,

“in line with its unanimously adopted Resolution 2291 (2019) and Recommendation 2158 (2019) on ‘Ending coercion in mental health: the need for a human rights-based approach’, the Assembly calls on all stakeholders, including Council of Europe member States governments and parliaments, not to support or endorse draft legal texts which would make successful and meaningful deinstitutionalisation more difficult, and which go against the spirit and the letter of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – such as the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention concerning the protection of human rights and dignity of persons with regard to involuntary placement and involuntary treatment within mental health care services. Instead, it calls on them to embrace and apply the paradigm shift of the CRPD and fully guarantee the fundamental human rights of all persons with disabilities.”

The report is due to be debated by the Assembly at its April session when it will take a final position.

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