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Statement on article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Liberty and security of the person is one of the most precious rights to which everyone is entitled. In particular, all persons with disabilities, and especially persons with mental disabilities or psychosocial disabilities are entitled to liberty pursuant to article 14 of the Convention.

Ever since the CRPD committee began reviewing state party reports at its fifth session in April 2011, the Committee has systematically called to the attention of states party the need to correctly enforce this Convention right. The jurisprudence of the committee on article 14 can be more easily comprehended by unpacking its various elements as follows:

1. The absolute prohibition of detention on the basis of disability. There are still practices in which state parties allow for the deprivation of liberty on the grounds of actual or perceived disability. In this regard the Committee has established that article 14 does not permit any exceptions whereby persons may be detained on the grounds of their actual or perceived disability. However, legislation of several states party, including mental health laws, still provide instances in which persons may be detained on the grounds of their actual or perceived disability, provided there are other reasons for their detention, including that they are dangerous to themselves or to others. This practice is incompatible with article 14 as interpreted by the jurisprudence of the CRPD committee.

2. Mental health laws that authorize detention of persons with disabilities based on the alleged danger of persons for themselves or for others. Through all the reviews of state party reports the Committee has established that it is contrary to article 14 to allow for the detention of persons with disabilities based on the perceived danger of persons to themselves or to others. The involuntary detention of persons with disabilities based on presumptions of risk or dangerousness tied to disability labels is contrary to the right to liberty. For example, it is wrong to detain someone just because they are diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

3. Detention of persons unfit to plead in criminal justice systems. The committee has established that declarations of unfitness to stand trial and the detention of persons based on that declaration is contrary to article 14 of the convention since it deprives the person of his or her right to due process and safeguards that are applicable to every defendant.

4. Reasonable accommodation and prisons. The committee is of the view that persons with disabilities who are sentenced to imprisonment for committing a crime should be entitled to reasonable accommodation in order not to aggravate incarceration conditions based on disability.

Geneva, September 2014