25 June 2009
UN experts call for enhancing the protection of persons with disabilities
A number of independent experts from several United Nations mechanisms,* referring to the first session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that convened in Geneva from 23 to 27 February 2009, recalled today that persons with disabilities continue to run an increased risk of falling victim to abuse and neglect in a number of contexts: many are involuntarily confined for long periods, at times without legal basis and proper review mechanisms and in inadequate conditions; inside institutions they are often subjected to restraint, sometimes severe forms of restraint, physical, mental and sexual violence, and seclusion; moreover, persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, inside the home, at the hands of family members, caregivers, health professionals and members of the community. Finally, they risk being exposed to medical experimentation and intrusive and irreversible medical treatments without their consent.
They stated that “In light of the absolute prohibition of torture, no exceptional circumstances may be invoked for its justification, and States have the obligations to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including of persons with disabilities.” They further stressed that “Forms of severe violence perpetrated by State or private actors directed at disabled persons can amount to torture since, if their purpose is discriminatory, they fall within the definition of torture in the Convention against Torture.
In so far as certain prison conditions, interrogation techniques, or procedures which are in general permissible under international law may constitute torture and ill treatment if applied to a person with a disability, special needs have to be accommodated to live up to relevant human rights obligations. In addition, the infliction of torture and other forms of inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment may result in physical and/or mental disabilities or aggravate existing impairments.
They stressed that two key-principles enshrined in several international instruments and re-enforced in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, should be at the centre of the protection of persons with disabilities at all times: non-discrimination in all areas, including confinement, and the requirement of free and informed consent to medical treatment. They also expressed their sincere hope that increased international scrutiny will help to shed light on abusive practices vis-à-vis persons with disabilities and to combat them more effectively. They therefore called on States that have not yet done so to become parties to the Convention against Torture and, its Optional Protocol as well as to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to take all other measures aimed at ensuring that all persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy all human rights and are fully protected from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.
They finally paid tribute to all Governments, civil society organizations and individuals engaged in activities aimed at preventing torture, punishing it and ensuring that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. They expressed their gratitude to all donors to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and hope that contributions to the Fund will continue to increase, so that more victims of torture and members of their families can receive the assistance they need. They called on all States, in particular those which have been found to be responsible for widespread or systematic practices of torture, to contribute to the Voluntary Fund as part of a universal commitment for the rehabilitation of torture victims.
* The United Nations Committee against Torture;
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture;
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and
The Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
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