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UN Rights experts call on Council of Europe to stop legislation for coercive mental health measures

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GENEVA (28 May 2021) —UN human rights experts* call upon the Council of Europe to withdraw the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention.  This Additional Protocol maintains an approach to mental health policy and practice that is based on coercion, which is incompatible with contemporary human rights principles and standards. 

The Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics is scheduled to meet in early June to vote on the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention. The draft Additional Protocol would continue to allow all the 47 State parties of the Council of Europe to use coercive measures, including forced treatment and involuntary placement in psychiatric institutions, against people with mental health conditions.

“Overwhelming evidence from the European Disability Forum, Mental Health Europe and other organizations and growing consensus within the United Nations including at the World Health Organization, show that forced admission to medical institutions and coercive treatments in institutions will bring harmful effects such as pain, trauma, humiliation, shame, stigmatisation and fear to people with psychosocial disabilities,” the experts said.

“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approach to mental health is doing harm to people with disabilities and we should not go backwards to authorize this outdated approach.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.”

“We call upon all State delegations 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,” they added.

The controversial draft treaty has aroused opposition within Europe and from the international community. Voices within the Council of Europe, such as the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights have also been vocal against the draft Protocol.

“When there are efforts worldwide to reform mental health policy, it comes to our surprise that the Council of Europe, a major regional human rights organization, is planning to adopt a treaty that would be a setback to reverse all positive developments in Europe and spread a chilling effect elsewhere in the world,” the experts said.

“The Council of Europe now has a 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. We urge the Council of Europe to be part of the future and not part of the past in mental health,” they stressed.

END

For more information and media requests in Geneva, please contact:
Vivian Kwok at +41 (0) 22 917 9362 / vkwok@ohchr.org or UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855 / media@ohchr.org 

Background 

* The experts:
- The Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities
- Mr. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
- Ms. Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility
- Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health
- Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors States parties’ compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which to date has 182 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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