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“Dignity must prevail” – An appeal to do away with non-consensual psychiatric treatment World Mental Health Day – Saturday 10 October 2015

08 October 2015

GENEVA (8 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina  Devandas-Aguilar, and on the right to health, Dainius Pûras, today called on States to eradicate all forms of non-consensual psychiatric treatment.

Speaking ahead of the World Mental Health Day*, the independent experts urged Governments to put an end to arbitrary detention, forced institutionalisation and forced treatment, in order to ensure that persons with developmental and psychosocial disabilities are treated with dignity and their human rights respected.

“Locked in institutions, tied down with restraints, often in solitary confinement, forcibly injected with drugs and overmedicated, are only few illustrations of the ways in which persons with disabilities, or those perceived to be so, are treated without their consent, with severe consequences for their physical and mental integrity.

Globally, persons with developmental and psychosocial disabilities face discrimination, stigma and marginalization and are subject to emotional and physical abuse in both mental health facilities and the community.  And every year, the rights and dignity of hundreds of thousands of people across the world are violated as a consequence of non-consensual psychiatry interventions.

All too often persons with developmental and psychosocial disabilities are formally or informally destitute of their legal capacity and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in psychiatric hospitals, other specialized institutions, and other similar settings.

Dignity cannot be compatible with practices of force treatment which may amount to torture. States must halt this situation as a matter of urgency and respect each person’s autonomy, including their right to choose or refuse treatment and care.

Without freedom from violence and abuse, autonomy and self-determination, inclusion in the community and participation in decision-making, the inherent dignity of the person becomes an empty concept.  The international community needs to acknowledge the extent of these violations, which are broadly accepted and justified in the name of psychiatry as a medical practice.

The concept of ‘medical necessity’ behind non-consensual placement and treatment falls short of scientific evidence and sound criteria. The legacy of the use of force in psychiatry is against the principle ‘primum non nocere’ (first do no harm) and should no more be accepted.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offers a promising occasion for a shift of paradigm in mental health policies and practices. This year’s World Mental Health Day stresses more than ever the need to elaborate new models and practices of community-based services that are respectful of the dignity and integrity of the person.

It is a good timing to take stock of the recent entering into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to open a dialogue amongst all stakeholders, including users of services, policy makers and mental health professionals to work on human rights based solutions which may provide answers to the questions brought forward by the Convention’s standards.

We call on States to end all instances of arbitrary detention, forced institutionalisation and forced treatment, to ensure that persons with developmental and psychosocial disabilities are treated with dignity and are provided their rights to have their decisions respected at all times, and to have access to the needed support and accommodation to effectively communicate such decisions.”

(*) World Mental Health Day, which is supported by the United Nations, is annually held on October 10 to raise public awareness about mental health issues worldwide. This year’s theme is: “Dignity in Mental Health.”

Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas Aguilar has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Strategic Partnerships with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities. Learn more, log on to:

Mr. Dainius Pûras (Lithuania) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. Mr Pûras is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social pediatrics at Vilnius University. He is also a human rights advocate who has been actively involved during the last 30 years in the process of transforming public health policies and services, with special focus on the rights of children, persons with mental disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Learn more, visit:

The UN 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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