Skip to main content

Taking a human rights approach to psychosocial disability

13 January 2015

“People with psychosocial disabilities can find themselves in a no-man’s land when it comes to enjoyment of rights that most other people can take for granted,” said Jan Jařab. “We were convinced that this was an issue that needed to be addressed because in many countries, the dominant model is still one of top-down paternalistic care that does not place sufficient emphasis on independent living and inclusion in the community.”

Jařab is the regional representative for the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe in Brussels. Since the Regional Office’s inception in 2010, it has looked into the plight of people in institutional care as an issue that cuts across various groups of rights holders.

This year the “Forgotten Europeans” event -- which looks at the needs of those who are often left out of mainstream human rights discussions – focused on people  with psychosocial disabilities or mental health problems. The event brought together service providers, experts, and various EU Member States and international agency officials. It emphasized a need for a holistic and human rights based approach to dealing with mental health problems, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

People with mental health problems are often treated by doctors and policy makers as an element of a diagnosis, not as a person, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Mental Health Dainius Puras said at the event. And this mistaken view has had enormous consequences in many countries in Europe, amounting to “grave violations of human rights,” he said.

“The systematic violation of human rights of citizens is a very serious fact and we should be seriously considering problems of accountability and responsibility,” he said. “Governments, health and other ministers should be at least aware that they are accountable, especially after the UN CPRD has been ratified.”

As part of a coalition of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations engaged in disability and child rights advocacy, the Regional Office for Europe has successfully lobbied the European Commission to ensure that provisions from the CPRD are part of the criteria for use of the European Structural and Investment Funds.

“It is about getting the European Union member states to subscribe to a different logic: not to put people into institutions, but to create services to allow them to live autonomously and be included in the community as much as possible,” Jařab said. “It is very encouraging that the European Commission now fully supports this approach. Now we need to build capacity on member state level to ensure that the reforms funded from the EU’s powerful financial instruments go indeed in the right direction.”

13 January 2015