Human rights monitoring in DF, Mexico

2015-Boychuk-ClaireBy Claire Boychuk

It smells of cleaning chemicals and urine. Outside, a courtyard in the middle of the hospital explodes with tropical colours; red hibiscus, yellow sunlight. Inside, the colour of loneliness is gray-blue. The images will haunt me later: this man with calloused skull and twisted ankle has lived in this metal crib for fifty-two years. A sound like a zipper from the crunching jaw of a little boy whose arms are tied in bed sheets. Screams and rocking wheelchairs.

Downtown, Mexico CityI shadow our medical expert and record her observations in my notebook. Age, treatment, diagnosis. We ask, how many hours a day is she restrained in this chair? Do the patients ever leave? Do they have families? And sometimes, are the women sterilized? Between me and this great suffering is my notebook. Later we will type up these notes, connect facts and law, cite UN conventions, write letters and reports demanding that this torture end.

This is the cadence of human rights monitoring with Disability Rights International (DRI) in Mexico City. It’s hard but meaningful work. By July, much of this evidence comes together in the form of a report, No Justice: Torture, Trafficking and Segregation in Mexico. Within hours the report is picked up by every major news outlet in the city. Soon after, ABC News airs a report on DRI’s yearlong investigation into shelters for children and adults with disabilities in Mexico City. The Mexican government responds, promising to end the use of restraints and cages. This is an historic victory. DRI has been advocating for change in Mexico for over twenty years.

I leave Mexico knowing that there are still so many notebooks that could be filled with the stories of children and adults who have survived torture and abuse, who may never see justice or redress. I leave with a heightened awareness that there is so much more work to be done in Mexico and around the world to guarantee that this generation of persons with disabilities and the next live in a world free of torture. But I also take with me a simple insight that seems to be at the heart of DRI’s work. When you begin from premise that all people are entitled to live in dignity, the only logical conclusion is that change is necessary.


Landed in DF, Mexico

2015-Boychuk-ClaireBy Claire Boychuck

During my brief stint with Disability Rights International (DRI) in Mexico City, I’ve quickly come to understand the urgency of the movement to de-institutionalize persons with disabilities. The living conditions in many psychiatric facilities around the world are shocking. Here in Mexico, glimpses of these institutions and the loneliness and suffering of the individuals detained therein haunt me long after our human rights monitoring team departs their sterile corridors.

In Mexico, DRI has documented the prolonged use of physical constraints, isolation cells, cages, forced sterilization of women, and physical and sexual abuse in psychiatric facilities across the country. These are egregious forms of abuse and even meet the definition of torture. But in the face of such tremendous abuses, my colleagues remind me that simply “cleaning up” these institutions is no solution. Children and adults, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents, and all persons with disabilities have a right to live in the community. They have a right be a part of the world.

Article 19, arguably one of the most important and ambitious obligations of the 2008 UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), recognizes the right all people with disabilities to live in the community. Instead of institutionalizing people with disabilities – which results in total social segregation – advocates at DRI are calling for community support services so that people with disabilities can enjoy full lives as active members of society.

From a legal standpoint, the demand for services in the community is a complex and daunting problem. Unlike many human rights cases which demand the cessation of an action (torture, forced disappearances, etc.) the demand for compliance with art. 19 of the CRPD speaks to a violation by omission.

State Party X’s failure to invest in community-based services is a violation of the CRPD. This is an act of omission, a legal category often treated differently than positive actions. Further, if a court grants a demand for government investment in community based services it can be seen as overstepping the limits of the judicial branch – and into social spending that comes with a price tag.

These may seem like abstract legal questions but they have concrete and immediate consequences. To understand the urgency of Article 19 of the CRPD and ending institutional torture, abuse, and segregation take a look at a recent case that DRI has been working on, the Federica Mora Hospital in Guatemala, featured in this recent BBC documentary. Warning: images in this video are disturbing.

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