Sad Goodbyes

2016 Awj NigahPar Nigah Awj

Alors déjà je suis à ma dernière semaine de stage avec DRI au Mexique. Ces trois mois ont passé comme une flèche, mais j’ai eu la chance de me bâtir une vie pas mal complète ici. Ah que c’est dure les adieux!

Depuis mon arrivée, je me suis bâti des relations familiales, amicales, spirituelles, d’amour, ainsi que de travail. Les gens autour de moi m’ont constamment choyé avec tant d’amour et d’encouragements, je me sens bénie. De plus, le travail au sein de l’organisme m’a appris énormément et m’a fait grandir. C’est un rêve devenu réalité pour 3 mois, j’ai appris que me battre pour les droits humains pour apporter les changements nécessaire, c’est ce qui me motive dans la vie!

Durant ces trois mois avec DRI, j’ai visité 2 institutions psychiatriques, une pour femmes (CAIS), une pour enfants

Children with disabilities are kept lying down for hours without any activity.

We found cage-like bars around beds in this institution where they lock children.

;  interviewé une victime d’une institution abusive dans sa maison ; participé aux réunions du Colectivo Chuhcan, seul organisation au Mexique constitué de personnes handicapées qui offrent des services de support et guides; participé à une formation d’analyse de sécurité de Peace Brigades International et Coperativa Tierra Commun ; émis des commentaires et suggestions sur la réalisation d’un protocole gouvernemental au sein de la fiscalité national ;  répondu à des évaluations de pays de la commission des droits humains des Nations Unis ; élaboré des analyses légales sur les droits reproductives des femmes handicapées au Mexique pour la Commission Interaméricaine des droits humain ; écris des articles sur l’institualization au Guatemala ; émis des commentaires sur les recommandations de la comité CEDAW des Nations Unis ; et dans mes temps libres escaladé des montagnes, nagé dans l’océan ; visité des musées, vu des villages historiques, dégusté milles saveurs du Mexique et appris à danser.

 

Indeed it is a beautiful life!

My involvement with DRI made me realise that there is a lot of work and change needed to give a life of dignity to people with disabilities. I am impressed by the strategy and impact of DRI in the world. Small offices, but amazing work! DRI Mexico take cares of Mexico and Guatemala’s cases; two people taking care of two nation’s advocacy for disability rights, that is immense!

Across the world, persons with disabilities are abandoned in large segregated institutions, where they often face abuse and torture. DRI report, Abandoned and Disappeared, documented horrific and pervasive abuse and generalized segregation of people with disabilities in institutions across Mexico. Even with good conditions institutions are inherently dangerous places for people with disabilities, where they are segregated for life. Investigators discovered that children with disabilities disappear and are trafficked; within institutions, people are left in permanent restraints which constitute torture; the use of lobotomies and psychosurgeries persist; abandoned people languish in institutions for their lifetimes; there is discrimination against children with disabilities in outplacement and adoption; there is an extreme lack of treatment and rehabilitation; living conditions in institutions are often inhumane and degrading; people are denied legal capacity and access to justice. It also finds that in Mexico there are no alternatives to institutions so, once children and adults are detained in one, they will stay there for life.

DRI report on institutions in Mexico.

With the adoption of the CRPD, there has been an international recognition that institutionalization of people with disabilities is a serious human rights violation and is an outmoded and an unacceptable form of “care” in the 21st Century. However, this outdated model is still prevalent in many countries and people with disabilities’ human rights are still forgotten in human right talks around the world. The life conditions of people with disabilities are still dealt with in a frame of medical perspective, which is most often unfounded or based on eugenic theories, and not seen from a human rights perspective.

DRI is pushing both Guatemala and Mexico’s government to move from a system of institutionalization to community based services for persons with disabilities, in accord with article 19 of the CRPD for the right to community living. For this change to happen through advocacy, awareness and litigation, all three levels have to be involved: the local, the national and the international. DRI works closely at the local level through monitoring and interviews with victims, institution workers, families; also with the government at the national level to report cases, work on policy changes, and recommend the development of community programs; DRI also reports to international bodies with standing such as the IACHR, the CEDAW, the CAT, UNHRC to pressure the unwilling government to fulfill its international responsibilities.

Colectivo Chuhcan during their biweekly meetings with persons with disabilities.

 The local presence is very important to understand the needs of people with disabilities and what impacts the programs might have on them. International models are of great use to help implement much needed programs and elevate the life conditions of persons with disabilities; however each country comes with their limitations and ways of doing things. Without local presence, awareness and understanding the implementation of such development programs might end in disaster. There has to be a change of mentality and understanding within the general society itself to push for respect and understanding of the rights of people with disabilities. As well, persons with disabilities must be present in each level of the planning and implementation of changes as they know best what is needed for them.

At a national or governmental level, I have experienced how difficult change might be when faced with an oppressive and unwilling government. The State of Guatemala, with a lot of international pressure have moved to sit for negotiations and starting many pilot projects to move persons with disabilities in community based programs and help their integration. DRI is involved in negotiations to push the government to fulfill these obligations and hoping to guide the start of these projects. In Mexico, however, DRI is facing oppression, threat and defamation from the government. Even with the ratification of international conventions oriented towards protecting the rights of person with disabilities, Mexico’s government is unwilling to make changes and investigate abuses against this vulnerable group. They have blocked all access to DRI, refuse to process complains and actively threatened DRI workers to not publish reports. In Mexico, these events have forced the workers to seek some kind of legal protection, take classes on security and have created a lot of tension. DRI is working on multiple different strategies to figure out how to continue their mission through international support of United Nations and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights without which it would be almost impossible to hold corrupted unwilling governments accountable.

The Case of Casa Esperanza

In Guatemala, DRI has admitted a petition against the government of Guatemala to the IActHR for the National Mental Health Institution, Federico Mora, one of the most dangerous intuitions in Latin America and hoping to hold the government accountable for the abuses. This year, in Mexico, DRI would like to repeat the same kind of petition in regards to a very dangerous institution where multiple abuses have been reported called Casa Esperanza. I have been working on the legal analysis for this case, especially trying to qualify forced sterilization happening in this institution as torture to hold the government accountable and urge its international obligation to protect people from torture, especially when these practices take place in public hospitals.

It is great to be part of this movement, slow but effective. There is so much more to learn, see and experience within this field of law and I am hoping to continue my involvement with this organization.

 

Trouver la balance

2016 Awj NigahPar Nigah Awj

Voilà que cela fait déjà une semaine que je suis au Mexique. Depuis mon arrivée le vendredi dernier, ce fut une semaine intense. Le lendemain de mon arrivée, je me rends au bureau de Disability Rights International (DRI). Nous allons, ensemble avec Colectivo Chuhcan, une organisation conduite par des personnes souffrant d’incapacités mentales qui milite pour une vision renouvelée du handicap et qui partage le même bureau que DRI, visiter un Centre d’assistance d’intégration sociale (CAIS) pour les femmes au nom de CAIS Villa Mujeres.

Nous sommes une équipe de trois personnes de Colectivo Chuhcan, deux de DRI, une photographe en mission pour Médecin Sans Frontières et un journaliste de Vice Media. L’accès à ce genre d’institution s’obtient très difficilement. Nous nous passons pour un organisme charitable qui aimerait distribuer des vêtements et quelques collations aux femmes dans l’institution pour avoir la permission de rentrer et interagir avec les femmes. Le garde de sécurité montre un peu de résistance, mais finalement fini par nous laisser le droit de distribuer les petits biscuits et jus aux femmes.

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Most psychiatric institutions hold people for a lifetime, however there are some exceptions in which cases the patients are discharged to Mexico City’s locked, residential shelter system, the CAIS, due to lack of resources in the community. The CAIS Villa Mujeres is surrounded by tall walls and a solid smell of urine surrounds the place. The conditions are degrading and unhygienic. There are feces and urine on the floors and the whole place is very dirty.  Furthermore, the institution is unequipped for dignified living and incapable of providing adequate treatment to the people under its custody, including lack of professionalized staff. CAIS Villa Mujeres holds around 450 women and only around 20 staff members to take care of them.

It is ironic that this institution is called “Centro de Asistencia e Integración Social”, but the residents have no contact with society and are kept isolated within the walls of the institution. Most stay here for life with no contact with family or friends. When we entered, all the women were surprised to see us and came running to give us hugs and collect snacks. They don’t usually get visits, so they were very grateful and enjoyed interacting with us. Their stories were very sad and all of them wanted to get out.

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One lady who lost her leg during an accident in the metro and lived on the streets before being placed in this institution told me that she has her brother’s phone number and that her family have no idea where she is, but she is not allowed to contact anyone. Most women are abandoned by their families with no contact; some don’t even have an identity. Furthermore, the institution not only holds women with psychosocial disability, but also women from the street and abused women, whom the government should be helping but instead they are also placed in this institution as abandonados.

I saw a young lady with her nine months child, who was crying. Her boyfriend continuously abused her and she ran away on the streets before she was placed in this institution with her child. Many women had bandages around their ankles or arms from falls or accidents. Another woman said that she was sexually abused multiple times by a former staff member. Many were just homeless, living of poverty, and thrown in the institution.

DRI is advocating for the rights and full participation in society of people with disabilities. The goal of these visits is to collect evidence and document abuses in these institutions. In September 2014, DRI took part in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Committee’s evaluation of Mexico’s efforts to implement the CRPD and submitted information contained in their 2010 Abandoned and Disappeared report as well as the preliminary findings of their 2015 Twice Violated report. The UN CRPD Committee urged the Mexican government to reform its institutional system, and expressed concern about the total lack of strategy or plan to de-institutionalize people with disabilities in Mexico, contrary to article 19 of the CRPD.

Most of the week, I have come to the office to read the DRI reports on abuse, torture, human trafficking and problems with institutionalization. In recent years, the conditions in CAIS facilities in Mexico City have been documented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Federal District Human Rights Commission. In 2014 the UN Rapporteur on Torture reported that individuals at the CAIS live in unsanitary conditions, in a state of abandonment, and lack medical attention or any hope of return to life in the community (Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).

According to the CRPD Committee, “there has been a general failure to understand that the human rights-based model of disability implies a shift from the substitute decision-making paradigm to one that is based on supported decision making”. (UN CRPD Committee, General Comment No. 1 (2014) Article 12: Equal recognition before the law). In Mexico, the moment a person is diagnosed with a disability, he/she is stripped of all his/her rights and these can be overruled by an appointed guardian (family or director of institution). The violation of the right to legal capacity in Mexico is a grave violation of the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, especially of those detained in institutions where there may be sexually abused or be subject to forced sterilization, in which cases their consent is substituted by the guardian’s decision.

Reading these documents is emotionally very demanding and hard. All my colleagues have advised me to also go around and look at the city to see the beautiful side of Mexico City as well. Reading about the very inhumane conditions in which people with psychosocial disability live and how society and government treats them is very depressing.

Thus, the first week has mainly been about finding the balance between the very emotionally demanding work and my mental health. Most colleagues exercise, meditate or dance. I have taken walks before and after work around the beautiful historic center of Mexico, Zócalo and Bellas Artes. I also go jogging in the evening to keep active and change my ideas. My colleagues are very loving and I always enjoy going out for lunch and talking about life; it is the happy part of my day at DRI.

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For more information: http://www.driadvocacy.org

 

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