(London) - Greece should take action to improve the rights of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. Greece is the host of the Special Olympics summer games, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, being held from June 25 through July 4, 2011.

In a joint letter on June 14, Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum urged Health Minister Andreas Loverdos to take immediate action to address abusive conditions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities at the Children's Care Center of Lechaina, including the use of cage beds and restraints to tie patients to their beds and routine sedation.

"If Greece is serious about the ideals of the Special Olympics, it should not ignore documented abuses of children and adults with disabilities right under its nose," said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. "The government should end the use of cage beds, sedation and routine restraints in the Lechaina center."

In March, the country's deputy ombudsman, Mr. Giorgos Moschos, made public his inspection reports on the center dating back to 2009 as he investigated conditions there.

Based on the information in those reports and from the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Watch and European Disability Forum letter concludes that the conditions in the center violate Greece's obligations under international human rights law, including the United Nations Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of the problems are linked to limited financial resources. But limited resources cannot justify abusive and illegal treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

The Health Ministry has opened an investigation on the allegations of abuse in the center, which include the deaths of two residents over a two day period in March 2011. The Prosecutor's Office has also opened an investigation, based on complaints by volunteers at the center.

"These investigations need to be conducted promptly and their findings made public," Barriga said.

Greece should also promptly ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by over half of the countries in the world, is based on the principles of dignity, independence, and non-discrimination, and includes provisions on the right to be free from violence and the right to live in the community.

The government should also ensure that budget cuts imposed as part of the austerity measures do not have a disproportionately negative impact on people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said. Under current plans, the funding used to provide people with disabilities with care in their homes and with wheelchairs and other mobility aids will be cut by half as of July 1. As a result, many people with disabilities may be forced to move into residential care, denying them the right to live in the community.