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Council of Europe: A Threat to Rights of People With Disabilities

Oppose Protocol for Detention, Forced Treatment; Provide Alternatives

The headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. © 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Brussels) – Council of Europe member states should oppose new proposed standards regulating the detention and forced treatment of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The body in charge of developing the standards, the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO), consisting of experts from each member state, is to meet on November 21, 2018 in Strasbourg.

The new standards are being developed as a draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention on Bioethics, a Council of Europe convention that regulates human rights in the framework of biology and medicine. The Additional Protocol aims to provide a framework for involuntary hospitalization and treatment of people with so-called “mental disorder” in Europe. The Council of Europe is an inter-governmental human rights organization consisting of 47 member countries, including the 28 European Union states.  

“The Council of Europe prides itself in promoting the highest human rights standards, but the draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention goes against decades of hard-fought progress towards equal rights for people with disabilities.” said Lea Labaki, of the Disability Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. “European governments should publicly oppose the protocol and stop its further development.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which 46 out of 47 Council of Europe member states have ratified, guarantees people with disabilities, including people with psychosocial disabilities, or mental health conditions, equal rights to liberty and health care based on informed consent. The draft Additional Protocol risks undermining the human rights protections guaranteed in the CRPD and could lead to serious violations of the rights of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

Beginning in September, Human Rights Watch sent letters to Council of Europe member countries and key Council of Europe bodies calling on them to oppose the Additional Protocol and insist on its withdrawal. Six countries responded, all saying that they are considering their position.

Organizations representing people with disabilities, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN special rapporteurs on health and disability and the Council of Europe’s own Parliamentary Assembly and Commissioner for Human Rights have called for withdrawing the draft Additional Protocol. Bulgaria, Portugal and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have publicly opposed it.

Involuntary detention on grounds of disability and particularly involuntary treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities inherently violates the rights of those subjected to them, including non-discrimination, liberty and security of the person, and the right to health. Such treatment may also violate the prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

Protection from discrimination, unlawful detention, and ill-treatment as well as the right to health are also established in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

To address abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities, the Council of Europe should instead encourage its member states to move away from coercive measures and provide them with guidance on rights-respecting alternatives to involuntary placement and treatment based on informed consent. Such alternatives already exist in numerous countries and can grow through information exchange and the sharing of good practices between countries.

“By creating a framework for involuntary placement and forced treatment, the Additional Protocol undermines the fundamental rights and dignity of people with disabilities,” Labaki said. “Council of Europe members have a chance to stop this dangerous trajectory and instead lead on promoting the rights of people with disabilities with alternatives to force and coercion.”

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