"The Situations of Persons with Psychosocial Disabilities All over the World: Issues Concerning Legal Capacity"
last update:12 Sep 2016
Most studies of social movements of persons with psychosocial disabilities focus mainly on movements in Western countries, where such movements have been active since the 1970s. In these studies, these movements have been seen as protesting against psychiatry and against involuntary detention to greater or lesser degrees.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted at the 61st United Nations General Assembly in 2006, is the one of the biggest achievements of these movements. Article 12 of the Convention, equal recognition before the law, prohibits involuntary detention on the basis of impairments. So, the Mental Health Act, which allows for involuntary commitment in mental health institutions based on actual or perceived impairments, is incompatible with Article 12.
However, there are countries that haven't established mental health systems. Persons with psychosocial disabilities in these countries may experience deprivation or limitation of legal capacity in different forms than in countries that have huge mental health systems.
This presentation focuses on the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (hereafter, WNUSP), an international organization of persons with psychosocial disabilities. In the WNUSP, persons who live in countries that have mental health systems and countries that don't have such systems work together toward improving their human rights. The WNUSP says Article 12 is the biggest victory of the Convention. Based on their activism, this presentation will show some of the differences and points in common regarding issues concerning the legal capacity of persons with psychosocial disabilities all over the world.
2. Participation of the WNUSP in the Convention
In 1999, the International Disability Alliance (IDA)*1 was established and the WNUSP joined it.
In 2004, the WNUSP participated in the working group for the creation of the draft of the Convention as an international organization of persons with psychosocial disabilities.
In 2004, the IDA established the International Disability Caucus (IDC)*2.
In 2006, when the Convention was adopted, the representative of WNUSP was one of the two IDC speakers that welcomed the Convention.
In 2008, the WNUSP published the Implementation Manual of the Convention
In 2009, the WNUSP established the Kampala Declaration, which declares their commitment to make their rights a reality.
In 2013, the WNUSP established a project named “Strengthen Our Voices” to facilitate global cooperation.
3. Towards Global Cooperation
The WNUSP advocates for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities all over the world, but the advocacy of users and survivors from the Global North dominating the WNUSP's agenda became a problem. In response, the WNUSP established a project named "Strengthen Our Voices" in order to foster dialogue between North and South and find ways for the WNUSP to advance its mission.
◆"Hear Our Voices," a research survey on the website.
This survey was conducted in April of 2013 and received 38 comprehensive responses.
Questions were about important issues facing persons with psychosocial disabilities, the strengths and weaknesses of the WNUSP, etc.
◆Cape Town Seminar
This seminar was held May 13th-18th, 2013.
There were 17 participants: 4 from Africa, 3 from South America, 3 from Asia, 4 from Europe, and 3 from North America.
The WNUSP said that a two-thirds majority of participants should be Global South delegates.
4. Issues Related to Legal Capacity
◆Detention without psychiatry and mental health care
In the Global South, many persons with psychosocial disabilities can't access mental health services in institutions. They are chained and locked up by their friends or families in their communities.
While there are few institutions many people are detained in them, and most institutions are multipurpose and not dedicated mental healthcare facilities.
◇In Asia and Africa
Professionals and doctors employing the Western medical model which justifies the exclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities and leads to further marginalization. They also exclude traditional methods for healing that are suited to local cultures and living environments.
There are many laws in Africa that say people of "unsound mind" cannot vote. There is no clear criterion for "unsound mind." So persons with psychosocial disabilities are excluded from their communities on the basis of this extremely vague concept.
◇In Africa or North America
Black, indigenous, and impoverished people are detained in institutions.
◇In the West
While some countries still have a lot of mental health institutions, many others have sought to reduce institutionalization and make it possible for persons with psychosocial disabilities to live in local communities. Nevertheless, many people are detained in communities under community treatment orders.
◆Difficulties Facing Social Movements
Social movements of persons with psychosocial disabilities have been advocating for their rights and have won several victories, including, for example, the Convention. But where mental health systems have not been established there is little activism, even though there are violations of rights, because most persons with psychosocial disabilities don’t identify themselves as users or survivors of psychiatry. It is difficult for movements that advocate for the rights of persons with psychosocial to achieve solidarity.
Persons with disabilities practice peer support. But they also face the more serious problem of how to obtain a stable livelihood. Issues directly relate to survival are therefore given priority.
Violations of legal capacity in the form of involuntary detention where mental health systems have been put in place are paralleled by the actions of friends or families of persons with psychosocial disabilities where these systems have not been well established. Article 12 of the Convention is therefore a big victory for persons with psychosocial disabilities all over the world.
However, there aren't targets like mental health legislation and mental health professionals to criticize regarding involuntary detention where these systems have not been established.
In addition, in the some Western countries where "community mental health" is promoted because of the retreat from institutionalization, violations of legal capacity in communities are also occurring through community treatment orders.
Studies of the social movements of persons with psychosocial disabilities mainly focus on their relationship to mental health systems. The international movement, however, is not only protesting such systems. In the context of such diverse issues, the WNUSP does not merely claim to abstractly cover all situations but actively facilitates the exchange of information and strategies among its members to improve their particular circumstances.
*1. IDA was established as an association of 6 global Disabled People’s Organizations in 1999, and in 2007 it was reorganized as 8 global and 5 district organizations.
*2. In the negotiations of the Convention, about 70 NGOs formed a loose association, coordinated their opinions with each other, and then spoke at the conference of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention.
#Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2015, "Guidelines on article 14 of the CRPD: The Rights to Liberty and Security of Persons with Disabilities," http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/GC/GuidelinesArticle14.doc.
#WNUSP, 2008, "Implementation Manual for the UN CRPD," http://wnusp.rafus.dk/documents/WNUSP_CRPD_Manual.pdf.
#WNUSP, 2009, "Kampala Declaration 2009,"http://wnusp.rafus.dk/documents/WNUSP_KampalaDeclaration2009.pdf.
#WNUSP, 2013, "Strengthening Our Voices: A Report,"https://wgwnusp2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/cape-town-seminar-report-2013-ud.pdf