Thursday, March 3, 2011

Human rights group says Kenya is violating rights of people with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities with inhumane treatment

From CNN:

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenya is breaking an international convention on the treatment of disabled people, according to human rights groups.

In an open letter to Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry demanded action after a CNN documentary highlighted problems in the country's decaying mental health system.

Tina Minkowitz, president of the group, wrote that the documentary ""Locked Up and Forgotten" revealed that people with mental (psychosocial) and intellectual disabilities are being forced to live in conditions that violate their human rights."

Other international and domestic groups are also demanding action in Kenya and the Kenyan government says it is setting up an inquiry to investigate some of the allegations made in the documentary.

In the open letter to Kibaki, Minkowitz claims the Kenyan government has contravened the U.N.'s Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Minkowitz wrote that, in particular, families forced to lock up their disabled loved ones is a failure of the government.

"Under the CRPD, the state is responsible for ensuring that confinement and restraint by private actors based on disability does not occur and must take appropriate action including positive measures to safeguard against such violations."

The CRPD was adopted in 2006 and has already been ratified by 98 countries, an unusually quick uptake for a U.N. convention. Kenya ratified the convention in 2008.

The World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP), a global rights network based in Denmark, paid special attention to conditions at Mathari hospital, where a CNN crew was locked up by administrators.

"(The documentary) shows human rights abuses taking place in the Mathari psychiatric hospital, where the CNN crew found a dead person lying beside another live person with a psychosocial disability in a seclusion cell," their separate letter to the president stated.

Seclusion of patients, in itself, is often cited as a violation of patients.

A report of the Special Rapporteur on torture, submitted to the U.N. general assembly in 2008, says solitary confinement cannot be justified as a form of treatment or therapy.

"Prolonged solitary confinement and seclusion of persons may constitute torture or ill-treatment," the report states.

The responses to "Locked up and Forgotten" were not confined to international groups.

The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, which is mandated to investigate human rights allegations, plans a "rapid response" to investigate the hospital and its staff.

"It is very troubling, it showed a clear violation of their rights," said Commissioner Anne Ngugi. "They are there and they can't always articulate their rights. It is so painful. These are human beings."

The human rights groups say that several possible breaches of the U.N. convention should be investigated right away.

But Simon Walker, an advisor to the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, said that while the convention is helping raise awareness for persons with disability, enforcement and real change in all countries that ratified the convention can be slow.

"Of course human rights treaties are bridged. It can take a long time for change to happen," he said.

When reached by CNN, the Kenyan government would not directly comment to the letters to the president.

"We are not responding to the letters publicly, but working on it internally," said Kenya's government spokesman, Alfred Mutua.

Mutua revealed that the Medical Services Ministry is setting up an administrative inquiry into conditions at Mathari Hospital. He said that allegations by patients of rape by other patients and forced medication required independent investigation.

"The government is instituting a procedure to find out what is really happening at Mathari," said Mutua. "Of particular concern is the corpse and locking up of CNN journalists."

He would not specify exactly how the enquiry will work, but that they expect findings in "one to two weeks."

Mutua said that the problem doesn't lie with Mathari alone and that "massive reform" is needed to change Kenya's mental health system.

"I think we have got a lot of structural problems that have to be tackled," he said.

Kenya's director of Mental Health, who is ultimately in charge of Mathari hospital, did not respond to CNN's repeated calls and text messages to his cell phone or calls and messages to his office.