Notes: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Notes from a presentation by Myra Kovary at the Priory Retreat Center
Chestertown, NY
January 26, 2008

In honor of our brothers and sisters who did not survive their experience with psychiatry

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

from the perspective of users and survivors of psychiatry:

Key principles:

1) Human rights approach
2) Non-discrimination
3) Autonomy and the freedom to make one’s own choices

Social model of disability transcends medical/welfare model

The CRPD supersedes the paternalistic approach that is expressed in the outdated United Nations MI Principles (officially titled “Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care” adopted in 1991) and the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities.

Highlights of the text of the CRPD with regard to mental health issues:


    (e) disability is an evolving concept

(h) discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person

(j)  includes person who need more intensive support

(n) recognizes the importance of individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices

(o) persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programs

Article 1:  Purpose – includes persons with long-term mental impairments.  

    We did not get the language we prefer – psychosocial disability

Article 2:  Definitions

“discrimination on the basis of disability”

“reasonable accommodation”

Article 3: General principles

(a)    autonomy and freedom to make one’s own choices

(b)    non-discrimination

(d)  respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity

Article 4: General obligations

1 (b) Abolish existing laws that constitute discrimination

3.  Development of legislation and policies to implement the Convention shall actively involve persons with disabilities through their representative organizations.

Article 12: Equal recognition before the law  

2.    Legal capacity on an equal basis with others

3.    Provide access to persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.


Capacity vs. incapacity: focus on what a person is capable of doing vs. what we are incapable of doing

Supported decision making vs substituted decision making

Even if 100% support:
1)    Find out what person wants vs “best interest”
2)    Back off as support need is reduced vs go to court to establish competency
3)    Safeguards for less than 100% vs safeguards for only 100%

Support models encompass substitution (100% support) but substitution models do not encompass a full range of support

Models of support include:

Peer support
Community support – e.g. indigenous cultures
Advanced planning
Personal ombudsman program in Sweden
Personal assistants
Etc. (to evolve!)

Article 14: Right to liberty on an equal basis with others
    The existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty.

Article 15:  Freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

    Protection on an equal basis with others
        Example: forcing mind-altering drugs on political prisoners is torture

Article 17: Respect for physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others
    No exceptions!

Article 19:  Living independently and being included in the community

(a): Ensure that pwd’s have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement

(c)    access to support including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community

Article 22:  Respect for privacy

2. Protect privacy of health records on an equal basis with others

     e.g. – custody litigation

Article 23: Respect for home and the family

1 (c) Persons with disabilities, including children, retain their fertility on an equal basis with others

4.    In no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.

Article 25:  Health

(d)    Right to health care on the basis of free and informed consent

(e)    Prohibits discrimination in provision of health insurance and life insurance

Article 27:  Work and employment

(i)  Ensure reasonable accommodation in the workplace

Article 29: Participation in political and public life

(a)    Right to vote and to be elected

Article 32: International cooperation

1.    States partner with civil society, in particular with organizations of person with disabilities (pwd’s)

Article 33: National implementation and monitoring

2.    Pwd’s and their representative organizations shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.


The International Disability Caucus (IDC) – we built alliances.

    Our struggle is now a shared struggle.

The IDC is made up of over 70 international organizations including the World Blind Union, the World Federation for the Deaf, the World Federation for the Deafblind, Inclusion International, the Landmine Survivors Network, etc. – along with World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry and MindFreedom International.

There is nothing in the Convention that can be used to restrict our rights.

We have succeeded in establishing the legal basis
- to abolish mental health commitment and forced treatment, guardianship, and the insanity defense
- to create of a wide range of healing support, and
- to liberate our people from institutions.