Statement of the WNUSP Print

STATEMENT of WNUSP - the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, for the Meeting of Experts on the International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities in Mexico City, 11-14 June 2002.

Produced by Tina Minkowitz in cooperation with Karl Bach Jensen

What are the human rights issues of people labeled with psychiatric disability, and how can they best be addressed by a Disability Convention?

1. We define what our issues are

First, it is people labeled with psychiatric disabilities ourselves, who have been thinking about and working on these issues as a movement for the past thirty years, who have to say what these issues are.

The most important issues identified by our community are:

  • Incarceration on the basis of disability;
  • Forced interventions in the name of treatment;
  • Deprivation of legal status and civil rights as a result of being subjected to psychiatric labeling; and
  • Customary practices by communities that violate human rights by depriving us of self-determination.
A further issue, which crosscuts the others, is the right to an adequate standard of living, to housing, and to access to supportive services controlled by the consumer, free of punitive or restrictive discriminatory conditions. This right is interdependent with the other rights mentioned, as will be discussed below.

The Human Rights Position Paper of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry human-rights-position-paper-of-the-world-network-of-users-and-survivors-of-psychiatry.html gives a more comprehensive presentation of our values and concerns.


We do not believe that incarceration is ever justified when imposed on a discriminatory basis - such as psychiatric civil commitment, which can be imposed on people who are considered dangerous to the community, but only if they are diagnosed with a mental illness or mental disorder. Likewise, we believe that incarceration in the name of protecting people from harm is unjustified because it too is imposed on a discriminatory basis. There are many ways to support people's ability to protect themselves and meet their basic needs while living in community - incarceration itself subjects people to the risk of physical and sexual assault, forced interventions, deprivation of privacy, physical neglect and lack of adequate food, sanitation and hygiene, social inactivity, lack of opportunities and necessary conditions for self-initiated activity, enforced segregation, and other harms which are beyond the person's ability to control. Thus incarceration is directly counter to the principles of inclusion and self-determination, as well as the principle of non-discrimination.

Incarceration on the basis of disability should be recognized as a human rights violation per se. Procedural remedies cannot address the core issue, and have the effect of legitimizing an abusive system and encouraging the use of pretextual arguments to avoid fundamental change.

Forced interventions in the name of treatment

We also do not believe that forced interventions are justified in the name of treatment. Psychiatric interventions such as psychosurgery, electroshock, and neuroleptics and other drugs, which interfere with normal brain functioning and/or destroy brain tissue, are inherently suspect. The attempts of professional psychiatry to attribute human behavior to physical causes, in the absence of neurological disease, should be recognized as discrimination against and stereotyping of people with an actual or perceived disability as mysteriously inferior, similar to and intimately connected with racism.

Forced interventions in the name of treatment should be considered a form of torture, which is particularly and discriminatorily imposed on people with disabilities, or people labeled with disabilities.

Deprivation of legal status and civil rights

Deprivation of legal status and civil rights such as the right to vote exemplifies discriminatory treatment of people labeled with psychiatric disability as outside the human family. Where this is practiced, it hinders the ability of people labeled with psychiatric disability to organize and advocate in their own interest, as well as violating our basic human rights to be recognized as persons before the law, and to participate equally in the societies we live in. This leaves people vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and discrimination in ordinary life, including segregation, enforced poverty, and victimization by others who can take advantage of the socially created vulnerability. It also makes people more vulnerable to incarceration and forced interventions.

Community practices

Family control and restriction of people labeled with psychiatric disability, or other cultural practices which exclude people from society, restrict their movement, or subject them to forced interventions or other harm, should be recognized as human rights violations. As with many other kinds of discrimination and prejudice, the stereotyping and mistreatment of people labeled with mental illness has a long history in most societies and requires engagement with a process of cultural change as well as the prevention of harm by taking necessary actions to stop the harmful practices and develop culturally appropriate alternative ways of meeting social and individual needs.

Economic and social rights

Everyone in a society has the right to share in the resources of that society and to participate in its social and cultural life, whether or not they are able at all times to perform paying work or fulfill the requirements of other social roles such as parent. If people need support or assistance to guarantee adequate housing and income, this should be provided as needed, without restrictive conditions based on disability. Particularly, people should not be required to sign away their rights to privacy, control over their daily lives, freedom of movement, freedom of association, or refusal of forced interventions, in order to become eligible for housing or income assistance. This clearly illustrates the interdependence of economic/social rights with civil/political rights, since unless economic support is provided free and clear, it is easily used to maintain a system of discriminatory coercive control, contrary to the principles of self-determination, inclusion, and equal rights.

2. We reject UN Resolution 46/119, the "MI Principles"

Secondly, international standards must reflect the experience and expertise of people with disabilities ourselves, especially in defining human rights violations. For that reason, UN Resolution 46/119, the "Declaration on the Principles for Protection of People with Mental Illness, etc." is not a legitimate source of guidance on our human rights, and should be revoked and disregarded in the process of elaborating the Disability Convention.

WNUSP has adopted a position paper calling for revocation of the "MI principles." We believe that this set of standards is incompatible with a human rights approach to disability, and rather reflects the outdated medical model approach, which subordinates human rights to medical labels and assumes we are unable to speak for ourselves or fully participate in society as equals. Please see the attached position paper for further details.

WNUSP is not the only organization to have taken this position: at the time the UN Resolution was adopted, Disabled Peoples International stated the following in its final comments to the UN Subcommittee: "For us, this is not an area where something is better than nothing. The Principles should be by us and for us, and useful to us to defend our rights. If they are not, then we must do everything possible to prevent their adoption, or, failing that, ignore them in our domestic actions." UN Doc. E/CN.4/1989/NGO/75, see also their previous comment, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1988/NGO/27.

There is also a Human Rights Petition calling for revocation of the resolution, which was presented to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, see [ ]

3. How should the Disability Convention address our issues?

We think the Text of Elements for a United Nations Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities presented by the Mexican government has many good intentions. We also think that the draft Convention on the Fundamental Rights of Persons with Disabilities produced by Mr. Holger Kallehauge from Denmark represents a strong input to the process of developing a convention by building on and reinforcing the Standard Rules.

We suggest that both the Mexican draft and the draft from Mr. Kallehauge should be taken into consideration at the meeting of experts in Mexico June 11 - 14 and in the further development of a genuine convention to protect the human rights of people with disabilities.

As an initial input we want to present some preliminary suggestions for revision to the draft elements proposed by Mexico.