The Komagata Maru incident: 376 passengers of mostly Sikh descent arrived in Vancouver and were refused entry into Canada due to the discriminatory laws of the time 102 years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced he will apologise in the House of Commons on May 18: “As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not – and we will not.”
“An apology made in the House of Commons will not erase the pain and suffering of those who lived through that shameful experience. But an apology is not only the appropriate action to take, it’s the right action to take, and the House is the appropriate place for it to happen.”
The World Health Organization’s Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020 stipulates human rights as a cross-cutting principle (WHO, 2013) and foresees global targets to update policies as well as mental health laws in line with international and regional human rights instruments. The international human rights agreements repeatedly refer to health, including mental health. The most pertinent provisions related to mental health are enshrined in the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which sets out human rights in an accessible and inclusive fashion to ensure the equal participation of persons with disabilities. The inconclusive description of disability in the treaty overtly refers to ‘mental impairment’ as part of an explicitly evolving understanding of disability. This text sketches some of the underlying concepts as they apply to the realm of mental health: non-discrimination of persons with disabilities and measures that should be taken to ensure accessibility in a holistic understanding; removal of social and attitudinal barriers as much as communication and intellectual barriers but also institutional hurdles. The CRPD’s paradigm shift away from framing disability mainly through deficits towards a social understanding of disability as the result of interaction and focusing on capacity is the core on which the provision of mental health services at community level to enable participation in society shall be ensured. Questions of capacity, also to make decisions and the possible need for support in so doing, are sketched out.
As 2015 draws to a close, the annual New Year’s greeting designed by Christof Nardin. This year’s focus is the upcoming leap year: skip the beat, it’s a leap year!
Reviews for Human Rights and Disability Advocacy, which I co-edited with Maya Sabatello are trickling in. Kate Donald’s review for the LSE’s blog noted that the book „is not only a fascinating insight into the evolution of the CRPD, but also an extremely valuable exploration of how advocacy works in practice.“ Kate Donald adds: „Each of the contributions shares lessons and tools that can inspire and inform all advocates for social justice.“
The review by Contemporary Sociology echoes a general sentiment that the book provides „unique insight“ and helps to „illuminate the process“ of negotiating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Tom Shakespeare in his review for Disability & Society calls it an „invaluable book“ and stresses that it is „the first to explore the background to the treaty and drafting process.“ He commends the book as „excellent,“ it „gives valour to the Treaty negotiations and will certainly help scholars and advocates to understand the CRPD.“
Christopher Riddle in the Law and Politics Book Review summarises the book as „a collection of original, analytical and explanatory essays,“ and describes it as „both incredibly interesting and important as a collection of essays,“ which provides „wonderful retrospective insights gained“ as well as an „incredibly rich reading experience.“ Riddle summarises the book as „skilfully crafted, carefully blending the conceptual and the historical and political, all the while never losing sight of what is most important: the rights and experiences of people with disabilities.“
All good wishes for 2015: indulge in sweetness early!
On July 15 I will discuss supported decision-making at IASSIDD, here is the abstract:
With the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in force in a majority of the world’s countries, the necessity to frame human rights inclusively and accessibly is firmly established. The move from wanting to “fix” people by focusing on perceived deficits and medical aspects of impairment to needing to “fix” societies by reducing attitudinal barriers is underway, still haltingly in many places.
Enabling and empowering persons with disabilities is comparatively easily done on an individual basis. The negotiation of the Convention itself is a case in point on how processes can shift quite dramatically, when the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities is made possible. Importantly, a lot can be learned generally from this and related processes in how marginalized groups can and should contribute to mainstream policy and law development.
The profound challenges of the Convention’s implementation arise at the law and policy level and in its application to larger institutions. How does one shift from well-tested routines and carefully planned and well-intentioned procedures to an approach that empowers people to live independently? How does one move from cotton-wooling people to embracing their need – and right – to make mistakes, go overboard and transgress?
A core expression of the right of all persons with disabilities to equally enjoy all human rights is the right to act their legal capacity. The application of this provision (Article 12 CRPD) raises some profound challenges in enabling the decision-making of persons with disabilities.
But does it really?
Granted: there is a need for more assistance, increased support and added resources. But is there really such a difference in what we describe as supported decision-making for persons with disabilities to what people in the so-called mainstream practice every day? How, exactly, is the process of a prime minister being advised by an army of advisers different from supporting the decision-making of someone who has an intellectual impairment?
Not wanting to diminish the responsibilities of prime ministers and the complexity of some of the issues placed before them: it appears that we are all too easily pushing the decision-making of persons with disabilities into a special realm with separate rules and different standards, which are also linked to status and its attached economic might.
The idea of inclusion is not just that we enable persons with disabilities to be equal, to enjoy the same rights and freedoms – as they should have already for a long time. The challenge lies in questioning the ways in which the mainstream operates routinely and how persons with disabilities – due to being labeled “different” and “special” and “needy” – are missing out.
None of the representatives in mainstream society and leadership positions would ever think that they have support in decision-making. But very few people actually make bigger purchases or investments without consulting “someone.” The social and cultural codes that are applied here, are frequently denied to persons with disabilities, particularly in those settings where they are separated and treated “differently.”
Persons who have guardians point to the impact of their guardianship on their social and societal standing. They report feeling stigmatized and sensing the effect of their guardianship in areas of life beyond their guardianship’s scope. While well intentioned and often reasonably applied, guardianship creates and reinforces stigma. The CRPD provides an opportunity to revisit engrained routines and calls into question the most well meaning of policies.
Revising such policies, including some important legal questions that require thorough examination, a core obligation of the CRPD has to be upheld and implemented: ensuring the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities at every stage (Article 4 (3) CRPD). As the first experiences prove, meaningful participation fundamentally changes the conversation; it also improves the quality of the outcome in immeasurable ways.
Inclusion also means that we keep in mind that the Conventions is not a special set of provisions for persons with disabilities: it is firmly grounded in the human rights obligations that precede it. Importantly, the right to act legal capacity is also enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Article 15 thereof. If one ponders the significant changes that women’s liberation has brought across the globe – and not withstanding the manifold gaps that still mar the road to gender equality – one gleans the profoundness of the paradigm shift that is encapsulated in the right to act legal capacity.
In going forward it is in everyone’s interest to ensure the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities. The obligation of the CRPD should be used to advance the quality of the debate rather than be viewed as a cumbersome obstacle. It is equally important to remember the ways in which society can push itself, e.g. changes and ongoing challenges in gender equality. The support for decision-making of those in power, e.g. prime ministers, should be our guiding light in ensuring the empowerment of persons with disabilities to make their own decisions – including: mistakes!
A campaign by UNFPA from 2007, still holds very true:
A helpful illustration on the health impact of violence against women by the World Health Organization: women exposed to violence are amongst others twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems and also twice as likely to abuse substances such as alcohol, among others. Note that more than a third of incidents of violence – 38% – are reportedly committed by intimate partners.
On the occasion of Women’s Day, a series of graphic graphics by the UK’s DFID on the situation of women and girls in developing countries focusing on obstacles to personal and corresponding overall economic & societal development:
As this business year – it is the eighth for humanrightsconsultant.at – draws to a close, the annual card created by the highly gifted Christof Nardin has been distributed across the globe. The seasonal greeting is by standard in accessible format, including Braille. This year’s greeting jumps ahead with a reference to the upcoming Chinese Year of the Horse, depicting a green horse and the Braille message: Jump! Utilize the Year of the Green Horse.