South-Eastern European NPMs share concerns over treatment of persons with mental disabilities in detention

Thursday, June 1, 2017

During their thematic meeting on the treatment of persons with mental disabilities in detention, held in Belgrade on 25-26 May, the South-East Europe (SEE) Network of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) raised several issues pertaining to the conditions in which these persons are detained.

Among the main issues, NPMs expressed concerns about two worrying trends: the increasing use and abuse of the concept of “dangerousness” enabling institutions to violate people’s rights; and the important lowering of the threshold for depriving someone of his/her liberty on psychiatric grounds.

The meeting was attended by a dozen of NPMs from the region (both members and observers of the Network) as well as NGOs, international organisations, and diplomats. Participants were able to exchange good practices and challenges stemming from their first-hand experience of monitoring closed institutions. In particular, they discussed their findings with regards both to the practice of sedating patients as a way of maintaining control and order, and the modalities of using restraints on patients.

APT stressed that disability-based deprivation of liberty was still a common practice across most countries, that abuses continued to take place in all detention settings, and that deinstitutionalisation had stalled; and underlined the necessity to recognise the authority of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Committee as the only way to move from a purely biomedical model of mental health and disability towards a human-rights based approach.

In 2016, APT held a symposium on monitoring psychiatric institutions to explore risk factors and situations leading to the cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of persons held in psychiatric institutions and to enable exchanges with the aim of further developing NPMs’ skills in monitoring psychiatric institutions. The outcome report of the symposium outlined a number of measures NPMs could take to better protect persons with mental disabilities and promote alternatives to institutionalisation in favour of life in the community.