Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

European Disability Movement Demands Council of Europe #WithdrawOviedo on World Mental Health Day

By Steven Allen 10th October 2018


Validity has joined a coalition of European organisations for persons with disabilities to demand that the Council of Europe withdraws a dangerous proposal to legalise forced detention and treatment of people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in breach of international human rights law.

A proposed treaty on “persons with mental disorders” which has been under development behind closed doors at the Council of Europe for the last five years has caused a wave of international criticism for conflicting with binding human rights standards set out under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD, which has been ratified by 46 of the 47 countries which make up the Council of Europe, requires that States respect the dignity and autonomy of persons with psychosocial disabilities, including in all matters related to their health and where they choose to live. The Convention further sets out that health treatments must only ever be provided on the basis of free and informed consent.

Yet, the proposals which have been drawn up by the COE’s closed Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) seeks to undercut these global standards by allowing treatment without consent and detention on the basis of disability.

Disability rights experts believe that passage of the COE proposal, formally known as the “Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention”, would result in reducing human rights protections across Europe and open up a serious conflict between international and regional legal standards. This concern was also expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2016 in a recommendation entitled “The case against a Council of Europe legal instrument on involuntary measures in psychiatry” (Rec 2091 (2016)).

Highlighting the potentially dangerous consequences of the Oviedo proposals, the UN’s disability rights experts also released a statement during its most recent session in September this year calling upon all counties to “oppose the draft”. The experts pointed out that the CRPD “prohibits all unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities,” and as the internationally accepted norm, that “States have an obligation to replace the use of coercive psychiatry with support in decision making on health related matters”.

Yesterday, another of the UN’s top disability rights envoys, special rapporteur Catalina Devandas, told Council of Europe delegates “we are not protecting persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities by not letting them make their own decisions.”

Steven Allen, co-Executive Director of Validity said: “Europe’s disability rights community stands united in opposition to the Oviedo protocol. Detention, forced treatment and abusive practices such as restraint of persons with disabilities can no longer be justified under international human rights law. The Council of Europe must ditch this deeply flawed proposal and instead turn its efforts to ensuring respect for human rights and the CRPD in Europe’s health systems.”

The demand to #WithdrawOviedo has been released to coincide with World Mental Health Day 2018 by a broad coalition of organisations representing persons with disabilities including the European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP), Mental Health Europe (MHE), the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the European Disability Forum (EDF). Signatories also include Disability Rights International (DRI), Inclusion Europe, the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) and Autism Europe.

The coalition’s demand is also being discussed and disseminated in London today, where the government of the UK is holding a ministerial mental health summit with the attendance of over 500 health policy makers from around the world. At that event, disability rights advocates are calling for increased global investment in mental health to be made in alignment with human rights standards.