Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Tackling Torture Against Persons with Disabilities in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic – webinar series

By Validity Admin 8th October 2020


As the COVID-19 pandemic rages around the world, evidence is emerging that measures taken by states are resulting in severe consequences for persons with disabilities. From brutal enforcement of lockdown orders through to the denial of basic and emergency health treatment, persons with disabilities are at risk of experiencing severe pain and suffering with life-changing consequences.

Despite the international emergency caused by the pandemic, all persons with disabilities have a right to protection from acts which constitute torture or ill-treatment under international law. The prohibition on torture is a non-derogable right set out under Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture. Even during states of emergency, states cannot justify practices which give rise to torture or ill-treatment, and must take steps to prevent such acts and provide comprehensive redress to victims.

Starting in October 2020, Validity will be organising a series of six specialist webinars for lawyers, legal practitioners and other interested stakeholders on legal approaches to tackling specific forms of torture and ill-treatment which have emerged in the context of the pandemic. With a line-up of distinguished guest speakers from around the world, each webinar will be focused on providing a space for analysing specific practices which have occurred and exploring how lawyers can use the prohibition on torture to achieve legal redress.

In December 2020, Validity will publish an anthology of papers coming out of the discussions. It is hoped that this will serve as a valuable resource to lawyers and other advocates who wish to use the anti-torture framework to tackle specific instances of torture against persons with disabilities in the context of the pandemic, as well as stimulate debate on the need for greater preventive actions on the part of states.

A description of each topic and a list of speakers is provided below. Feel free to email us at validity [at] validity [dot] ngo for further information.

Click here to register!

The series:

  1. 13 October: Police brutality against persons with disabilities across the globe during the pandemic
  2. 20 October: Challenging discriminatory denial of emergency healthcare and triage policies
  3. 28 October: Challenging the legality of restrictive measures implemented by states
  4. 3 November: Persons with disabilities in closed settings
  5. 10 November: Legal strategies to pursue emergency deinstitutionalisation during the pandemic
  6. 17 November: Essential services and psychosocial disabilities: Achieving redress for victims of torture during a pandemic

Schedule of the webinars (all times CET):

13 October, 4PM: Police brutality against persons with disabilities during the pandemic

This webinar is focused on the topic of torture arising from police brutality against persons with disabilities in the context of COVID-19. As Governments enacted new and wideranging emergency powers to enforce health regulations, the enforcement of such measures have given rise to increased incidences of abuse at the hands of the police and security forces. These emergency powers included the introduction of new laws criminalising non-compliance with health-related measures. This raised rule of law concerns about abuse of power and use of excessive force by the police. Research of the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor has revealed that police and security officials have resulted in serious violations including abuse, torture and deaths of persons with disabilities.

In some African countries, police brutality is widespread. Human Rights Watch reports that at least six people died from police violence during the first 10 days of Kenya’s dusk-to-dawn curfew, imposed on March 27, 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19. Similarly, just two weeks after the imposition of lockdown, security forces enforcing it killed 18 Nigerians, while COVID-19 killed 12 persons within the same period. Interestingly, these statistics are not explicit on whether the victims of police brutality are people with or without disabilities. Nonetheless, research has indicated that people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected with the lockdown rules implemented in the different parts of the world. 

Participating legal professionals, advocates and broader audience will have the opportunity to discuss, alongside speakers, possible solutions and remedies to improve the situation of persons with disabilities and challenge extended and disproportional use of police powers arising from Emergency Acts adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This webinar will be moderated by:

  • William Aseka, Africa Advocacy Manager, Validity Foundation (Nairobi, Kenya)
  • Bruno Monteiro, Project Manager, Validity Foundation (Porto, Portugal)
Invited speakers:
  • David Kabanda is a social rights lawyer with a special interest in social justice in the areas of health, and food systems. He practices this through legal advocacy, training for community empowerment, public interest litigation, research and invoking social equity, fairness and the doctrine of public trust. He studied at Makerere University where he completed a Bachelors of Laws. He did a Post Graduate Bar Course Diploma at the Law Development Centre, Kampala, Uganda, and Masters of Law in Makerere University. He is pursuing his PHD in Law at the University of Western Cape. He has pioneered the justiciability and realisation of social rights in Uganda, East Africa and Africa generally contributing to the growth of jurisprudence in this area. His career is devoted to social inclusion and accountability using human rights-based approaches. He has had tremendous contribution in advocacy and policy development in social rights, working with and helping civil society organisations to appreciate human rights and the use of legal tools for social accountability. He has led constitutional cases and won mental health public interest cases, maternal health rights cases and food rights cases, right to livelihoodsaccess to medicines, right to a clean and health environment, right to a smoke free environment, access to utilities in hospitals, and access to information to ensure accountability from duty bearers. David Kabanda is a founder and currently the Executive Director at Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT).
  • Melanie Kawano-Chiu is the Evaluation & Learning Manager for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. Melanie’s 20-year career includes the creation of a global monitoring and evaluation consortium; teaching at international and domestic higher education institutions; and designing qualitative and quantitative research and evaluations. Previously, she was the Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, oversaw conflict prevention programs in West African, and managed a grantmaking program at the American Red Cross. She has authored publications on evaluation as well as on post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan.
  • Kassim Lawal is a visually impaired legal practitioner resident in Abuja, Nigeria. He joined the Nigerian Bar in November 2009, and works for a private law firm where he underwent his compulsory National Youth Service between 2009 and 2010. He is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) and the Nigeria Association of the Blind (NAB). Currently, he is the Chairman of ALDIN Federal Capitol Territory Chapter and the Public Relations Officer of NAB Federal Capitol Territory Chapter. He will talk about his violent encounter with the police when delivering palliatives to persons with disabilities during a COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria.
  • Purwanti Sipora is a woman with a physical disability and uses a wheelchair for mobility. She is the Advocacy and Network Coordinator at Center for Inclusion and Disability Advocacy Movement (SIGAB). Since 2012, she has handled more than a hundred cases, has assisted people with disabilities in dealing with the law, and has worked a lot with criminal justice professionals in Indonesia. As a DPO in Indonesia, SIGAB has been involved with advocacy that has resulted in the passage of the Government Regulation on Reasonable Accommodation for Persons with Disabilities in the Judicial System in Indonesia. This government regulation is essential in implementing the 2016 Indonesia National Disability Act. SIGAB has been recognized as experts on access to justice for persons with disabilities and provides training to police and legal and paralegal assistant to persons with disabilities in conflict with law, including gender-based violence cases.

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20 October, 3PM: Challenging discriminatory denial of emergency healthcare and triage policies

Evidence is emerging that persons with disabilities have been denied access to healthcare on an equal basis with other citizens during the pandemic. Many persons with disabilities had no access to medication including essential, life-saving medications, and medication for psychosocial disabilities. 

Professor Wayne Martin will talk about Discrimination, Triage and Denial-of-Treatment: Lessons from COVID-19 in the UKTriage is the medical screening of patients to determine their priority for treatment. When demand for medical services swamps supply, triage becomes a public policy imperative. Historically, approaches to triage have varied. There are grounds for concern that the currently dominant approach to pandemic triage may constitute discrimination on the basis of disability, contravening CPRD Art 5. In this presentation Prof Martin will review triage practices in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, with particular attention to the use of a “Frailty Index” in allocating patients to services. He will argue that the use of the frailty index in the context of the so-called COVID-19 Decision Support Tool constituted a violation of CRPD Art 5. He will review and evaluate three strategies for avoiding disability-based discrimination in triage practices. 

The presentation of Professors Amita Dhanda and Gábor Gombos will focus on Make the last first: In Triage Policies and to Prevent Denial of Emergency Health Care ServicesReports from both the developed and developing countries show that persons with disabilities, and seniors, are amongst the most neglected. The situation cannot be corrected by an equitable triage policy. Any system of classification or prioritisation causes the most disadvantaged to lose out. Inspired by Tobin Sieber’s argument of perceiving fragility as most representative of the human, they will advocate for making the last first. 

This webinar will be moderated by Dr. Sándor Gurbai, Impact Manager, Validity Foundation.

Invited speakers:
  • Wayne Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex, where he is a member of the Essex Human Rights Centre and Director of the Essex Autonomy Project. He also holds an honorary research position with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and is a member of the research team for the Wellcome Trust’s Mental Health and Justice project. From 2014-16 he led a team that supported the UK Ministry of Justice in preparation for the review by the United Nations of UK compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2018 he served on the Equality and Human Rights topic group for the Wessely Review of the Mental Health Act in England and Wales. He holds a BA from Cambridge University and a PhD from UC Berkeley.
  • Amita Dhanda is Professor of Law at National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad, for the last 20 years. She also heads the Centre for Disability Studies at the University. An international expert in the field of disability human rights, Dr Dhanda has not just argued for the human rights claims of persons with disabilities but also demonstrated how disability human rights would strengthen the human rights of all. Her book Legal Order and Mental Disorder is a pioneering work in the field and her writings on legal capacity of persons with disabilities as well as evolving capacity of the child are widely referred to. 
  • Gábor Gombos is a world-renowned independent disability rights defender. He chaired the European Network of (ex-)Users and Survivors of Psychiatry and co-chaired the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. He has been extensively consulted on the rights of persons with disabilities by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Council of Europe. Professor Gombos was appointed adjunct professor at NALSAR Law University in Hyderabad, India in August 2012 and at the NUI Galway, Centre for Disability Law and Policy in March 2013. Until the end of 2012 Mr Gombos served as Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

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28 October, 3PM: Challenging the legality of restrictive measures implemented by states

This webinar aims to explore torture and abuse that persons with disabilities suffer due to the application of restrictive measures that are not adapted to their situation. The discussion will also look at specific problems, including the failure to implement national restrictions in compliance with relevant international, European and domestic legal standards.  

The discussion, in addition to sharing common experiences, will focus on legal analysis of state-imposed restrictive measures that can severely impact persons with disabilities and result in torture and other ill-treatment. The discussions on the legality of measures undertaken by public authorities will cover both the form and the content of these measures.  

Concerning the form, panelists will address the validity of justifications which are invoked to justify the imposition of restrictive regulatory measures, including severe restrictions of freedom of movement, and the implications on the right to life, health and freedom from torture and ill-treatment Panelists will also discuss the role of restrictive public measures in encouraging or implicitly allowing violent and inhuman behaviour and abuse of vulnerable populations, thus resulting in violations of Article 1 of the CAT. The webinar will conclude with an evaluation of the gaps in the previous and current COVID-19 response, mainly the legal and social gaps and whether sufficient safeguards have been adopted by states to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment. 

This webinar will be moderated by Palik Taslakian, Litigation Manager, Validity Foundation.

Invited speakers:
  • Dmitri Bartenev is an attorney who works on strategic cases on anti-discrimination, mental disability, LGBT rights and freedom of speech. He is also an associate professor of international law at St Petersburg State University, Russia. He has published on mental disability law, sexual orientation and medical law. His publications include Fundamentals of Constitutional Law of Finland (2004), Justice or Complicity (2016), LGBT Rights in Russia and European Human Rights Standards (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Chapter on Russia in: The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Practice: A Comparative Analysis of the Role of Courts (Oxford University Press, 2018).
  • Jukka Kumpuvuori is a lawyer and the Executive Director of Kumpuvuori Ltd Law Firm, which specialised in disability rights in Finland. He has been involved in the Finnish disability rights movement for 20 years. He graduated (LL. M.) from Law Faculty of the University of Turku. He worked on several research projects and contributed to reports to the ministries of Social Affairs and Health and the Foreign Ministry, and ILO, amongst others. In 2010, he started his own law firm that focuses purely on disability rights litigation. Currently, the firm has 1500 cases pending nationwide, many of which are pro bono, such as representing all clients with disabilities who are under 16 free of charge. In February 2018, he submitted his first case from Finland to the CRPD Committee. Simultaneously, he successfully represented a Finnish case on personal assistance to study before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Mr. Kumpuvuori is also very active in raising awareness on disability rights in Finland and has organized 150 events over the past 6 years with nearly 10.000 participants. Kumpuvuori is a strong advocate for changing the society through legal system in general and litigation in particular. He works to systematize various advocacy approaches at both individual and organizational levels. Kumpuvuori promotes the idea of Finland as the model state for disability rights with a strong legislation on welfare benefits and anti-discrimination. Kumpuvuori has spinal cord injury and is a wheelchair user.
  • Martin Wathika is a Kenya registered nurse with specialization in Mental Health/Psychiatric Nursing and Emergency Nursing. He holds a diploma in pharmaceutical technology as well as a certificate in Quality Rights and is an advocate for the rights of persons with mental health conditions. He was involved in the amendment of the Mental Health Bill that is currently being examined by the Kenyan Senate and an implementor of the Kenyan Mental Health Policy. He is currently the Lead Nurse and Project Officer of Kamili Organisation, the only NGO in Kenya delivering community mental health services.

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3 November, 3 PM: Persons with disabilities in closed settings

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact persons with disabilities who live in residential institutions, including in psychiatric holidays, social care institutions (orphanages, day-care centers, rehabilitation centers), and institutions or homes for older persons, resulting in high rates of infection and death. Institutionalised persons with disabilities face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due the inherently dangerous and congregate nature of such facilities, as well as the presence of underlying health conditions, difficulty in enforcing social distancing amongst residents and staff, and abandonment by staff. Persons with disabilities living in institutions also face greater risks of human rights violations such as neglect, restraint, isolation and violence in the context of emergency measures related to the pandemic. The main of objective of this webinar is to discuss how placement in institutions, as well as restrictions on leaving and entering, constitute forms of deprivation of liberty, and have given rise to torture and ill-treatment in a number of countries.

The webinar will be moderated by William Aseka, Africa Advocacy Manager, Validity Foundation.

Invited speaker:
  • Dina Poursanidou has a background in psychology and education and has been a University-based social science researcher since 2000. Her research has spanned a range of fields, such as mental health, education, child health, youth justice, and social policy/social welfare. Her main research interests and areas of expertise include depression in young people; sociology of mental health; critical approaches to Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in health/mental health research; service user-led/survivor research in mental health. Since 2010 she has been involved in mental health politics and she is a member of the Asylum magazine editorial group – Asylum, the radical mental health magazine, provides an open forum for critical reflection and debate of mental health issues. Since July 2017 she has also been a member of the UK-based National Survivor User Network (NSUN) and its Survivor Researcher Network (SRN) Working Group.
  • Eric Rosenthal, JD, LL.D (hon.), is Founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights International (DRI). Since establishing DRI in 1993, Rosenthal has trained human rights and disability activists and provided assistance to governments and international development organizations worldwide. Rosenthal has conducted investigations and trained activists in more than 25 countries. DRI reports have brought worldwide attention to the rights of people with disabilities.
  • Priscila Rodríguez Benavides (LLM) is Associate Director in DRI’s Washington DC office. Prior to this position, she was Director of DRI’s Mexico and Central America regional office (2016-2017) and Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative for the Americas (2012-2017). She served as a Human Rights Officer and Mental Health Specialist for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017) and as an expert on sexual and reproductive rights and disability for the United Nations Population Fund (2015). She has also been a Faculty Member of the International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland (2015).

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10 November, 4 PM: Legal strategies to pursue emergency deinstitutionalisation during the pandemic

In the times of the pandemic, institutions become death-traps. It became evident soon after the beginning of this crisis that the majority of COVID-related deaths occur in these congregate living facilities. Protecting the life of the residents would, therefore warrant their immediate discharge into the community with appropriate supports and services. But most Governments chose a different path: imposing further isolation on the residents of institutions by completely shutting their doors. This is not only a bad strategy for preventing the spread of the disease, but in some situations, it may also amount to torture or serve to enable it.

In this webinar, we will propose that the obligation to protect life and prevent the torture of persons with disabilities during the pandemic implies the obligation to speedily discharge persons with disabilities into the community with appropriate supports. We will discuss the concept of emergency deinstitutionalization and why an under what circumstances it may be a good solution for persons in institutions in the current pandemic. Then we also outline legal arguments and strategies to advocate for this solution.

The webinar will be moderated by Šárka Dušková, Litigation Manager, Validity Foundation.

Invited speakers:
  • Facundo Chávez Penillas is the Human Rights and Disability Advisor of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Geneva, since 2013. He is a lawyer with graduate studies on business law and human rights law. Before his current position, Facundo worked in the Disability Department at the Ombudsperson Office of the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina and in a corporate law firm. He was member of organisations of persons with disabilities at national, regional and international levels before working for the United Nations.
  • Janos Fiala Butora is a Lecturer in International Disability Law at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy, National University of Ireland Galway, and a human rights attorney with extensive experience representing victims before international human rights bodies. His research focuses on international human rights law, particularly the rights of persons with disabilities and national minorities, international relations, and ethnic conflicts. In the past he served as the legal officer of the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC), the Legal Director of the Disability Rights Center (DRC), Executive Director of Minority Rights Group Europe (MRGE), and Executive Director of Validity.
  • George Nikolaidis’ work focuses on violence, child abuse and neglect, public health sciences and epidemiology. Since 09/2005 he is Research Director of Dep. of Mental Health & Social Welfare, Institute of Child Health in Greece. He alsp worked as the Scientific Coordinator of the Day Centre “The House of the Child” of the Association “The Smile of the Child” from 10/2014 until 03/2020, and from 11/2014 to 03/2019 he was Advocacy and Networking Consultant of the Lumos project in Greece. He is also coordinating various international research and intervention projects on the study and prevention of child abuse and in general child protection. He is the national representative of Greece to WHO for child abuse and neglect issues and to CoE’s Lanzarote Committee in which he was twice elected Chairperson of its Bureau (2018-2020).

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17 November, 2PM: Essential services and psychosocial disabilities – Achieving redress for victims of torture during a pandemic

Internationally, people with psychosocial disabilities face stigma, isolation, and social exclusion. Exploitation, violence and abuse remain common, and in many jurisdictions people with psychosocial disabilities are denied their autonomy, subjected to forced treatment and interventions and, in the absence of community-based services, can be forced towards unregulated traditional healers. Practices such as chaining, beatings and cutting continue to be reported in non-conventional settings, whereas practices such as tying, and seclusion are often used in psychiatric facilities.

Persons with disabilities have been disproportionately affected both by the virus itself as well as severe restrictions on personal liberty, denial of access to food, social services and housing. In particular, persons with disabilities have been locked into institutions, including during outbreaks of the virus in such settings; there are widespread reports of discriminatory denial of emergency medical care through the adoption of triage procedures; there are numerous allegations of persons with disabilities facing brutality at the hands of police and security forces; and many countries have also seen a complete breakdown in the provision of community-based services and social protection systems. The denial of these essential services have lead to human rights violations which amount to torture and/or ill-treatment.

Lawyers have a crucial role in identifying victims of such abuses and framing these as human rights violations. International law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention against Torture, set out clear obligations on government to protect people with mental disabilities against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. It also requires redress to be provided to victims.

This webinar series will be hosted by persons with lived experiences to create awareness on the need for essential services during a pandemic to protect persons with psychosocial disabilities from torture and/or ill-treatment. Participants will develop an understanding of how the human rights framework applies to victims of torture with psychosocial  disabilities, and will have a unique opportunity to consider the role of strategic litigation and advocacy in promoting systemic changes to law, policy and practice even beyond the pandemic.

This webinar will be moderated by Felicia Mburu, Africa Litigation Manager, Validity Foundation and Bruno Monteiro, Project Manager, Validity Foundation.

Invited speakers:
  • Lisbet Brizuela is Mexican human rights activist with training in special education of children with intellectual disabilities. She is the Director of Disability Rights International’s Mexico and Central America regional office based in Mexico City.
  • Ieva Leimane-Veldmeijere is the Executive Director for ZELDA, an organization based in Riga, Latvia.  The mission of the Resource Centre for people with mental disability “Zelda” is to promote de-institutionalisation and development of community based mental health care services for people with mental disabilities through research, monitoring of observance of human rights, legal advocacy and activities of informing and educating the public. 
  • Thandiwe Mkandawire is a Clinical Social Worker and currently working as the Executive Director for Mental Health Users and Carers Association (MeHUCA), a volunteer-based, patient advocacy organisation for persons with disabilities in Malawi. She is also an Executive Committee member (country representative) for the Global Mental Health Peer Network, (GMHPN) and the Managing Director for Brave Together, a private practice offering psychodynamic therapy and mental health talks to public and private sector organisations.
  • Chidi Oguamanam is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. He leads and is associated with many research consortia, including the ABS Canada project and the Open African Innovation Research Partnership network (Open AIR). An author of several books and publications that reflect a wide range of interdisciplinary research interests spanning intellectual property’s interface with Indigenous knowledge systems, global knowledge governance dynamics, biodiversity conservation, equitable access to and use of data, public health and the new and emerging innovation landscape for development. He is named to the Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

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