Representing Victims of Torture with Disabilities
A key cross-cutting objective for Validity is to contribute to the global push to end all forms of torture and ill-treatment faced by persons with disabilities. In this context, Validity works with partners to represent numerous victims with disabilities in Europe and Africa, with the strategic goals of ending disability-specific forms of torture, enhancing protections and accountability for perpetrators, and securing reparations and redress.
On 22 and 23 March 2023, one of our clients, István Cservenka and Dr. Sándor Gurbai, Validity’s Impact Manager, participated in a workshop and a public event on “Disability, Torture and Recovery: Promoting a Human Rights-Based Approach to Mental Health Care for Torture Survivors,” organised by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture at the United Nations in Geneva. Validity is committed to enhancing the status of victims and survivors of torture with disabilities, both through the provision of direct assistance and supporting their advocacy for others.
During the Geneva meetings, István underlined:
I couldn’t make any choice in the institution. I was given a room where four and then two of us were placed. We couldn’t lock the room, and I didn’t even have a lockable wardrobe. I was not allowed to have my own money. If I wanted to buy anything for myself, I had to ask permission, and they decided whether I could have it.
István went on and said:
I want to start another lawsuit to get reparation for what happened in the institution. And for forcing me to live there for over 55 years. I would like to receive compensation for this. I also want the State to apologise to me and to all persons with disabilities living in institutions.
Validity has received support from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture for 10 years. This critical support makes it possible for us to conduct a range of litigation focusing on various disability-specific forms of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In recent years, we have begun initiate new types of litigation using the redress and reparations framework under the CRPD and the recently adopted UN Guidelines on deinstitutionalization, including emergencies. Here, we aim to shine a light on the inherently abusive nature of disability-based detention and the abuses that often go unnoticed in institutions that are closed off from the world. Furthermore, we join forces with support networks around our clients and make efforts to create support networks of family members and friends to contribute to sustainable inclusion in the community.
Validity’s work challenges many forms of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including (1) the denial of informed consent to medical and other decisions; (2) forced sterilisation, abortion, contraception, and medication; (3) physical, chemical and mechanical restraints; (4) detention in cage beds and in netted beds; (5) seclusion and isolation of persons with disabilities in institutional settings; (6) physical and psychological violence; (7) severe neglect and failure to provide for basic and emergency needs; (8) detention in degrading conditions; and (9) intersecting forms of abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence.
During the 22 March workshop, Validity’s Ugandan client, Benon Kabale, in a video message, shared his experiences at the Butabika mental hospital in Kampala, where he was subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
I was placed in a seclusion room, which did not have any audio or video interaction. There is no toilet, there is no bedding. During the time of that seclusion, I was stripped naked. (…) In a seclusion room where is no urinal, where is no toilet, you are compelled to stay in such a room with all the excreta.
In December 2021, together with Forum for Human Rights, we won a case before the United Nations Committee against Torture. In this case, our Slovak client, Lucia Černáková was placed in a social care institution, put in a cage bed, and forced medicated. The CAT Committee found that the use of the cage bed was ill-treatment and it violated the UN Convention against Torture. The CAT Committee called on Slovakia to (a) investigate the ill-treatment with a view to sanctioning all responsible people; (b) provide the complainant with appropriate redress, including compensation for material and non-material damages, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition; (c) to take measures to prevent the repetition of similar acts in the future, and (d) to provide relevant training to the staff of social and psychiatric institutions.
In November 2021, Validity intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in the case G.M. and others v. the Republic of Moldova. In our third-party intervention, we pointed out that forced sterilisation and forced abortion amounted to torture and ill-treatment against women with disabilities. We highlighted that these acts were facilitated by the legal systems of guardianship and institutionalisation, and deeply discriminatory notions contained within national law and policy regarding women and girls with disabilities.
The fight against torture of persons with disabilities informs Validity’s advocacy and awareness-raising activities as well.
After many years of advocacy by Validity and its partners in Czechia, the country finally prohibited the use of netted cage beds in psychiatric hospitals from the beginning of 2022. Although Czechia removed cage beds from social care homes in 2007 following our 2003 report, psychiatric hospitals did not stop using this abusive practice. Validity continued advocating for a complete ban on cage beds and, in 2014, published its Cage beds and coercion in Czech psychiatric institutions report. We combined our advocacy and litigation work, as we usually do, and, in 2019, together with Czech Forum for Human Rights, we filed a collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights, alleging that the use of cage beds and net beds as a means of managing older persons and persons with disabilities in psychiatric hospitals constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In 2020, we organised the ’Tackling Torture Against Persons with Disabilities in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ webinar series, and we published the ‘Tackling Torture: Victims with Disabilities in the COVID-19 Outbreak’ anthology. The webinar series and the anthology focused, inter alia, on police brutality against persons with disabilities across the globe during the pandemic; challenging discriminatory denial of emergency healthcare and triage policies; challenging the legality of restrictive measures implemented by states, and persons with disabilities in closed settings.
Validity wishes to thank the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture for supporting our litigation-related work. If you would like to support our international work to end torture and ill-treatment against persons with disabilities, please consider a donation, or get in touch.