Yesterday December 4, 2012, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a 2/3 vote. Right wing fundamentalists had opposed the CRPD as a harbinger of world government and challenge to authority of the family, and they won over enough Senators to have their way. On the other hand, a majority of the disability community supported ratification with extensive reservations, understandings and declarations and claimed that ratification would require no change to U.S. law. The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP) and other psychiatric survivor groups along with human rights organizations were a “third force” objecting to the RUDs and calling for full adherence and implementation of the treaty as written. We know that U.S. law needs to be changed and we cannot accept the carving out of state guardianship and civil commitment/forced treatment laws that violate the CRPD.
It is an odd situation where a battle is fought for seemingly symbolic reasons on most sides, without acknowledging what is really at stake. The disability groups lobbying for CRPD “as reported,” i.e. with the RUDs, have never made a convincing case for what they really aim to achieve. Is there really a substantial constituency of people with disabilities that believes U.S. ratification is an act of charity and good will towards our counterparts in other countries, to benevolently cooperate in lifting them up to our standards? Do they see some hidden potential in using the treaty, even with RUDs, to improve our own human rights situation in the U.S.? Who benefits from a superficial ratification that makes no commitment to human rights at home? These questions remain unanswered but I have in an earlier blog post voiced my suspicions regarding foreign aid and projects in other countries.
The fundamentalists similarly were unconvincing, saying that CRPD was bad for parents since it incorporated a standard of “best interests of the child.” These groups do not appear to be agitating for removal of the “best interest” standard from U.S. law, and they have not proposed an alternative concept or formulation. The real issue seems to be a fear that human rights treaties will bring about a world government, considered by some Christians to be the work of the Antichrist.
The CRPD, together with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which fundamentalist groups have also prevented from being ratified), recognizes that children themselves have human rights including the right to have a say in what happens to them. Children with disabilities are being tortured and abused in all kinds of institutional systems from mental health to residential treatment to juvenile justice to the notorious Rotenberg Center.
The non-psychiatric survivor disability community has a second chance now perhaps, to reassess strategy and approach to human rights, but it does not appear that they are budging from the line that CRPD is only for people with disabilities in other countries and requires no change to U.S. law. That is too bad, because there is a lot for all people with disabilities in this treaty, which goes far beyond the ADA.
As for us, our people – we ourselves – are still being tortured in psychiatric institutions and in outpatient commitment. We are living with the memories and their effects in our lives. There are hardly any places to talk about this and when we do it can be overwhelming and go in a loop of pain that never ends. Like all forms of oppression. The general public everywhere believes that sometimes it’s “necessary” to lock someone up for their own good and for everyone else’s good… (the CRPD forbids this, so it’s even more ironic that fundamentalists latch onto the “best interests of the child” piece). And they believe that there is something wrong and shameful about a person who has been fingered by psychiatry, fingered by their parents or neighbors, as nuts. The social withdrawal IS the shaming and it doesn’t end, society believes its own lies. Untangling this web of pain and abuse is necessary and entails the abolition of legalized force and confinement in psychiatry, as prescribed by the CRPD for all countries.
Please contact CHRUSP [email protected] if you are interested in exploring how to use the human rights framework to abolish forced psychiatry. The CRPD standards live on so long as we fight for them.
Mad Law and Human Rights: An attorney and psychiatric survivor, Tina Minkowitz writes on the new perspectives in human rights law that emerged in the work by users and survivors of psychiatry on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.