Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 23 April-May 2004

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MDAC: Ill-treatment and Neglect of People with Mental Disabilities in Romania

Mental Disability Advocacy Center letter of concern to Romanian Prime Minister about systemic human rights abuses in psychiatric hospitals in Romania, as revealed by Amnesty International

17 May 2004. MDAC today sent a letter to Romanian Prime Minister Adrien Nastase, Mr. Paul Hunt (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health), Mr. Romano Prodi (European Commission President), Mr. Günter Verheugen (European Union Commissioner for Enlargement), and Mr. Jonathan Scheele (Head of Delegation - European Commission in Romania) to express deep concern with the protection of human rights of people in Romania housed in psychiatric institutions.

MDAC calls upon the Romanian authorities to urgently remedy conditions that have led to widespread deaths, ill-treatment and neglect of people with mental health problems and intellectual disabilities in psychiatric institutions in Romania. Amnesty International’s “Memorandum to the government concerning inpatient psychiatric treatment” was made public on 4 May 2004. The Memorandum sets out Amnesty International’s findings and recommendations, with which MDAC concurs.

“Amnesty’s findings suggest that Romania has much work to do in order to satisfy the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership,” said Robert Kushen, Board Chair of MDAC.  “These criteria require that Romania protect the rights of its most vulnerable residents, including persons with mental disabilities.”

Documentation relating to the crisis in Romanian institutions (including the Amnesty Memorandum, the response of the Romanian government, and Romanian and English language press coverage of the issue) is available on MDAC’s website www.mdac.info.

The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) is an international non-governmental organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with mental health problems and intellectual disabilities across Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. MDAC works to improve the quality of life for people with mental disabilities through litigation, research and international advocacy. MDAC has participatory status at the Council of Europe and is a cooperating organization of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

Mental Disability Advocacy Center
H-1241 Budapest, PO Box 263, Hungary
tel: (+361) 413-2730
fax: (+361) 413-2739
email: mdac@mdac.info

Mr Adrien Nastase
Prime Minister of Romania

14 May 2004

Honorable Prime Minister Nastase,

The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) – a human rights organization operating across central and eastern Europe and central Asia – is deeply concerned about human rights violations against people with mental health problems and intellectual disabilities in Romanian psychiatric hospitals. We appeal to you to urgently remedy the crisis in the Romanian mental health system, in which thousands of human beings live a life of abuse and neglect, in violation of international law binding on Romania.

The situation is described by Amnesty International’s Memorandum to the Romanian government concerning inpatient psychiatric treatment – made public in Brussels on 4 May 2004. The memorandum reveals that people with mental disabilities are routinely subjected to a wide range of human rights violations while being held in deplorable conditions in state-run psychiatric institutions. We welcome your government’s statement of 6 May 2004 that you will thoroughly investigate the human rights violations described in Amnesty International’s memorandum. However, we are concerned that your response does not adequately acknowledge the severity of the problems nor does it go far enough to protect people from further human rights violations.

Amnesty International’s exposé shows that basic needs such as proper medical and dental care, patient privacy, food, drink, and clothing are in short supply. Provisions of the Romanian Law on Mental Health, which came into force in August 2002, are still not being implemented due to the government’s failure to adopt the necessary enforcement regulations. This stagnation of the law results in people being arbitrarily detained as their placement is not subject to the independent and impartial reviews required by domestic and international law.

As a Member State of both the United Nations and the Council of Europe, Romania has already ratified the major human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, both of which allow no justifications for inhuman and degrading treatment. Your government was alerted to serious human rights concerns in psychiatric hospitals by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture following its visits to Romanian psychiatric establishments in September 2002 and February 2003, but there appears to have been little progress in improving the situation of people within the Romanian psychiatric and social care system.

MDAC will ask the European Commission to closely examine Romania’s adherence to the “Copenhagen Criteria”, laid down by the European Council in June 1993, which stipulate that a country must have achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities” before acceding to the EU. The systemic neglect and ill-treatment of persons with mental disabilities casts doubt on the Romanian government’s commitment to achieve the necessary criteria for EU accession.

In order to provide life opportunities and meaningful integration into society of people with mental disabilities, progress must be made to reform the entire system, so that there are realistic alternatives to large institutions. We draw your attention to the right to community-based care enshrined in the United Nations “Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care”, adopted by General Assembly resolution 46/119 on 17 December 1991. Principle 7 states, “Every patient shall have the right to be treated and cared for, as far as possible, in the community in which he or she lives.”

In order that services meet fundamental human rights standards, MDAC reiterates Amnesty International’s recommendations as stated in the memorandum. Particularly, we urge your government to put in place legal regulations for the implementation of the Law on Mental Health, ensuring that they are in line with international human rights principles.

Robert Kushen
Chair of the Board

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Prime Minister Adrien Nastase
Prime Minister of Romania
Piata Victoriei nr. 1, sector 1 , Bucuresti
Phone: +40-21-314 34 00, 230 36 60

Mr. Paul Hunt
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

Mr. Romano Prodi
European Commission President
European Commission
Rue de Geneva
B-1049 Brussels
Fax: +32 2 295 8532

Mr. Günter Verheugen
European Union Commissioner for Enlargement,
Rue de la Loi 200 / Wetstraat 200
1049 Brussels 
Fax.: +32-2-298.11.99

Mr. Jonathan Scheele
Head of Delegation - Delegation of the European Commission in Romania
Information Centre of the European Commission in Romania
Address: Str. Jules Michelet Nr.18, sector 1, Bucuresti
Postal Code: 010463
Phone: +4021-20.35.400
Fax: +4021-21.28.808
Email: delegation-romania@cec.eu.int

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