UN Initiatives regarding Persons with Developmental and Psychiatric Disabilities

1971: Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, 1975: Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, 1982: World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, 1991: Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care, 1993: United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, 1997: Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

UN Initiatives for Disable Children

A number of United Nations decisions are relevant to persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities. For reference, below is a brief chronological overview of selected decisions specifically related to disability and the way they address the concerns and rights of persons with Developmental and Psychiatric disabilities.

1971: Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons

In 1971, the General Assembly of the United Nations, proclaimed the “Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons.” Bearing in mind the necessity of assisting persons with mental disabilities to develop their full abilities and of promoting their integration, the General Assembly calls for national and international action to ensure that the Declaration is used as a common basis and frame of reference for the protection of their rights.

The Declaration establishes that ‘mentally retarded persons’ have the same rights as other human beings.  Specifically, they have the right to:

  • Proper medical care, physical therapy, education, training, rehabilitation and guidance to develop their ability and maximum potential;
  • Economic security and decent standards of living; to perform productive work and engage on any meaningful occupation;
  • To live with their own families or foster care, and to participate in community life;
  • Protection from exploitation, abuse, degrading treatment, to due process of law.

1975: Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons

The “Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons,” proclaimed by General Assembly on 9 December 1975, reiterates the commitments and principles established in earlier United Nations instruments, and reaffirms the rights of persons with disabilities, set forth in the Declaration, without discrimination on any basis.

It states: “Disabled persons have the inherent right to respect for their human dignity. Disabled persons, whatever the origin, nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental rights as their fellow-citizens of the same age, which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as possible,” to include, civil and political rights.

1982: World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons

The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by General Assembly, in 1982, at the end of the International Year of Disabled Persons, also reiterates the equality of rights of all human beings.

The World Programme of Action, points out that persons with disabilities “do not form a homogeneous group” including the “mentally ill” and the “mentally retarded,” stressing that “all encounter different barriers, of different kinds, which have to be overcome in different ways.”

The World Programme of Action notes that: “Societies sometimes cater only to people who are in full possession of all their physical and mental faculties,” adding that “[T]hey have to recognize the fact that, despite preventive efforts, there will always be a number of people with impairments and disabilities, and that societies have to identify and remove obstacles to their full participation.”

To this end, “whenever pedagogically possible, education should take place in the ordinary school system, work be provided through open employment and housing be made available as to the population in general.”

The Programme of Action also states that: “It is the duty of every Government to ensure that the benefits of development programmes also reach disabled citizens. Measures to this effect should be incorporated into the general planning process and the administrative structure of every society. Extra services which disabled persons might need should, as far as possible, be part of the general services of a country.”

1991: Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care

After various years of deliberations on the rights of persons admitted to or detained in mental health institutions, in December of 1991, the General Assembly adopted the “Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care.” Operative paragraph of this resolution requests the Secretary-General to give the Principles the widest possible dissemination.

Thought mental illness is not always a disability, Principles has some relevance within the broader discussion of the about the rights of persons with Developmental and Psychiatric disabilities.  The twenty-five Principles address the: fundamental freedoms and basic rights; protection of minors; life in the community; determination of mental illness; medical examination; confidentiality; role of community and culture; standards of care; treatment; medication; consent to treatment; notice of rights; rights and conditions in mental health facilities; resources for mental health facilities; admission principles; involuntary admission; review body, procedural safeguards; access to information; criminal offenders; complaints; monitoring and remedies; implementation; scope of principles relating to mental health facilities; and saving of existing rights.

“These principles should be applied without any discrimination of any kind” to “all persons who are admitted to a mental health facility.” Principle 23 on implementation states that: “States should implement these Principles through appropriate legislative, judicial, administrative, educational and other measures, which they shall review periodically” and “should make these Principles widely known.”

1993: United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

The Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, was adopted at the end of the Decade of Disabled Persons (1982 – 1993) by General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, of 20 December 1993. As a policy guidance instrument, the Standard Rules reiterates the goals of prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities established in the World Programme of Action. The 22 Rules provide guidelines for national action in three main clusters: preconditions for equal participation, targets for equal participation, and implementation measures.

1997: Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

In its resolution entitled “Equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities,” the Economic and Social Council “urges the Secretary-General and Governments to further the effective implementation of the Standard Rules and to emphasize the dimension of human rights, including the dimension of persons of persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities.”

In July 2000, the Economic and Social Council adopted two resolutions asking that actions taken to further the equalization of opportunities of, by and with disabilities, also address the situation of persons developmental and psychiatric disabilities. In its resolutions 2000/10 and 2002/26, entitled “Further promotion of equalization of opportunities by, for and with persons with disabilities,” Economic and Social Council “urges governments, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations to take practical action to create greater awareness and support further initiatives…with special emphasis accorded to…the human rights of persons with disabilities… and the situation of persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities” among others, “with a focus on integrating such persons into society.”

In 2001, General Assembly, in its resolution 56/115, “Urges Governments, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations to provide special protection to …persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities, with special emphasis on integrating them into society and protecting and promoting their human rights.”

Courtesy: UN enable

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