Disabled by Psychiatry and the Law
Psychiatric Disability: Spearhead of the Struggle for Human Rights
by the International Association Against Psychiatric Assault
In the context of the activities in behalf of Human Rights by the International Association Against Psychiatric Assault (IAAPA) in the area of psychiatric coercion, we endorse the use of the term psychiatric disability, but with an entirely different meaning: as a disability category invented and acted on by legislation to prevent us, people who suffer psychiatric persecution, arbitrary psychiatric incarceration, and torture, from sharing in the same basic rights universally recognized as Human Rights. In other words: "we are being disabled" instead of "we are disabled". We totally object to the false meaning of psychiatric disability as a biologically based trait as endorsed by the promoters of the "mental health" system and it's supporters. We regard this biological interpretation as demeaning, reductive, and, most dangerously of all, as justifying the violence of forcible psychiatry based on medical, biological, and racialist terms. In this paper we will explain our position.
The current concept of disability understands it as a biological, medical trait that prevents an individual from performing certain tasks either because he/she is assumed to be physically or intellectually incapable, or as a result of social discrimination due to the perceived biological trait. The term disability is therefore defined strictly from a biological point of view.
Current disability laws, in its effort to attend to these biological needs, are based on the assumption that our modern society is not permitted to attempt to change biological traits, and that it should include different, diverse groups of people. This principle limits the use of these biological characteristics to discriminate against individuals defined as disabled. The declared goal of this position is to acknowledge otherness and to confer them the same rights as all other members of society at large.
A most famous example of a biologically based advocacy rights group is women. To declare them as members of a disability group in the meaning used in this paper, women must be defined biologically (i.e. that which unites women is basically, a biological trait). Society must then enact special laws to ensure that this biological trait (in this case, being a woman) will not hinder individuals from fulfilling their expectations in society.
This may seem beneficial, however, this way of thinking leads to the ethos of victimization, which several groups have adopted as part of their identity ideology. Such groups are built around the perception, by their members, that they are victims of society. An inadvertent outcome of this way of conceptualizing the self is that an artificial group is created with little regard for the particular wishes of the those who are forcibly lumped into that group, either by other people, or more ominously, by the state.
The philosophy behind the definition of groups for disability rights purposes by the biological traits of their members is demeaning, reductive, patronizing, and ultimately destructive. It assumes that we must all fit to identical standards, and that those who are different are not complete human beings, and it ignores the existence of human abilities that bear no connection to any biological trait. To base its identity on a perceived biological disability and the resulting social discrimination is to create a negative community, one that will define itself on a negative, i.e. their lack of something, or the fact that something was denied them.
Based on our activities on behalf of human rights, we propose a different view of the concept of disability that is dignified, constructive, and positive. According to it, disability is a set of obstacles placed by society and the state against particular citizens, that is: a person is disabled by the state, thus denying them the same basic rights recognized as Human Rights.
As an example, think of the difficulties people on wheelchairs experience when they try to use public transportation, due to the steps they must climb to get on a bus. It is possible to identify people who use wheelchairs as a disability group in need of special laws and special consideration, or even perhaps special means of transportation; but according to our view one can rather stress the fact that public transportation, by definition, should be available to all, and, because of this, buses should be outfitted so as to accommodate wheelchair access.
Because psychiatric disability can be proved to have been initiated by the state through special "mental health laws", our interpretation can become the spearhead of the combat against all disabilities. In this way, we shift the emphasis from the biologically specific definition of a person to the general rights that we, humans, must all enjoy as members of the human community. We endorse the use of the term psychiatric disability in the sense that individuals are being disabled by coercive psychiatry, through the persecution of people because of their thoughts, way of life, sexuality, ethnic origin, socially unacceptable or undesirable behavior, their condition as social outcasts, etc. Coercive psychiatry operated by locking up individuals arbitrarily in psychiatric institutions using biological and racist laws, and by torturing them in a variety of ways. Arbitrary incarceration, torture and arbitrary killing are the definition of "fear" according to the UNO universal declaration of Human Rights of 1948. In other words, people are psychiatrically disabled of their right to be free from fear.
By defining psychiatric disability as a violation of human rights against a group of people based on fictional biological characteristics, we work to rehabilitate the full human dignity of those who have been hurt by psychiatric disability: The disability effect is most marked in the field of psychiatric coercion because the victims are forced to internalize the guilt and shame of their alleged biological deficiency. The basic assumption is: you are ill, this is why you have been locked in a psychiatric institution. Only by confessing your guilt and acknowledging your shame - i.e. your illness - can you be released from the psychiatric institution...
It is claimed that psychiatric prisoners cannot speak for themselves. This is a convenient lie. Psychiatric prisoners time and again explicitly and unequivocally reject psychiatric coercion. But because of the previously stated assumption of racist-biological "mental health" legislation, and shielded by it, the state can ignore this clear no! and insist that it is a yes. We must ask ourselves who promotes this lie (that psychiatric prisoners cannot speak for themselves) and for what reason. We must do it by asking qui bono, i.e. who is to gain from it? Who profits from this state of affairs? In many countries the public defenders have a monetary incentive to promote this lie, since it ensures them plenty of jobs without ever having to do any real legal work. Their job should be to protect the freedom and dignity of innocent citizens; instead they conveniently follow the dogma of a "mental patient" requiring "forced psychiatric treatment", thus complying with the status of a 'token lawyer' position. This dogma assures the salaries of many hundreds of professionals, who therefore have an incentive to maintain it and fight against those who challenge it.
In a special UNO meeting about disability in April 2001 there was a clear difference between speakers depending on whether they were government representatives or NGO advocates. Governments representatives called for a declaration supporting special laws, while the non-governmental organizations didn't even mention the need for laws and instead spoke about day-to-day difficulties. The reason is simply that new laws would confer more power to the state and state-sponsored professional help. They would have little to do with the wishes of the affected individuals themselves or their organizations. It was all about more power to the government and the professionals it supports and maintains.
Clearly the UNO General Assembly resolution 46/119 of 17 December 1991, 'the Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care', is so faulty that it must be abolished and not simply amended. Just as we consider slavery an unqualified evil and not one that can be reformed or amended, in the same way psychiatric slavery should be abolished and not just reformed. There is no good reason to support, even in a qualified way, a resolution that contains the words "mental patients" in its title. The resolution claims that there is a certain group of people, marked by a perceived biological trait which distinguishes them from the rest of humankind, thus enabling the state to create a special law that implies that they are less than human beings and therefore their basic human rights can be violated. They can be kidnapped by force, taken away from their homes, and incarcerated in psychiatric institutions for the benefit of their greedy victimizers, who, like wolves in sheep clothes, purport to act in their behalf. All this is in direct violation of the UNO Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. Article 1 of this resolution states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". and article 2 of this resolution states that "everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration."
There should be no special resolution or law on behalf of people with disability, because this will simply be another law based on biology, which real aim it is to stigmatize and ostracize a group of people from the rest of humankind. We should work for all of humankind so that we all enjoy the same basic rights.
Suggestion of a comprehensive and integral international convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities following the mandate of General Assembly Resolution 56/168
The States Parties to this Convention:
a) Considering that the Charter of the United Nations reaffirms the value of the human being and is based on the principles of human dignity, and equality inherent to human beings;
b) Considering that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that every human being can invoke all the rights and freedoms established in this Declaration;
c) Recalling that all human beings should be, but are not, equal in the eyes of the law and that, in addition, they all have the same right to protection against any and every form of discrimination based on their condition, race, age, gender, or disability
d) Considering that the States Parties to International Covenants on Human Rights have the obligation to guarantee all human beings - without any distinction whatsoever and, therefore, regardless of their condition, disability, ailment, or illness - equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights;
The object of this Convention is to:
a) Promote, protect, and ensure the exercise and full enjoyment of all the rights of human beings, according to the UN universal declaration of human rights from 1948.
b) Eliminate all forms of discrimination against groups in society in political, civil, economic, social, and cultural spheres;
c) Achieve their full integration in economic and social life in conditions of equality of treatment and opportunity;
d) Promote international cooperation so as to achieve the objectives of this Convention.
For the purposes of this Convention, the following definitions shall apply:
a) human dignity, that is the legal status of a human being as recognized by law, which is given to all human beings.
b) Disability, means barring, by the law, certain groups in society from their basic human rights to equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and by thus violating the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity
c) Human beings with disabilities: those who are denied by law their basic human rights to equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights which by thus violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity based on a biological arguments
d) Discrimination against human beings with disabilities: Any legal distinction, exclusion, or restriction of the basic human rights to equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and by thus violating the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity based on a biological arguments, thus results in hindering or destroying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise - in conditions of equality - of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of human beings in any other sphere of public life.
To achieve the objectives of this Convention, States Parties pledge to:
Adopt the necessary measures, legislative or of any other kind, to eliminate every type of discrimination against groups in society and to promote and protect their dignity and human rights consistent with the provisions of this Convention. Among others, these measures include the following:
a) Include legal equality for all human beings in their national legislation.
b) Abolish laws, regulations, uses, or practices which constitute forms of discrimination against groups in society based on a biological arguments, who by thus are denied their basic human rights to equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and by thus violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity and, establish legal norms prohibiting and sanctioning the former. This includes laws, such as "mental health laws, regulations, uses, or practices" under the jurisdiction of constitutive states in a federal system, of local governments, and of private or non-governmental entities.
The aim of the our statement on 'psychiatric disability as a spearhead in the struggle for human rights' is to allow people to participate as equals in society, not by reason of some biologically-based claim such as I'm "black"; "paralyzed"; "woman" etc. - something that is inherently humiliating-, but rather by reason that we are all human beings and because of that we should all have the same human rights. Rights which each one should fulfil according to his/hers needs and life.
The initiative to this paper came from a meeting in the UNO Human Rights headquarters in Geneva, which is mentioned in the paper, in which it was obvious that the governmental-establishment support to the idea of such convention was meant to supply more power & money (backed by a law) to the professional "care-providers".
We don't see disability as a social and economic process imposed on people who have impairments. For one thing, If one is wealthy enough, or pretty enough, or determined enough, than one does not experience this social and economic process (or at least experienced it much less harshly, think of Helen Keller). that is, it does not "disable" him/her from participating in society.
This is exactly the point of the work paper: instead of internalizing -and it doesn't matter if one is doing it in shame or in pride- a biological identity, which today manifest itself in the rise of 'new' eugenics, our aim is to address the family of All human kind, on the basis of the '48 UNO Universal Declaration, and demand the abolition of the laws (including the UNO resolutions) which violates this declaration and discriminate between one human being to another on the basis of a biological criteria. The proposed draft of this disability convention strengthen and support all the UNO resolutions which allow violations of human rights in the field of psychiatric coercion, of psychiatric prisoners. the group which we represent.
As a psychiatric prisoner we are denied, by the law, our most basic human rights - such as "freedom from fear", "freedom of thought" and most importantly the "right to human dignity" (which is defined after the words of Francois de Menthon, one of the judges in Nuremberg, as the "right to the status of a human being"), because we are defined by law as a "sub-human"-"mental-patient" and as such the law clearly specify that everything can be done to us, or in us, which is forbidden to be done to a "human being". Is there, today in a democratic state, a specific law based on the biological notion of "black"; "paralyzed"; "woman" etc., which denied "black"; "paralyzed"; "woman" etc. their human rights, those that we refer to above? We all know that there were such laws in the US of A (-just an example) and they were abolished because the Nth Americans came to understand that those laws violate fundamental human rights. In view of that example, the proposed 'UN Comprehensive and Integral Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities' - as it is in the draft - could be titled ''convention to Promote and Protect the human rights of slaves".
That's why we see that our struggle to the definition of psychiatric disability (="barring, by the law, certain groups in society from their basic human rights to equality in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and by thus violating the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity" - this quote is from the convention draft) can lead the struggle to the definition of disability.
We think that our ideas and stand support human rights and are anti-racist, anti-medical and in our opinion that is the way people should direct society in this century.
Impressum: International Association Against Psychiatric Assault
Spechtweg 1, 4125 Riehen, Switzerland