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DRI calls for an end to international support for segregation of children worldwide in the New York Times

June 18, 2014 – Washington, DC – Last weekend, the New York Times shined a light into the dark corners of Cambodian orphanages, where local activists have uncovered the widespread exploitation of children in orphanages to attract donations from international donors. The money-making scheme pulls children from poor and vulnerable families who are promised better lives for their kids. Instead–these children find decrepit conditions, sexual abuse, and staff who showcase their vulnerability in order to bring in foreign dollars.

Today, DRI President Laurie Ahern’s response was published by the New York Times. “Luring poor and vulnerable families to give up their children in exchange for a better life for them in an orphanage is a problem not only in Cambodia but also around the world,” Ahern writes. In order to protect the 8 to 10 million children in orphanages around the world, “Donors need to stop funding the building of orphanages and instead fund programs that will keep families intact.”

DRI’s World Campaign to End the Institutionalization of Children calls for an end to international funding to build or rebuild orphanages. Donors– governments, churches and individuals– need to support families, not orphanages.

Read DRI’s Letter to the Editor in the New York Times

Watch DRI’s 60-second Public Service Announcement on ending institutionalization

Learn more about DRI’s World Campaign to End Institutionalization of Children

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DRI Op-Ed published in Chicago Tribune: Now is the time for international aid to protect Ukraine’s most vulnerable

May 8, 2014 – Washington, DC – This morning, the Chicago Tribune published an Op-Ed by Disability Rights International (DRI) Executive Director Eric Rosenthal calling for urgent international action to protect the 85,000 children detained in Ukraine’s orphanages. Instead of funding the orphanages that segregate children from society, DRI is urging the United States and other international donors to support programs to help families who wish to keep their children out of institutions.

Child with bruised eyes sitting on a couch looking into the camera
US aid has helped build and rebuild orphanages around the world. That’s a well-intentioned mistake that should not be repeated in Ukraine. (Photo: Eric Mathews, DRI, Ukraine 2013)

The truth is,” Rosenthal states in the Op-Ed, “support for orphanages now makes future reform even harder and may end up perpetuating segregated service systems… Most heartbroken mothers and fathers would do anything to keep their children if they received the tiniest amount of support.
 
There are 10 million children in orphanages around the world. DRI is calling for a ban on international funding to build or rebuild orphanages. Donors– governments, churches and individuals– need to support families, not orphanages.

Click here to read today’s Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune.

Following DRI report, the Republic of Georgia guarantees life-saving medical care to children with hydrocephalus

April 29, 2014 – Washington, DC – Disability Rights International (DRI) applauds the Georgian government for accepting DRI’s recommendation and adopting guidelines which guarantee immediate life-saving surgeries for children with hydrocephalus.

Karen Green McGowan, President Elect of the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association
and DRI volunteer, examines a young girl with hydrocephalus at the Tbilisi Infant’s House

On announcing the adoption of these guidelines last week, the Georgian government credited DRI’s 2013 report, Left Behind, for bringing attention to this issue. When left untreated, hydrocephalus leads to intellectual disability and eventually death; DRI investigators documented a death rate of more than 50% of children with hydrocephalus over a 4-year period in a single Georgian orphanage. The new guidelines will effectively eliminate deaths from this medical condition and save thousands of lives for generations to come. 

DRI wishes to thank the Georgian activists who have worked tirelessly to promote the right to health for children with disabilities in Georgia, particularly Children of Georgia, EveryChild of Georgia, the Partnership for Human Rights and the Georgia Public Defender’s Office. We thank the Georgia Ministry of Health for being receptive to DRI’s recommendations and for taking immediate action to save lives.

Dr. Larry Kaplan, a DRI volunteer, examines a young boy at the former Batumi institution

None of DRI’s work is possible without the assistance of our expert volunteers. Dr. Larry Kaplan and Karen Green McGowan provided invaluable on-the-ground medical expertise and helped identify problems and long-term solutions.

Much work lies ahead in Georgiaand around the world– to protect the human rights of children and adults with disabilities. But for now, we hope you will join us in celebrating a success that will mean the whole world to thousands of children in Georgia.

The invaluable support of DRI’s International Ambassador Holly Valance and husband Nick Candy, pictured above in the Tbilisi Infant’s Home, contributed greatly to this success

Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommends a ban on shock devices used on children with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center

April 25, 2014 – Washington, DC - Following testimony yesterday by Disability Rights International (DRI) and several other advocacy organizations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel on neurological devices has recommended a federal ban on electrical shock devices used to punish and control the behavior of children with disabilities– a practice condemned by the United Nations to be torture under international law.

Eric Mathews testifies before FDA Panel
DRI advocate Eric Mathews testifies
before the FDA advisory panel regarding torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center

(photo: Kim Musheno)

DRI brought worldwide attention to these abuses in 2010 by filing an urgent appeal, Torture not Treatment, with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. The United Nations has since conducted two investigations into the abuses at the Massachusetts-based Judge Rotenberg Center, the only facility in the United States known to use electric shock to punish children with disabilities.

The UN’s top expert on torture, Juan Mendez, has agreed that the shock treatments violate the UN Convention against Torture. The UN has called on the United States to put an immediate end to this practice, stating that the prohibition of torture is absolute.

The FDA has now echoed these concerns, stating that “Serious concerns have been raised about the use of aversive conditioning electrical stimulation devices on children and adults with developmental disabilities.”

Disability Rights International urges the FDA to accept the advisory panel’s recommendation and put an end to torture of children with disabilities in the United States.

Read DRI’s testimony before the FDA advisory panel

Read DRI’s 2010 report Torture not Treatment

Watch Fox 25 Boston News Coverage of the abuses at JRC

DRI and allies testify on abuses in the Americas

DRI and activists from the Americas to testify March 25, 2014 before Inter-American Commission of the OAS on abuses of people with disabilities throughout the Americas

“Millions of children and adults with disabilities are locked up and detained in institutions without any ability to go to court.  If they are raped, tortured, subject to physical abuse, or even trafficked for sex, they cannot take legal action to protect their rights if they are placed under guardianship. Under the legal systems that exist throughout the Americas, being placed under guardianship is known as ‘legal death,’” said Humberto Guerrero, Director of the Americas office of Disability Rights International (DRI-Mexico).

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear testimony by Disability Rights International and counterparts from Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Costa Rica, and Peru exposing the atrocious human rights violations that take place when people with disabilities are stripped of their rights through denial of “legal capacity.”

I was first detained in psychiatric hospital when I was 18.  I did not want to be there and tried to escape, so they detained me again forcefully. I was administered more than 11 medications that made me feel like a zombie.  But they never asked me whether I wanted to be medicated at all. Then they tied me down with locks that were very painful. It was terrifying.  For months after that, I could not shake off the feeling of being tied down.  –  Natalia Santos,President of the Colectivo Chuhcan, Mexico’s first human rights advocacy organization run by people with psychosocial disabilities.  Read Natalia’s testimony in Spanish and English.

Guatemala, Federico Mora Psychiatric Facility, a man stands with his face pressed to a gated window behind a locked door.

Guatemala, Federico Mora Psychiatric Facility, a man stands with his face pressed to a gated window behind a locked door.

We have documented abuses of this kind in countries throughout the Americas.  Some of the worst abuses we’ve seen anywhere are taking place right now at the Federico Mora psychiatric facility in Guatemala.   Men, women, boys, and girls are trafficked and abused at the facility, yet they do not have the legal right to challenge their abuse.  The Inter-American Commission called on Guatemala to take immediate steps to protect the lives of Federico Mora’s detainees, but so far Guatemala has failed to act. – Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of DRI.

Read DRI’s petition for precautionary measures and the Inter-American Commission’s order.

Full recommendations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued by DRI and partners:

 

DRI Delegation in Guatemala Urges Government to Finalize and Implement Accord to fulfill its obligations under a precautionary measures order of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

February 27th, 2014 – Washington, DC – A delegation of DRI staff and experts is in Guatemala this week to negotiate with the government on the implementation of an Accord to protect the rights of people with disabilities detained in the Federico Mora psychiatric hospital in Guatemala City.   “The government of Guatemala made an historic agreement to protect rights and provide for the community integration of children and adults in the country’s mental health system,” said Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of Disability Rights International (DRI).  “Now is the time for Guatemala to fulfill its obligations under the American Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Accord provides a valuable framework for collaboration with international experts. It demonstrates that people with disabilities can live in the community with full protection of their rights.”

The Accord describes detailed steps that Guatemala will take to protect the rights of people with disabilities detained in the Federico Mora psychiatric hospital in Guatemala City under a precautionary measures order (MC-370-12) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. While respecting labor rights of the staff at the hospital, Guatemala agrees in the Accord to create a system of community-based mental health services within two years and to bring about “a significant reduction” of detainees at the institution.  In addition to creating group homes for adults, the government agrees to establish new family-based supports for children with disabilities.  The government promises not to allow any new admissions of children.

The Accord was signed by the President of Guatemala’s Presidential Commission for Human Rights, Antonio Arenales, representing the government in Guatemala, on October 30, 2013.  At a working meeting of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 31, 2013,  the delegation from Guatemala described these activities as steps it would be taking to fulfill its obligations under the precautionary measures order.  The Accord is subject only to the final approval of the Attorney General.

Full text of Accord:
English PDF
Spanish PDF

Disability Rights are Human Rights