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DRI files international case to protect children and adults detained in Guatemala’s dangerous Federico Mora institution

Media Contact:
English: Eric Rosenthal,, 202-296-0800 ext. 650
Spanish: Humberto Guerrero,, +52 1 55 20942501

Washington, DC – October 29, 2014 - Disability Rights International (DRI) filed a case today in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) on behalf of people with disabilities detained in Guatemala’s Federico Mora psychiatric institution. “Federico Mora is the most violent and dangerous facility we’ve discovered anywhere in the Americas,” said DRI Executive Director Eric Rosenthal. “We are fighting to protect the 340 children and adults detained at Federico Mora – and institutions like this throughout the Americas.”

three women on concrete floor behind a fence in the Federico Mora institution
Women detained in the Federico Mora psychiatric institution, where they are at high risk of sexual abuse and trafficking

The Federico Mora psychiatric institution is located next to a prison in one of the most crime-ridden parts of Guatemala City where gangs are powerful. Armed police and soldiers with machine guns assigned to guard detainees also prey on children and adults with disabilities.   Staff and patients have reported that rape, violence, and other forms of abuse are routine. DRI has received reports that patients are trafficked into the prison and outsiders are brought into the facility to exploit detainees for sex. People subjected to sexual abuse are exposed to HIV/AIDS, which is widespread at the facility, and almost no medical care is available. Staff report that there have been three recent deaths.

“There is a palpable climate of fear among detainees and staff. Witnesses tell us they will be killed if they are identified by the perpetrators,” said DRI attorney Humberto Guerrero. “We are meeting today with the Inter-American Commission to ask for urgent ‘precautionary measures’ to protect these witnesses. We are also seeking protections for DRI investigators who have been threatened with violence for monitoring conditions at Federico Mora.”

“Detaining people with disabilities in snake pits like this violates international law. Federico Mora can’t be fixed up – it must be closed down,” says Rosenthal. “This case will set a powerful new precedent in challenging the segregation of people with disabilities,” says DRI legal advisor Tara Melish, a professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School, one of the authors of the brief. “We are asking the Human Rights Commission to protect the right of people with disabilities to live and receive treatment in the community. Our case argues that Guatemala’s law on guardianship improperly strips people of their legal identity and denies their right to decide where they will live or what treatment they receive. People under guardianship lose any right to file a complaint about abuse.”

“When our team first visited the facility, we found a boy held in a barren isolation cell. We were told by staff he was there for his own safety – as he would be raped as soon as he was released among the other patients,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, Director of DRI’s Women’s Rights Initiative. “The rampant sexual abuse is dangerous for all the patients, but women and girls are especially vulnerable. All women in the facility are given birth control without their knowledge.”

DRI is bringing the case in collaboration with the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City (ODHAG).


Disability Rights International urges the United States to ratify the UN Disability Convention

Disability Rights International (DRI) calls on our US supporters to take immediate action to push for Senate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). “We at DRI have fought against torture, abuse, and segregation of people with disabilities throughout the world.  The United States will be in a much stronger position to take a stand on the rights of children and adults with disabilities – at home and abroad – when we hold ourselves to the same standard as other countries,” said Eric Rosenthal, DRI’s Executive Director.  We are close to achieving our goals – we must sway just a few more votes in the Senate!

Your Senators need to continue to hear from you and know that you support the CRPD! Show the community is behind this treaty. Visit the US International Council on Disability’s citizen action portal to call your Senators! They need to hear from our movement now.

Around the world, 147 countries have already ratified the CRPD.

Disability Rights International Executive Director Eric Rosenthal speaks at today's Senate rally in support of UN Disability Convention. 147 countries are on board -- but not the USA.

Disability Rights International Executive Director Eric Rosenthal speaks at a July 30 Senate rally in support of UN Disability Convention. 147 countries are on board — but not the USA.

Mexican activists challenge new law depriving right of persons with disabilities to make choices about their lives

On 9 June, Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a law limiting the ability of thousands of people with disabilities in Mexico City to make legal decision about their lives. This reform violates the international obligations of the Mexican State under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“Convention”). This system is based on the assumption that persons with disabilities cannot lead self-directed lives and assume a responsible control over their legal affairs.

Read DRI-Mexico’s press release challenging this development in Spanish or English.

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




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