Latest News:

DRI’s Eric Rosenthal Appointed Georgetown University Law School 2015-2016 Drinan Chair in Human Rights

Washington, DC — November 4, 2014 – Georgetown University Law Center today announced the appointment of Eric Rosenthal, Disability Rights International’s (DRI) founder and executive director, to the 2015-2016 Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Chair in Human Rights.

“This appointment recognizes Eric Rosenthal for his invaluable contributions to international human rights,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor.  ”We are very pleased that it will allow the Law Center to continue Fr. Drinan’s extraordinary legacy.”

As the Drinan Chair holder, Rosenthal will teach a course during the fall semester of 2015 focused on international human rights advocacy for children and adults with disabilities – allowing J.D. and LL.M. students to benefit from his expertise as a leader in the global disability rights movement.

DRI Founder and Executive Director Eric Rosenthal

Rosenthal, who was featured in the spring 2013 issue of Georgetown Law magazine, is the founder and executive director of DRI, one of the world’s first and leading advocacy organizations dedicated to the protection and full inclusion of children and adults with disabilities under international human rights law.

Recognizing and protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities was the topic of a seminar paper Rosenthal wrote as a student at Georgetown Law. Since establishing DRI a year after graduation, in 1993, he has trained human rights and disability activists and provided assistance to governments and international development organizations worldwide.  Rosenthal helped establish six independent disability rights organizations run by people with disabilities around the world. He has served as a consultant to the U.S. National Council on Disability, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability.

In 2008, Rosenthal received the Henry A. Betts Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities for his role in helping to inspire and build support for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize, which “celebrates the vision and endeavor of an individual or team under fifty years of age whose humanitarian work, combined with their Jewish values, has significantly improved the world.”

“We are delighted that Eric – an alumnus who created a very effective human rights organization to address a major gap in international law in order to protect a very vulnerable group of people – will be teaching our students next fall,” said Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Director Andrew I. Schoenholtz.

“Fr. Drinan was my first human rights professor in law school,” said Rosenthal. “But he was much more than a law professor. He was the embodiment of what it is to be a human rights activist – someone who stands up for his values and for people who are downtrodden around the world – whatever others may think. I have always sought to live up to that standard, and I am deeply indebted to Fr. Drinan for his mentorship, friendship and support. It is a true honor to serve as a human rights professor in his name.”

Rosenthal received a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a J.D. cum laude from Georgetown Law, where he has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching courses in public interest advocacy.

The Drinan Chair was established in 2006 in honor of Professor Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Drinan was a professor at Georgetown Law from 1981 until his death in 2007, as well as a priest, scholar, lawyer, politician, activist, ethicist and one of the nation’s leading advocates for international human rights. He dedicated his life to humanitarian causes and to improving the legal profession.

See Georgtown’s announcement on Rosenthal’s appointment, here.


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