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Council of Europe’s Bioethics committee postpones vote on additional protocol on forced treatment

During its June 1st-2nd, 2021 meeting the Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) of the Council of Europe (CoE) decided to remove the vote on the additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention from the agenda and postpone it to November 2021. Autism-Europe alongside other disability organisations is currently campaigning against the adoption of the additional protocol as it breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of People with disabilities (CRPD), ratified by 46 of 47 Member States of the Council of Europe. Autism-Europe encourages its members and all interested stakeholders to join the campaign.

At the DH-BIO meeting, representatives of the European Disability Forum (EDF), Mental Health Europe (MHE), the European network of (Ex)-Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP) and the European Association of Service Providers for People with Disabilities (EASPD) shared their main concern that the draft additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention does not align with the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD) notably regarding liberty and security of the person, legal capacity and living in the community. Other concerns were that the additional protocol does not reflect the views of civil society and especially not the persons with lived experience of forced treatment.

Since the beginning of the work on the Additional protocol, Autism-Europe has joined forces with EDF, MHE, ENUSP, Inclusion Europe (IE) and the International Disability Alliance (IDA)  in a long-running campaign to call for the immediate withdrawal of the draft additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention and to focus on and develop alternative measures to forced treatment and institutionalisation, in collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities.

Support international efforts to prevent forced treatment and institutionalisation

Autism-Europe encourages its members and all interested stakeholders to join the campaign and firmly voice their opposition to the draft additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention. To support advocacy efforts campaign, EDF and MHE have launched an online advocacy toolkit against the draft additional protocol to the Oviedo Convention on March 25 together with a website and a newsletter. Sample letters to high level representatives can also be found on the website, which Autism-Europe has also translated in French.

Over the past years, we have been joined in our campaigning efforts by many other stakeholders such as the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

Prior to the June meeting, UN experts again released an official statement calling upon the Council of Europe to withdraw the draft Additional Protocol as it “maintains an approach to mental health policy and practice that is based on coercion, which is incompatible with contemporary human rights principles and standards.”

At the beginning of June, the European Network of National Humans Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) also called on the Council of Europe to reject the Additional Protocol highlighting “the importance of harmonised standards and international norms at the global and European levels, in order to strengthen the work of human rights defenders, civil society and disabled persons organisations for the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities in Europe”.

Background

Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, better known as the Oviedo Convention, is a European legally binding instrument on the protection of human rights in the biomedical field. It establishes that human rights must come before other considerations in the field of biomedicine. It lays down a series of principles and prohibitions concerning bioethics, medical research, consent, rights to private life and information, organ transplantation, public debate, etc.

Despite its name, the “Draft Additional Protocol concerning the protection of human rights and dignity of persons with a mental disorder with regard to involuntary placement and involuntary treatment” would not protect such persons and would authorize some forms of involuntary placement and treatment.

We oppose this draft additional protocol because it is against international human rights law and risks to increase human rights violations in psychiatry. In particular:

  • Involuntary treatment and placement in psychiatry are prohibited under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It breaches, among others, the rights of non-discrimination, legal capacity, liberty and security, and health. The CRPD is ratified by 46 of 47 Member States of the Council of Europe.
  • The adoption will create a legal conflict between the obligations of States under the regional level (Council of Europe) and the international level (CRPD). Two different standards will apply in European States that ratified the CRPD.
  • It risks solidifying the institutionalisation of persons with disabilities. At the same time, the practice is condemned by the CRPD, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Countries that have adopted similar legislation on involuntary treatment and placement than is enshrined in the draft additional protocol have seen an increase of coercion in psychiatry.

Under the Council of Europe, the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, better known as the Oviedo Convention, is the only international legally binding instrument for protecting human rights in the biomedical field.