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Reisverslag meeting at OHCHR – very intense experiences
18 december 2011
meeting at OHCHR – very intense experiences
I’m at home now. It had been 3 quite turbulent days in Geneva for me, and first it took me some time to rest, and I had a whole lot to digest.
To get an overview I have to separate my personal experiences from the substance of the meeting. Because to be honest, personally, I was very moved by what had happened at the UN entrance at the first day of the meeting, when I was almost denied access because of my punky clothes and my rainbow-coloured Mohican haircut (the security made issues of dress code to me, and I cried of disappointment, but in the end I was allowed to stay). It had made me feel insecure to be there, like it wasn’t right to be at this meeting, and like I had made a mistake by registering for this… And with these feelings of insecurity and fear of rejection, it was very hard to speak out.
But the fact that I was quite shy wasn’t just due to the security issues. Because on top of that, most participants seemed to have no particular knowledge on mental health and the ill treatments that occur inside institutions, and therefore my view is relatively new to them. And on the other hand, also their work (mechanisms of CAT, OPCAT, NPM’s, NHRI’s APT, CPT, SPT, UPR and so on) is all relatively new to me. It made me feel like there was a gap in terms of expertise. So that made me feel again, like I was on a distance to them.
I needed to define for myself what was going on, and how to bridge and overcome that. I felt like a shy kid in the school banks, mainly listening and learning, and only making some necessary key remarks.
Those circumstances really affected my performance at the OHCHR meeting. It was my first time there, and the first day was really hard for me. My words didn’t really flow, it was hard to make a stand, because I felt “off topic” on the forehand, because of the gap, and I was feeling rather lost and out of place.
So during the first day I mainly tried to catch as much information as I could, to learn more about the UN structure of mechanisms (CAT, OPCAT, NPM’s, NHRI’s APT, CPT, SPT, UPR, Special Procedures and so on). And also to catch the right vibe and topics of the meeting, the scope and the range so on. But further I had to wait and see to improve my grounds, and to see how I could participate better on the second day.
At the evening of the first day (15 December 2011), I took some steps to solve the issues with the dress-code security, because that was also affecting my participation, and I had experienced barriers, which I now wanted to solve.
So I sent an email to Mrs Vivian Lozano (the conference organizer who apologized for the security issues), and I explained her how hard it had been that first day. I also copied my previous blog to her. And I asked her if it would be possible to wear my chains on the second day, because it would make me feel more welcome and in place when I am really allowed to be myself. Solving this would be an improvement, and I needed all improvements I could get. I really wanted to find a way to contribute my expertise at this meeting. But actually I had faced a lot of disappointments on the first day (with security and hardly any attention for the CRPD at the meeting). I wanted to address that, and even just by sending this email to Mrs Lozano I took steps, and gained new hope to feel “included”. It improved my own self-confidence.
On the second day, I went to the UN OHCHR with my head up high, and I took the chance to wear my chains again. I had good hope, but it still caused excitement to me. And then at the UN-entrance, I was surprisingly allowed by the security to walk in without being checked at all! I didn’t even have to open my bags! And the metal detector was switched off for me. It was awesome. I felt so welcome and trusted. It made much such a huge difference to me. It actually felt amazing to not be distrusted anymore. It made me feel so much safer too. Now I walked there with pride, and I felt much stronger, and more in a position to make a stand. I felt like I could take everything. So the second day was a much better day for me.
The two-day consultation at OHCHR comprised 5 sessions on various themes.
On the first day, Thursday 15 December 2011, there were 3 sessions on the cooperation of various human right mechanisms. It was about cooperation between the UN and European mechanisms.
Unfortunately I can’t really reflect on all the things that were discussed, since I was still developing my understanding of various actors and stakeholders, with all their abbreviations: OHCHR, ODIHR, EC, CoE, IDA, MDAC, CAT, OPCAT, NPM’s, NHRI’s, APT, CPT, SPT, UPR and so on. It was very interesting though. I will study that a bit more, but by now I do understand what it all basically means.
The official report of this meeting will be circulated, with an option to give written feedback. So I will check on that, and respond to that.
The first session was: How to improve the Information Sharing between UN and European human rights mechanisms on torture? It was about performing visits to places of detention, and about the sharing of reports. Some are confidential (like SPT and CPT) and then States must decide whether they can be shared with others. And other reports aren’t that strictly confidential (like CAT/OPCAT). Especially about confidentiality was a lot of discussion, and various options for sharing high-level information were discussed.
This wasn’t something within my expertise, so I mainly listened and learned how reports were shared, and what structure UN has, and the scope of various actors.
The second session was on: Possible Joint Activities between the UN and European human rights mechanisms on torture. This session was basically about the options for performing joint visits to places of detention, and joint reports (thematic or country), or joint publications. The point of Information Sharing often came back in these discussions.
The third session was: How to improve Follow Up to Recommendations issued by both the UN and European human rights mechanisms on torture?
This session was basically again about Sharing Information, but then with a focus on stimulating the implementation of various recommendations of human rights mechanisms such as CAT, OPCAT, CPT, SPT, NPM’s, NHRI’s, NGO’s and the UN treaties. How can various actors become aware of each other’s findings, without having to search all over. For some actors confidentiality remains a point (such as confidential state reports), and there was some discussion on various ways of communication and confidentially, both publically as internal at the UN, or with State Parties.
It was a long day, and at some session there was no lively discussion, but just silence in the room. I also couldn’t find the words to make a point, because I was thinking very hard and trying to understand what was said. And when I made a point on the CRPD, it seemed to me that I couldn’t be concrete enough in legal terms or refer to the right structures in the right way. But I did bring it up, and so did a few others. And I will make sure it is included in the final findings (in the first quick draft of the conclusions it wasn’t there, but it wasn’t a main point of discussion either).
The second day, Friday 16 December 2011, there were 2 sessions (nr. 4 and 5). It was again about the cooperation between UN and European mechanisms, but now there was a focus on the role of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM’s) and the role of NGO’s.
The fourth session was about the Role of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM’s, such as National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI’s) or Ombudsman). Again it was about the sharing of information, close cooperation, and inclusion of each other’s findings (with mechanisms such as CAT, OPCAT, CPT, SPT, NHRI’s, NGO’s and the UN treaties). And again confidentiality and access to shattered information that has to be found first, can be barriers for doing so.
The fifth session was on the Role of NGO’s. There are some good practices in Europe, but in some countries it remains very complicated for NGO’s to be included at national mechanisms, and also it can be hard for the UN and national mechanisms to include NGO’s, especially smaller NGO’s. to work with the UN and National mechanisms.
I said that for users/survivors of psychiatry it is often very hard to participate at any official high level mechanism, because in many countries persons with (mental) disabilities are still seen as “mad persons with unsound minds” and they are just not listened to and seen as “incapable” of doing high level lthings. This of course hinders the sharing of information, and participation at many levels of human rights monitoring mechanisms.
I didn’t say it, but in fact, the incident at the OHCHR-entrance where I was almost rejected because of my appearance is a clear illustration of how hard it can be to participate when you are “different”, and how users/survivors are at risk to be excluded, when they for instance might drule from medication, or express themselves in unique ways, like a strange hairdo. But I’m very glad to say that the vast majority of people I met were just as shocked as I was when they heard about my entrance-issues, so I didn’t have to add anything when I made the point of stigmatization.
In general, to me it was quite disappointing that at both of the days, the CRPD wasn’t really included at the OHCHR meeting. I tried to make that point, but on the first day, I feel like my words weren’t really strong. I felt very shy, and I’m not a lawyer or such, so I didn’t really know how to express my point in legal terms, so I just tried to make my point. But I was very insecure.
Somehow I hadn’t expected this “gap” on the CRPD. I had learned from Tina Minkowitz (WNUSP) and Gabor Gombos (CRPD Committee) that the newest UN Convention (CRPD) on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, means that forced treatments and forced admissions in institutions are now officially and fully under the definition of “deprivation of liberty, detention, human right violations”, and it falls within the definition of “Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
The entry into force of the CRPD (2006-2008) clearly obliges action, and makes it a priority to monitor human rights inside institutions, and this should be more prominent in the scope of the Torture-framework.
Also Dorottya Karsay from MDAC made some strong remarks on including the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and how 1.2 million people detained, chained and restrained in institutions in Europe in very poor quality of life cannot be forgotten. That was a strong point.
But altogether there seemed to be not much awareness on the CRPD and its extend at this meeting. It was again missing in the summary. And it was only afterwards that I realized that maybe they really lacked knowledge on the CRPD, and maybe I had had the job to explain it ALL. So only on that very point I realized what my job was, and how I could contribute. But that was only afterwards. (and it’s quite hard to express it all in legal terms, because I’m still learning how the systems works).
But there will be an option to send written feedback, so I have offered to send a complementary statement to the conference organizers, written by WNUSP and ENUSP on torture prevention in mental health care and UN-mechanisms. This can be spread among the participants, and that will be a chance for us to raise awareness within the mechanisms.
It was still a good meeting at OHCHR after all, although the CRPD is not really included yet. I learned a lot from the meeting. Especially about the state of the CRPD and the structures of various UN mechanisms.
Unfortunately this meeting wasn’t on the substance, but on mechanisms, so I couldn’t really unload my substantial expertise on preventing forced psychiatry there. I regret that, but at least I know what we have to do now. We need to raise awareness on the CRPD and the human rights violations in mental health care within the Anti-Torture frameworks, so that they acknowledge it as a priority.
In the discussion on “possible partners in monitoring human rights” I also pointed at WHO Quality Rights Project ( see at http://www.who.int/mental_health/policy/quality_rights/en/index.html ) which is a project that still is being developed, and needs close attention from Human Right experts and persons with psychosocial disabilities, to ensure full quality. The WHO QR project also contains a new tool for monitoring mental health institutions and social care homes, which is still under construction in a more finalizing phase. And since the CPT and SPT already perform visits to mental health institutions, they should be included in the development of such a new WHO monitoring-tool, and the monitoring standards should include the newest UN standards, such as described in the CRPD. In my opinion, this can be a chance for substantial cooperation within various UN mechanisms.
Hardly anyone was aware of the development of such a tool at the WHO. So I’m glad I said that, because WHO can probably use some experience based expertise, and maybe other mechanisms can be included right away, to ensure a modern quality mechanism to protect the vulnerable group of persons with disabilities.
Then the meeting came to an end, and a draft of conclusions was circulated and discussed. It wasn’t a full report, and a lot was still missing, but it reflected the major themes of discussion with their preliminary conclusions. This was checked and then things were added, and added, and added, until the time was up, and of course it still wasn’t full. But soon an official report will be circulated on email, and all participants can provide written feedback, which is probably easier than responding to a quick draft in a very short time. And I’m happy that I will have some time to review everything.
Right after the meeting I finally had a chance to talk to Mr Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
I really wanted to talk to him, because I have sent my personal complaints to the Special Rapporteur on Torture, because I was treated very bad in psychiatry, and I have never been able to start a case in court, which I have been trying for about 17 years altogether. I told him that my experiences are not even the only one in the Netherlands, but many people suffer from restraints and detention in institutions, in the Netherlands, but also in Europe and all over the world. But even in the Netherlands I can’t get access to justice, so I had sent my complaints and all my files to the UN OHCHR in Geneva last year. And I wondered why I didn’t get a response. I had been waiting for about a year now.
Juan Mendez told me he had not seen my files. And probably my files have been “lost”, probably because I addressed them to Mr Manfred Nowak at OHCHR in October/November 2010, but at that same time, it seemed that his term of duty had expired and he was no longer Special Rapporteur on Torture, but Juan Mendez was the new Special Rapporteur on Torture. But I had just followed the website information, which mentioned Manfred Nowak. So that explains why I didn’t get a response in 1 year time.
I was very happy to find out that Juan Mendez just wasn’t aware of my case. And after talking to me he even said: “Even if you were the only one, it matters”. That really made me feel so great, it warmed me. It was an awesome moment again. He gave me two cards, and wanted me to send it to both of the email addresses. I felt so incredibly strong after this. I could sing it from the mountains.
And so it was a very intense day again, but now in the positive way, personally.
In the afternoon we finished quite early, and I went back to my hotel room. I was very excited about the offer of Juan Mendez to look at my personal complaints about the Netherlands, and I re-sent the old messages, accompanied with another letter to him. I was very happy about this “side-event”.
In the evening I was tired, and I decided to have a good night of sleep. It was too much to digest everything into a report on that same day. I was still very excited about it all, and I felt like I deserved to enjoy my personal victories on my case, and having participated positively. I enjoyed it.
Then the next day I had some hours to spend in Geneva before my flight would take me back home. I went walking through the centre of Geneva, and then I was stopped by the police several times, because they wanted to talk to me. They asked me to step aside with them, and then asked “Why are you in Geneva? Can I see your ID? Can I look in your bag?”
The first thing I showed was my UN-badge, and I hoped to solve it quickly, but they still insisted on seeing my ID and looking in my bag, and asking some further questions. It seemed that they were expecting a protest demonstration, so they wanted to keep it safe (and they judged me on my hair and my clothes). There were indeed a lot of police men on the streets. After checking me, they apologized to have bothered me. And then a few hundred metres further there were other police men, and they asked me the same..
I couldn’t walk there anymore without being checked, and that did hurt me again. There were so many issues of distrust in a row, that really made me long for going home, where I’m accepted and not constantly subject to distrust and criminalization. I’m a good person, and I want to be understood, and be at ease.
I didn’t enjoy being in Geneva anymore, and the feelings which I had experienced the first day, also came back. I’m not a criminal, and it’s hard when people have prejudices and enter your space. It was hard to walk on the streets in Geneva. I didn’t want to get upset and cry again, so I left the central area and hid myself inside a Starbucks with a cup of coffee to be out of sight. I was really sick of being checked and discriminated because of my coloured punk hair. For me personally it was too much, so I left very early to spend more time at the airport. I didn’t like Geneva, and I really wanted to go home.
Afterwards, I was really happy to be back home in Eindhoven, with my friends. And I’m glad that I finally could sort these 3 intense days out, and make my report, and be at ease.
And altogether, it was still quite nice to be there. It was an adventure, it was both horrible and awesome, and very intense. And I learned a lot. And I can say I shocked the UN :) and they shocked me, but in the end we’re still friends :)
19 december 2011 11:11 | Door: Maribel
It came a bit hard to me too as I was reading your report. Those seemed to have been a few very intense days. I know you have learned a lot these past year and more in these past days. I hope you can keep this well and grow from it into a stronger person. Because you can. No one has the power to make us feel less then a person just because they are a police man. We should have the right to be ourselves without being discriminated by it. And no matter what they tell you, from whom it is coming from... words from others, opinions from others should not be able to effect us. If we are centered in ourselves, when we believe in ourselves. We can encourage others to believe in themselves. Take the time to enjoy a new found energy and really enjoy yourself. Who you are is so beautiful, no has the power to take that away from you. Only you can give them that power.