Updates from June, 2011 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 5:31 pm on June 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bulgaria, , , , , , , , , , , , , , UK   

    Institutions cannot improve 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A piece of news caught my attention recently: conditions in Bulgarian institutions for children with disabilities have improved following a damning report on human rights abuses there. Well, it´s good to know. But I cannot shake off a nagging feeling: is it good news or bad news that the institutions have “improved”, if they still exist?

    The institution, by its nature, creates two classes of beings: one in the position of power, and the other powerless. And we all know that power corrupts, especially such absolute and unchecked power that the staff of the residential institution usually have over vulnerable people in their “care.”

    Last year, the report by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee revealed that hundreds of deaths of children with mental and physical disabilities took place due to appalling lack of care, staff negligence and even physical abuse in the state-run “care homes”. Now, we are told, somebody is actually giving these children food and checks their medications. Deaths in the care homes will now be more thoroughly investigated and surprise official inspections are supposed to prevent abusive practices. So we are told.

    But we have also been told by the Bulgarian government that all residential institutions for people with mental and other disabilities would be closed down by 2014 and replaced by community-based supports. So, why hasn´t the government closed the “care homes” as soon as their horrendous practices came to light? Why (and how) exactly have their conditions improved? Have the authorities put material resources – surely not unlimited – into the institutions to “improve” them? If so, what of the pledge to close down the institutions?

    And just before someone brings up the “our country is poor” argument for not switching to community-based services, it is utterly disingenuous to claim that the level of economic development of a country has anything to do with the treatment in the institution. (Not to mention that community-based services may actually be less costly than institutions.) The most recent undercover media investigation in a UK care home has convincingly demonstrated that even in that prosperous country, with centuries of humanist values, the situation of institutionalized people is not that different from a situation in an impoverished or “transition” country. It is the very nature of the institution that makes abuse not only possible but almost inevitable.

    So, rejoice not that the conditions in the Bulgarian institutions have “improved”, because just about anything would qualify as an “improvement” in a place where children were starved, abused and neglected to death. Rather, keep asking — when will the last institution be closed down, in Bulgaria and elsewhere? Institutions simply cannot “improve”!

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:58 pm on December 31, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Biggest assaults on fundamental rights in Europe in 2010 

    It seems like a tradition in the end of each year to have countdowns of the top/most memorable events or objects of the finishing year. Here is our Top 5: the list of most memorable breaches of fundamental rights that occurred in 2010 in Europe. The selection is based mostly on the media coverage and social reactions, and is open to discussion.

    5. Ban on burqas in France.

    Even though invisible rights violations, such as discrimination in various areas of life, may be a much greater problem, media provided rather extensive coverage of the legislative ban on full veil (burqa) in France.

    4. Ban on burqas in Belgium.

    They are higher on the list simply because they were a few days ahead of France and the media coverage was more or less equivalent with that of the French ban.

    3. Spanish secret police circular on roundup and detention of undocumented migrants.

    The event got a considerable resonance in Spain although was hardly mentioned in the non-Spanish media.

    2. Swiss referendum on expulsions of foreigners committing a crime.

    Again, this received major media resonance and is likely to face legal challenges before international human rights tribunals.

    1. Roma expulsions from France.

    This was definitely the biggest — in our view — affront to human rights in Western Europe happening in 2010. It was also a historic chance for European institutions (particularly the Commission) to take a decisive stand for human rights. An opportunity, unfortunately, waisted.

    What will 2011 bring for human rights in Europe? Let´s hope more freedom and fewer human rights violations. Happy New Year!

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:04 am on October 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    And some more horror stories 

    By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    Upon recently reading the piece How Many More Horror Stories Do We Need to Hear and watching the clip that accompanies it, I felt big, walnut-sized goosebumps on the skin. A good Spanish word “escalofriante” describes well the emotion.

    The article was written by Judith Klein, a long-time colleague and friend of mine. She directs the Mental Health Initiative (MHI) program at Open Society Institute, the program that for years has been advocating for deinstitutionalization of people with mental disabilities and providing community-based services that allow their integration in society.

    I personally learned about the issue of rampant institutionalization and abuse of human rights of people with mental disabilities just a few years ago, when the report on cagebeds by Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) came out.

    At that time I honestly thought that following the damning MDAC publication things would change immediately, because it was a national embarrassment for each and every country involved. Since it was news to me and that was my human reaction, I really believed that everyone who just learned about the cagebeds for the first time would also react this way. Especially people in power — they tend to be cockiest about their country´s reputation.

    Apparently not. Apparently bureaucrats already know all about it, but continue maintaining and financing establishments where atrocities like cagebeds are possible. And so we continue hearing horror stories of institutional abuse of people with mental disabilities.

    There are many vulnerable groups out there: women; refugees; elderly; prison inmates; marginalized ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. Sometimes, when the proverbial  last straw breaks their back, so-to-say, they at least can collectively protest or riot to get attention to their plight and to negotiate improvements in their condition. But institutional inmates with mental disabilities do not even have this last resort.

    Unfortunately, my guess is there will be many, many more horror stories to come. But I think, no matter how disturbing, they should keep coming to light. Somebody has got to stir up public and bureaucratic feelings. So that if not out of elementary human compassion, then at least out of professional embarrassment — and possible sanctions — people in a position to do something about deinstitutionalization would act.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:48 am on June 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Cutting some budgets may be a good thing 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Budget deficit and impending cuts, most commonly in public sector, are on the news every day. There is a lot of uncertainty about who will be affected and to what extent. But usually there is understanding that budget cuts are a bad thing. But I keep thinking about one human rights report I had a chance to edit last year, about the mental health care budget in Romania. That report made me think differently about certain budget cuts.

    The report was written by the Institute for Public Policy (IPP) and among other things it presented some figures about the costs of running institutions versus community-based services for people with disabilities. Contrary to popular beliefs, community-based services are not more expensive than institutions-based services. Actually, community-based services are sometimes several times cheaper (sic!) than institutional ones. And as to the outcomes, one need not be an expert to figure out that life in closed, remote institutions can turn even a healthy person into a wreck.

    Many people in Eastern Europe dread of a possibility to end up in some nursing home when they are old, and certainly would not choose to live there. People in Eastern Europe also often take pity on orphans or abandoned children who end up in institutions, again because people have a pretty good idea of what is happening inside. Life in institutions can be especially devastating for people with disabilities, especially mental or developmental, who do not even have that choice of where to be. The IPP report referred to dozens of unexplained deaths of patients in Romanian institutions.

    But what did strike me most was that  if the data on comparative costs were available to the government (and they surely were in case of Romania), how come the government did not immediately jump at an opportunity to save money by starting to switch to community-based services? Wouldn´t it be a rational thing to do? Even in a healthy economy, there are always areas that badly lack funding. Ways to redistribute funding from wasteful and inefficient projects to cost-efficient and necessary ones, seems to me, should always be on the government radar. Perhaps, there are some other concerns that I do not understand, like public dislike of the idea. But that surely cannot and should not trump rational cost-efficiency (not even mentioning humane) considerations. Or am I still missing something?

    In any event, there are now budget cuts on the agenda in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other countries badly affected by the current economic crisis. Perhaps, the governments — with a bit of help from NGOs — should seize on it as an opportunity in disguise for deinstitutionalization. Then, if done wisely, the budget cuts can actually turn out to be a good thing leading to the closure of expensive and ineffective institutions for people with disabilities and/or mental health problems and the shift towards community-based services and care.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 3:43 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , conflict-of-interest, corruption, , ,   

    The World Health Organization that cried “flu pandemic” 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A recent article in British Medical Journal (BMJ), WHO and the pandemic flu ´conspiracies´, by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter, reveals that scientists advising the WHO on planning for the flu epidemics were also on payrolls of leading pharmaceutical companies. These companies would benefit, but the WHO never disclosed conflicts of interests. What is more, the WHO vehemently denied and discredited as “conspiracy theories” any attempts at inquiry.

    There are (at least) three issues of concern here. The first is a conflict of interest, which per se is very troubling. It is not pretty to see in a village veterinarian´s clinic, and it gets only uglier when it affects a major international organization funded, ultimately, from our pockets, through the member states´ contributions. Any country where such practices are uncovered would normally be chided by the Transparency International or the like. Yet here we observe a global Banana Republic in action, and no remedies in sight: apparently, despite those revelations, the WHO still has not changed its disclosure rules as of this date.

    The second issue is a potential health hazard for those who were influenced by the WHO into taking shots. The WHO urged vaccination, even though no adequate clinical trials were conducted prior to vaccination, and thus no evidence was available for making an informed choice whether risks posed by the flu outweighed risks posed by the vaccine. This incident brings memories of several major health problems ultimately caused by the greed of pharmaceuticals that in their urge to shovel money skipped an essential trial stage, or were rather creative with the patients´ informed consent. Thalidomide babies can attest to that. And that fuels the feeling of frustration, mixed with fury, because again the most vulnerable groups of population: pregnant women, young children and elderly, were exploited and put at risk. These groups in various countries were practically forced, or threatened into taking flu shots last season.  We can only hope that those flu shots would not scar the lives of “Tamiflu babies” whose moms got vaccinated at own risk, with the WHO blessing.

    Last but not least, there is a shadow of the future. What if tomorrow a real, deadly pandemic occurs? Will people still trust the claims of an organization that had been scattering its prestige on questionable steps before? Or will the WHO advice be ignored as the claims of a proverbial boy who cried wolf one time too many?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 6:29 am on May 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , data, , , , , , , , , , privacy, , racial profiling, , ,   

    Eternal dilemmas of data collection 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    That the ethnic data is important has been said and written a lot. But in the end of the day, after another conference is finished, another publication´s ink dried off, and another set of recommendations is passed onto another set of key people, we all go home, and nothing changes. Privacy rights activists continue to call on states not to store our personal information. (Some) minority rights activists continue to appeal to disaggregate the official statistics so vulnerable groups become visible. And states continue to ignore either, still getting our emails, sms, and bank information, blatantly profiling undesirable, and still saying no ethnic data exist. Is there a solution?

    We, the people, we, the society, send conflicting messages to our states. We want this information, but we don´t want it collected. The states, on the other hand, behave very consistently. They collect the data they need, whether or not we like it, and they will always find a legal caveat to do it.

    Let´s face it: the states will never stop collecting our personal information. They need the data to protect us, to fight crime, and what not. But it may be very expensive to ask everyone´s permission. So, they don´t. And since formally the states don´t collect ethnic information, they don´t use it for things that might benefit us, the people, us, the society.

    The states do not use ethnic data to assess the true extent of social exclusion faced by most vulnerable groups of population (and let´s be clear — anyone of us can find oneself vulnerable at some point of life: falling ill, losing a job, or turning old).  And since the states do not base social policies on disaggregated data, even the most advanced policies usually keep the most vulnerable invisible. Logically, the success and impact of social programmes on the most vulnerable cannot be measured, either. Roma policies across Europe present a glaring example of how state policies can fail if they are not based on solid ethnic data.

    But there is another side to this. Information, including ethnic data, is power. As any power, when unchecked, it corrupts. The states´ ability to gather and use unfathomable amounts of personal information, without us even knowing it, can and does lead to excesses. Who at some point has not received communications from businesses offering personalised deals (unsolicited yet rather tailored)? Ever wondered how come they knew so much about you? It is open to speculation whether the states — or companies that help states acquire private data — sell or share our information, or whether they do not keep it secure enough and allow privacy breaches. But it is disconcerting in any scenario.

    Racial profiling is another example. Racial or ethnic profiling is categorising persons according to their perceived ability to commit specific crimes or behave in a particular way. And we are wrong if we believe it will always affect only others. Yesterday it affected Jews, Roma, disabled. Today it affects Muslims, Blacks, migrants. Tomorrow… who knows?

    If the states collect our personal information, no matter what, we might as well try to make them play by the rules, rather than passively waiving our rights. We can insist to access our private data (after all, it is not a state secret we are after). And we can insist that irrelevant data — most of it, for sure — be purged, and we should go to courts with this if necessary. And if enough people do it, it may finally become cheaper for the states to ask everyone´s permission in advance, than pay out afterwards.

    Now, can we do this bit?

    P

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 4:35 pm on April 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Priests child abuse scandals: any justice in sight? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    That was some Easter. Plagued by pedophilia  scandals all across the globe, Vatican had to provide some sort of explanation for — by far not an isolated incident of — child abuse by Catholic priests. The Pope´s verdict: society is corrupt, its corruption penetrates even the churches, and in accordance with this logic clergymen must remove themselves even further from society (and its laws?).

    But this reasoning is problematic for at least two reasons. First, there is law, it is (ideally) the same for everyone, and those who break the law should not be permitted to hide behind the Church walls from the responsibility. Second, if the  spiritual leaders are so easily corrupted by society, which they aspire to lead to salvation, then perhaps their leadership role is too big a job for them.

    When an ordinary John Loe or Jane Moe abuses a child, the overwhelming majority of us are indignant and expect that person to get punishment, and with steps to prevent something like this from happening again. How come then, that up to now, couple decades after church child abuse cases started to come up to the surface after being hushed up, still hardly any abusers are behind the bars? Not just bribed their way out of justice through offering monetary settlement to the victims, but truly were tried and sentenced? Or, for starters, stripped of their  church rank, rather than allowed to resign quietly or moved to another location where they continued to abuse other children?

    How come the authorities and the police in places where such abuses occurred hadn´t condemned these acts, and hadn´t pursued the perpetrators with all severity of the law during all this time? Or is the Church above the law? Is it also above the elementary decency and morality, upon which modern laws are ultimately based?

    Some analysts were quick to suggest that celibacy may be responsible for priests´ child abuse. But arguing whether celibacy is good or bad is beside the point. After all — at least based on evidence presently available — only some priests committed abuses. A much bigger issue is at stake: how Vatican deals with those who do commit abuses.

    The Church´s official position is clear: child abuse is wrong (we would not expect them to say otherwise). But why then have the Church authorities (including the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict) been for years so vehement to silence victims, shield the perpetrators, and cover up the story? It seems that if they fought child abuse with equal zeal, perhaps the current problem hadn´t snowballed to the same extent. Why didn´t they deal with the abusers?

    Is the Church´s reputation more precious than the wrecked lives and souls of thousands of children, some already with disabilities, who suffered sexual abuse by priests? What happened to the moral values and decency that the Church is supposed to be the guardian of? Have they all been “corrupted” by society? Isn´t Church supposed to be able to withstand “temptation” and “corruption,” by virtue of its self-acclaimed mission on Earth?

    P

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:25 am on March 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , class, , , , , , , , , , race, ,   

    It is the race, stupid! 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CiDH ProIgual

    Academics, policy-makers and rights advocates often ponder which of the identity markers is decisive for measuring social disadvantage of minority groups: class, faith, sex, citizenship/nationality, disability, or race? The simplest thing to do to in order to find out, it appears, is to cross-compare each factor.

    Let´s start with disability and class. Who is more disadvantaged: a poor person with a disability or a rich person with disability? Clearly, money can buy many things. Although it may not be able to buy health, it can certainly buy healthcare. So, class would appear to easily trump disability.

    Now let´s compare religion with a few factors. Who is more disadvantaged: Christians or Muslims in Europe? Many may immediately answer — and there is sufficient research to support it — that Muslims are more disadvantaged. But then who is disadvantaged more: citizen (usually convert) Muslims, let´s say, in France, or immigrant Muslims in the same country? Or, to twist it a bit, who is more disadvantaged, a Muslim woman who is a citizen, or a Muslim woman who is an immigrant? The answer still seems rather obvious: immigrants are more disadvantaged.

    But are all immigrants disadvantaged in the same way? Do immigrants from, let´s say, Eastern Europe, which would be undoubtedly poorer in their majority than West Europeans, find themselves in the same disadvantage as migrants from Africa or Asia? Are immigrants from South America, let´s say in Spain, in the same place as Africans or Asians? For some reason, it seems like a resounding no.

    Now let´s pay a virtual visit to a country of immigrants, the USA. It is a widely held belief that immigrants can make it in America if they work hard. And perhaps more than any other place the USA boasts a number of prominent personalities who were born elsewhere but did very well for themselves in the new home country. So, let´s compare immigrants from Asia or Eastern Europe with citizens … of African-American descent. Who is more disadvantaged in the USA? For some reason, it feels that nationality does not play as decisive a role anymore.

    Now let´s go down the map, to South America. Technically, most countries there are poorer than countries in Europe or North America. They also have their own inequalities, quite possibly class-based. But which groups are still more disadvantaged, let´s say in Brazil: white (Hispanic) or black/mixed? The answer comes out almost automatically: black people. Some Brazilians even comment, informally, that everybody has a place in society strictly in accordance with his or her race. There are exceptions, obviously, like rich football players or movie stars, but they are what they are: exceptions.

    So, it seems rather obvious even to an unarmed (by scientific methodology) eye that race consistently comes first as a decisive factor of social disadvantage in society.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:43 am on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Intelligence is a subjective matter 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    It is interesting to read definitions of intellectual disability. They are vague and conditional.Perhaps, rightly so. Deciding who is intelligent and who is not, who is capable and who is not, is after all a very subjective matter.

    I have met some minority children with Down´s syndrome and other specificities that professionals would define as intellectual disabilities. Being from families where two (or more) languages were routinely spoken at home, these children grew up bilingual. A bilingual person with an intellectual disability defies any definition. How many so-called “normal” people in the US, UK, Spain, or other country with a widely spoken language ever master a second language? So, who is disabled then?

    The other day I had an urgent post delivery. It was brought by a man whom professionals would also define as having an intellectual disability. However, he has a paid job (a postal carrier), he drove a vehicle (which means he had passed a test to get a driving licence, which is more than I managed, with my academic degrees). In short, he is a full member of society, which chose to include him, support him, and which benefits from his social inclusion (in the form of taxes, work product, and non-expenditure on institutional and other costs), as much as he does.

    What a contrast to countries in Eastern Europe where abandoned children are institutionalised and often are neglected to the point that they do not master elementary skills, which puts their development on the level with those who were born with inherent developmental disabilities. Then the states pay for this neglect with life-long disability pensions. And it hurts to think that just a portion of the money some states spend on keeping people with disabilities locked up, where they are invisible, unwanted and abused, could be enough to support them to become rightful, contributing members of society.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 4:17 pm on March 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , national bodies, ,   

    Anti-discrimination bodies in Spain: myth or reality? 

    For months now the team of CIDH Pro Igual has been trying to find out who to turn to in Spain in case of ethnic/racial discrimination. (Stress on discrimination – not hate crimes, or gender violence, or illegal immigration). The mission appears impossible.

    According to the EU equality provisions (inter alia, the Race Directive), the EU states must establish independent equality bodies in charge of providing assistance to victims of discrimination. Spain was quite late to establish such a body, the European Commission even started proceedings against it. But finally such body or rather bodies were established. The EU website provides links to the Institute of the Woman, the Spanish Ombudsman and the Disability Council, while the Equinet points to OBERAXE (see below). With the Disability Council things are clear — it deals with discrimination on the ground of disability.

    The Spanish Ombudsman, on the other hand, can address discrimination on any grounds, including racial or ethnic origin. A slight problem: it only deals with acts of discrimination or injustice allegedly committed by public bodies. It specifically states that it is not competent to deal with conflicts between private parties, which incidentally present a very large portion of discrimination cases. This is true of the National Ombudsman as well as the Ombudsmen and Ombudswomen of autonomous communities.

    Spain also has Ministry of Equality. Under Ministry´s auspices, besides the Disability Council, there is also the Non-Discrimination Council/Racial and Ethnic Origin. But it is proving quite elusive: there is no contact for this Council. Contact information provided on the website of the Ministry of Equality leads to the Institute of the Woman, that is, issues of gender discrimination/violence, and to the Observatory of Racism and Xenophobia (OBERAXE).

    On the website of OBERAXE, the email address provided for contact is incorrect or outdated: oberaxe@mtas.es (letters that the CIDH Pro Igual tried to send to that address bounced, on file). Then there is also contact information for other competent authorities in charge of dealing with discrimination cases, by province: http://www.oberaxe.es/creadi/. It leads to: local governments (ayuntamientos), Ombudsman of a respective autonomous community, and … NGOs. (Interestingly enough, NGOs are apparently regarded as state agents in this case.)

    But then things get even more interesting. Some provinces are better endowed with civil society organisations than others. Somebody lucky enough to live in Madrid or Barcelona has at his or her disposal an impressive list of anti-racism NGOs that can assist with filing claims, offer psychological and other help. Somebody living in a smaller and more remote/less cosmopolitan area has the local government, and maybe a church to turn to. Still many other of the so-called contacts provided on the Observatory´s website are outdated and lead nowhere.

    But even when the organisations are valid, the question arises: are NGOs really equipped to take on the role of the national equality body? There is not a single nongovernmental organisation in Spain that is big enough to reach to all corners of the country or cover all grounds of discrimination. Nor do they get sufficient resources for this task. Has the Spanish state simply created a ghost body without real tasks and pushed its own responsibility for anti-discrimination work onto NGOs?

    Last but no least, a special mention should be made of the police. In communications between CIDH Pro Igual and the Ministry of Equality (on file), a representative of the Ministry of Equality suggested that in case of ethnic/racial discrimination an alleged victim should go to the police, furnishing as much proof of discrimination as possible. It seems rather strange that the police would deal with non-violent cases, such as a polite refusal to let minority persons to a private disco or a shop, especially if some sort of an excuse is offered. Some NGOs (SOS-Racismo Madrid) have claimed that, on the contrary, if persons complaining of discrimination did not have valid residence papers, the police would open deportation proceedings against them. Well, in that case the police may be effective in reducing the number of potential victims of discrimination by removing them from the country, rather than having a real impact or deterrence on the actual phenomenon of discrimination.

    The question, however, remains — where CAN a victim of alleged racial (nonviolent) discrimination committed by private parties turn to in Spain?

    P

     
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