UN torture watchdog tells Czech government: stop caging people

7 June 2012, Prague and Budapest. The UN Committee against Torture has told the Czech Republic to stop caging people in psychiatry and social care. It condemned the use of institutionalisation, and criticised the use of physical restraints and solitary confinement in psychiatric facilities.

MDAC advocated before the Committee against Torture in collaboration with other NGOs including the European Network of (Ex-)Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, the International Disability Alliance, and the Czech League of Human Rights. The NGOs participated in a briefing for Committee members prior to the review, and on the basis of this information received, the Committee against Torture was able to make strong recommendations.  


“We urge the Czech government to heed the most important piece of advice of the UN anti-torture body: close mental health and social care institutions, transfer people to regular community-based housing, and provide appropriate services,” commented Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director: “We look to the government to take political leadership and put words into action.”


The right to live in the community is guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Czech Republic has ratified. In implementing this right, the Czech government can use the issue paper produced in March 2012 by Thomas Hammarberg, the then Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. Many other resources are available.


No more cages

“Cage beds” are hospital beds with netting or metal bars around the sides and on the top, with the purpose of enclosing the person inside. Cage beds with metal bars have been banned but cage beds made from netting are still widespread in Czech psychiatric hospitals. MDAC brought cage beds to the public’s attention in a 2003 report, which led to their condemnation by the international community. The Czech government has consistently ignored this criticism and in doing so it has failed to implement its human rights commitments. For example, in 2003, senior members of the Czech psychiatric establishment responded to MDAC’s report by suggesting cage beds should remain in place, but be painted in different colours to make the caged person feel better.

There has never been any ‘need’ to put human beings in cages, whether these humans are labelled ‘mad’, ‘delirious’ or ‘psychotic’. There are more humane approaches, which should and can be used. The Committee against Torture offers the Czech government a perfect opportunity to take a human rights-based approach by legally prohibiting cage beds and re-training staff. Such a ban is entirely possible: following MDAC’s 2003 report the Hungarian government prohibited cage beds in Hungary. MDAC will liaise with the Czech government, monitor its actions, and inform the Committee against Torture on any progress made.


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