Disability Rights International continues to pressure Guatemalan government to end human rights abuses at notorious psychiatric facility

March 15, 2013 -Disability Rights International (DRI), partnering with the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City (ODHAG), visited the Federico Mora Hospital this week where we had documented life-threatening abuses against children and adults in the facility, including sexual and physical abuse. The Archbishop of Guatemala City,  Oscar Julio Vian Morales visited Federico Mora at our invitation and spoke to the Guatemalan press, signaling his support for the community integration of people with disabilities (watch video, in Spanish). DRI and ODHAG are working together to bring an end to human rights violations at the institution. In November 2012, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights responded to a petition by DRI and ODHAG by calling on the government to take “immediate preventive measures aimed at protecting all patients, particularly women and children, from physical, psychological and sexual violence by inmates, guards and other staff.”

“We are encouraged by discussions with authorities in Guatemala. The government has exhibited openness to a solution to the human rights violations at the facility,” said Eric Rosenthal, DRI’s Executive Director.  “We have called for the full community integration of all people who are detained because of their disability and have committed no crime.”

women locked in Guatemala psychiatric hospital

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to abuse in the hospital

“Until these abuses are brought to an end, it is our responsibility to inform the public and the Inter-American Commission about the urgent concerns of people still locked up at Federico Mora,” stated Mexican attorney Sofía Galván, the Director of DRI programs in Mexico and Central America.

“Even on the day that the Archbishop visits, the conditions at this facility are atrocious.  I see patients half-naked, covered in their own urine and feces, lying motionless on the concrete floor.  The smell in living areas is overpowering.  One young man told me that the guards regularly have sex with the patients. They are exploiting the very people they are meant to protect,” said Rosenthal.  “Any person admitted to the facility is at risk of being infected by HIV because the institution cannot protect them from sexual abuse.”

The facility houses vulnerable adults and children labeled with psychiatric illnesses or intellectual disabilities.  Armed guards and people who are criminally committed roam freely about the facility, and they are alleged by staff and patients to be the worst perpetrators of abuse and violence.  DRI was in Guatemala City to assist in negotiating a settlement agreement with the government as a result of the Inter-American Commission petition.

“The goal of our work is not to blame the staff or mental health professionals at Federico Mora. They have expressed concerns about the dangers of working at this facility, and they have been extremely helpful during our visit,” said Rosenthal. “We are asking the government to act immediately to change its laws and policies that allow for these dangerous conditions to persist.”Dr. Maurico Gomez, a psychiatrist from Chile, spent three days in the facility working with staff and examining patients.  “Staff at Federico Mora themselves report that 75% of people detained at Federico Mora could easily be integrated into the community if protected homes are created.  I have invited the staff at Federico Mora to come to Chile where they can see models of reform.  We have done it in Chile, and I have every confidence that full community integration is possible in Guatemala.”