English: Eric Rosenthal, erosenthal@DRIadvocacy.org, 202-296-0800 ext. 650
Spanish: Humberto Guerrero, hguerrero@DRIadvocacy.org, +52 1 55 20942501
Washington, DC – October 29, 2014 – Disability Rights International (DRI) filed a case today in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) on behalf of people with disabilities detained in Guatemala’s Federico Mora psychiatric institution. “Federico Mora is the most violent and dangerous facility we’ve discovered anywhere in the Americas,” said DRI Executive Director Eric Rosenthal. “We are fighting to protect the 340 children and adults detained at Federico Mora – and institutions like this throughout the Americas.”
The Federico Mora psychiatric institution is located next to a prison in one of the most crime-ridden parts of Guatemala City where gangs are powerful. Armed police and soldiers with machine guns assigned to guard detainees also prey on children and adults with disabilities. Staff and patients have reported that rape, violence, and other forms of abuse are routine. DRI has received reports that patients are trafficked into the prison and outsiders are brought into the facility to exploit detainees for sex. People subjected to sexual abuse are exposed to HIV/AIDS, which is widespread at the facility, and almost no medical care is available. Staff report that there have been three recent deaths.
“There is a palpable climate of fear among detainees and staff. Witnesses tell us they will be killed if they are identified by the perpetrators,” said DRI attorney Humberto Guerrero. “We are meeting today with the Inter-American Commission to ask for urgent ‘precautionary measures’ to protect these witnesses. We are also seeking protections for DRI investigators who have been threatened with violence for monitoring conditions at Federico Mora.”
“Detaining people with disabilities in snake pits like this violates international law. Federico Mora can’t be fixed up – it must be closed down,” says Rosenthal. “This case will set a powerful new precedent in challenging the segregation of people with disabilities,” says DRI legal advisor Tara Melish, a professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School, one of the authors of the brief. “We are asking the Human Rights Commission to protect the right of people with disabilities to live and receive treatment in the community. Our case argues that Guatemala’s law on guardianship improperly strips people of their legal identity and denies their right to decide where they will live or what treatment they receive. People under guardianship lose any right to file a complaint about abuse.”
“When our team first visited the facility, we found a boy held in a barren isolation cell. We were told by staff he was there for his own safety – as he would be raped as soon as he was released among the other patients,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, Director of DRI’s Women’s Rights Initiative. “The rampant sexual abuse is dangerous for all the patients, but women and girls are especially vulnerable. All women in the facility are given birth control without their knowledge.”
DRI is bringing the case in collaboration with the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City (ODHAG).