Inter- American Commission on Human Rights hears testimony on abuse and torture case filed by DRI and Georgetown Law School’s O’Neil Institute

Washington, DC, July 2023 – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), recently held a public hearing on a case filed against the Mexican government by Disability Rights International (DRI) and Georgetown University Law School’s O'Neill Institute, regarding the abuses and torture perpetrated against children and adults – most with developmental disabilities - who are confined indefinitely to the Casa Esperanza Institution in Mexico.  

Violations and abuses documented included indefinite institutionalization and segregation from society, sexual slavery and trafficking, forced sterilization to cover up sexual abuse, use of prolonged restraints, physical violence and child abuse, as well as labor exploitation of detainees. Also documented was a complete absence of the social assistance services for which the institution received public funding, including adequate food, quality medical and psychological care, and education.

Casa Esperanza, a private facility was a known violator of basic human rights against its residents and was placed on an official “blacklist.” Government authorities paid to send people with disabilities despite these abuses. 

Following DRI’s complaint, the Casa Esperanza facility was closed.  But due to the lack of humane, community-based alternatives in Mexico City, former residents of Casa Esperanza were merely placed in other abusive institutions.  Some of the survivors have died since their transfer and at least one woman was sexually abused. DRI filed the case to bring protection and redress to the survivors – and to obtain community-based support to restore their independence and freedom.

This case will establish that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community.  This case will have implications for people with disabilities throughout the Americas.  Community integration is not just good social policy – it’s an enforceable human right.   – Eric Rosenthal, DRI Executive Director.

During the hearing, DRI and the O’Neil Institute presented the testimony of one of the victims in the case, who entered Casa Esperanza at the age of ten and remained there for more than a decade. Her statement provided a detailed description of the abuses at the institution, including the sexual violence and non-consensual contraception to which she was subjected.

O’Neil Institute’s Silvia Serrano Guzmán, argued that Mexico is internationally responsible for the torture, sexual slavery, human trafficking, servitude, forced labor, non-consensual sterilization, child exploitation, and right-to-health violations of the victims at Casa Esperanza. She highlighted that these violations occurred with the country’s acquiescence and as a result of a complete lack of oversight of the public services that the institution was supposed to provide.

Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of DRI, told the IACHR about the abuses that DRI personally witnessed during its visit to the institution. He also stressed that what happened at Casa Esperanza is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern of systematic abuse, neglect and discrimination of persons with disabilities in other institutions across the country.

Priscila Rodríguez, DRI’s Associate Director, emphasized that the institutionalization of the victims constituted discriminatory treatment and a denial of their rights to live independently and to receive health and care services in the community.

The "Casa Esperanza" case is framed within the broader context of human rights violations in institutional settings across the Americas and highlights the urgency of deinstitutionalizing of children and adults with disabilities in order to guarantee their rights.

The full hearing can be watched here.