The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calls on Obama Administration to take action to end torture at Massachusetts school for children with disabilities

Press Release
For Immediate ReleaseContact:
Laurie Ahern

Eric Rosenthal
Executive Director

Washington, DC – March 5, 2013 – Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday in Geneva holding governments around the world accountable for violations of the UN Convention Against Torture. The report cited the United States, calling on the federal government to bring an end to the use of electric skin shocks and restraint at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. The case against the United States is the result of an urgent appeal filed by Disability Rights International (DRI) with the UN.

“….the Special Rapporteur determines that the rights of the students of the JRC subjected to Level III Aversive Interventions by means of electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the UN Convention Against Torture and other international standards,” said Méndez.

Since the release of DRI’s report and urgent appeal, Torture not Treatment in April 2010, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – then Manfred Nowak – agreed publically that it was torture and sent his own urgent appeal to the government asking them to investigate allegations of torture at JRC. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has had an open investigation into JRC since that time and reported to Méndez in January 2013 that it is still ongoing.

“Although the Special Rapporteur appreciates the Government’s response, he expresses serious concern about the physical and mental integrity of the students residing at JRC, in view of the continued use of electric shock therapy and physical means of restraint as part of the JRC educational programme,” said Méndez.

In his letter to the government, Méndez stressed the need for a federal ban on the practices, noting that “there is nothing to stop JRC from simply relocating again to another state. Protections are needed at the federal level to ensure that Level III aversives are brought to an end in the United States of America.”

Méndez called on the government to ” ensure a prompt and impartial investigation” and to provide “information on the Department of Justice’s investigation into possible violations of civil rights laws and to take measures to prohibit the use of Level III Aversive Interventions for all students on a national level.”

“The United States has signed and ratified the Torture Convention,” stated author of the urgent appeal,Torture not Treatment, and President of DRI Laurie Ahern. We urge the State Department and Department of Justice to take action now. The continued torture of our own children in our own country is reprehensible.”

“This is an inhumane form of discipline,” said former Massachusetts U.S. Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry in a 2011 Boston Globe interview regarding JRC, “and I’m particularly troubled by it when positive behavioral supports have been so successful. I understand that there are ongoing state and federal investigations, and I hope they result in an end to this archaic practice.”

Click to read the entire letter from Méndez to the US government (see page 83/84)