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SAHRC statement to observe World Mental Health Day

Sunday, 09 October 2011       

It is World Mental Health Day on Monday, 10th October

People with mental disabilities are treated inhumanely, stereotyped, discriminated against, abandoned, ignored and excluded.

The Commission remains concerned about the ongoing acts of discrimination against people with mental disabilities.

People with mental disabilities continue to be at the receiving end of various forms of discrimination, despite South Africa having in place a constitutional and legislative framework that provides for the promotion of their dignity.

The framework seeks to address issues relating to their support, care or treatment and the creation of access to equal opportunities so that they can participate fully in the community.

The Commission has observed that people with disabilities are often subjected to abuse by their families, to forced labour in institutions; subjected to neglect in harsh institutional environments and deprived of basic health care; victimised through physical abuse and sexual exploitation; and exposed to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, denied opportunities to receive an education, to work, or to enjoy the benefits of public services.

It is also important to point out that discrimination may take place against people with no disability at all – if they are improperly viewed as having mental disabilities, or if they experienced a mental disability earlier in life.

 One of the pieces of legislation that was put in place to promote equality and eradicate discrimination against people with mental disabilities is the Equality Act. Section 09 of the Act prohibits unfair discrimination on the ground of disability.

It provides that no person may unfairly discriminate against any person on the ground of disability, including: denying or removing from any person who has disability any supporting or enabling facility necessary for their functioning in society; contravening the codes of practice or regulations of the SA Bureau of Standards that govern accessibility and failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict person with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities or failing to take steps to reasonable accommodate the needs of such persons.

In addition, the Mental Health Act asserts the right to respect, human dignity, privacy consent and equality for persons with mental disabilities.

Governments are also under an obligation, under international human rights law, to ensure that their policies and practices conform to binding international human rights law.

International human rights law creates a number of broad protections that provide important rights to people with mental disabilities. As the Vienna Declaration reaffirms, people with mental disabilities are protected by the same human rights law that protects all other individuals –including the provisions of binding human rights conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This Convention was adopted in 2006 and ratified by South Africa in 2007.  While many of the articles contained in the Convention already appear in the constitution, however there are also other articles that are important because they are disability-specific, such as accessibility, personal mobility and rehabilitation.

As the World observes the 2011 Mental Health Day, the Commission reaffirms its commitment to using its mandate to monitor government with regards to the promotion of the rights of people with mental disabilities and to raise awareness so that attitudes can be changed.


Note to News Editors:

The Commission will host the 8th Biennial Conference of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) from 19 – 21 October at the Cape Sun Hotel, in Cape Town.

African National Human Right Institutions will use the conference to chart a way forward on how to engage with state and non state actors on the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons and persons with disabilities.

Enquiries: Vincent Moaga on 073 562 9866

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08 March – International Women’s Day
21 March - Human Rights Day
27 April – Freedom day
1 May - Workers day
03 May – World Press Freedom Day

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