Understanding the intersection between international human rights and mental disability law

The role of dignity

Authored by: Michael L. Perlin

The Routledge Handbook of International Crime and Justice Studies

Print publication date:  August  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415781787
eBook ISBN: 9780203837146
Adobe ISBN: 9781136868504


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“Traditionally, disability has not been regarded as a human rights issue” (Lawson 2006: 462; see also Lord 2004). As recently as twenty years ago, it was not so broadly acknowledged (Rosenthal and Rubenstein 1993). Although there had been multiple prior cases decided in the United States and in Europe that, retrospectively, had been litigated from a human rights perspective (see Perlin 2011a, discussing, in this context, Wyatt v. Stickney, 1972), the characterization of “disability rights” (especially the rights of persons with mental disabilities) as a social issue was not discussed in a global public, political or legal debate until the early 1990s. Instead, disability was seen only as a medical problem of the individual requiring a treatment or cure in order to make the disabled individual an “equal” in society. By viewing disability as a human rights issue, however, we are required to focus on the inherent equality of all people, regardless of abilities, disabilities, or differences, and this obligates society to remove the attitudinal and physical barriers to equality and inclusion of people with disabilities (see Perlin et al. 2006; see also Hendricks and Degener 1994; Jones and Marks 1999; Lawson 2006). The ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) forces us to restructure our views of the rights of this population, and requires us to come to grips with a history of mistreatment, stigmatization and marginalization.

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