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WNUSP International Representative Speaks

April 24, 2013

tminkowitzI am Tina Minkowitz, a human rights lawyer and a survivor of psychiatric incarceration and torture.  My experience in psychiatry at the age of 18 was life-changing in both inner and outer ways, and in many ways I would not change my life.  It was a clarifying trauma that lit up all the other ways in which I had been traumatized and all the ways that people can harm one another.

I had a dream a month after being released from psychiatry. In the dream I saw myself as a lawyer, even though I had never considered it before. Through twists and turns I ultimately followed that dream and finally graduated law school in 2001.  I had also become involved with the movement of “ex-psychiatric inmates” and the organization Project Release in New York City, since 1978.  In 1997, I conducted a court-monitoring project and concluded that the capacity standard failed to protect the right to refuse treatment and that an absolute ban was needed.  During my years in law school I encountered disability rights law and human rights law and began putting them together to theorize human rights against psychiatric oppression.

IMG_0466A year after my graduation from law school, I became involved in the work on the Disability Convention.  WNUSP asked me to draft a position paper to be taken to a civil society experts meeting hosted by the Mexican government, and when the other experts reacted positively to our contribution, asked me to represent the organization at the meetings of the UN Ad Hoc Committee responsible for drafting and negotiating the CRPD.  I served on the steering committee of the International Disability Caucus which brought together all organizations of people with disabilities (DPOs) and allies, and was one of 12 NGO representatives in the Working Group that met in January 2004 to produce the first draft text.

The Working Group was an amazing time of collaboration and cooperation among government and NGO representatives, and several of us remember it as a peak life experience.  It was a success from the point of view of advocacy, since WNUSP’s positions were incorporated fully into the text, albeit with some footnotes indicating disagreement from some quarters.  When the text came back to the Ad Hoc Committee, it was further refined and some compromises were made in language but we retained the substantive victories of the Working Group text, in the areas of legal capacity, prohibition of disability-based detention, and prohibition of forced treatment.

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The text on legal capacity in particular was strengthened and collectively “owned” in a deeper way through the negotiation process.  Legal capacity became the focus of the paradigm shift that recognized a human right to autonomy as well as a complementary right to support that respects individual autonomy._UN62399_-1

WNUSP built a team of international advocates in and through the drafting and negotiation of the CRPD, and became highly visible and respected at the United Nations and among human rights experts and the international disability community.  Every individual who participated in the work at the UN, and those who contributed through email consultations, played a role in contributing to our successful outcome.

In December 2006, when the Convention was adopted by the General Assembly, I was honored to represent civil society in welcoming the adoption, together with Maria Veronica Reina.

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Since the adoption of the CRPD, in addition to continuing to represent WNUSP (which I also served as co-chair from 2004-2010), I became founder and President of the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP), which aims to provide strategic leadership in the user/survivor movement within the United States, through global advocacy, and by providing technical advice and support to the user/survivor movement and allies in other countries.  CHRUSP works for full legal capacity for all, an end to forced drugging, forced electroshock and psychiatric incarceration, and for support that respects individual integrity and free will.  In the United States, CHRUSP supported the creation of a Campaign to Repeal Mental Health Laws and advocacy to Stop Psychiatric Profiling, and works on shadow reporting and promotion of CRPD ratification and full implementation without reservations, understandings or declarations.

Please see Full Report for information on recent work as International Representative of WNUSP.

The Report of International Representative Tina Minkowitz

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