European anti-torture committee criticises restraints and cages in Czech psychiatric hospitals

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has published a report on its most recent visit to the Czech Republic. MDAC and Liga share the CPT’s concerns related to the abusive use of chemical and mechanical restraints on persons with psycho-social disabilities, and supports its call for the abolition of cage beds. MDAC is also asking the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to call on the Czech government to end these abusive practices.

Yesterday, 31st of March 2015, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) released its report on its visit to the Czech Republic. During this visit, which was carried out in April 2014, the CPT’s delegation visited Kosmonosy Psychiatric Hospital.

The CPT delegation described a number of practices which violate the rights of people at Kosmonosy, including the use of mechanical restraints applied for up to 82 hours at a time. International law requires such measures to be abolished, and for all services to respect their dignity, autonomy and will.

The CPT reported that, despite international outrage, cage beds continue to be used in Czech psychiatric hospitals, with 30 of them existing in the Kosmonosy Hospital alone. Some patients are placed in cages for extended periods of time, including one person spent 108 out of 180 days in a cage. The Committee also noted that a 51-year old woman reportedly died in a cage-bed after tearing the net and strangling herself in the netting in another psychiatric hospital (para. 170).

These findings are similar to those uncovered by MDAC and the League of Human Rights, and which were documented in a report released last year entitled “Cage beds and coercion in Czech psychiatric institutions”. Through monitoring of eight institutions in the country, monitors found that psychiatric hospitals were frequently large and dilapidated, and staff defended high levels of coercion and abusive practices including strapping, physical and chemical restraints, seclusion, and other degrading practices. Although there have been some changes since 2003 when we first exposed the use of cage beds in residential institutions, the Czech government has still not removed cage beds from psychiatric hospitals (which they call “net beds”), arguing that they are only used as a last resort. Our research showed that this was not the case, that they were often used out of convenience, and that elderly people with Alzheimer’s were disproportionately affected.

The Czech Republic is also being reviewed this week by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee). As the authoritative international body on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Committee has been assessing Czech legislation, policies and practices, and their progress in implementing international human rights law. The Czech government gave its final set of responses to the questions of the Committee today, and it reiterated its commitment to ensuring people with disabilities’ rights are respected. Notably, the delegation did not commit to abolishing practices which amount to torture or ill-treatment in psychiatric hospitals.

We call on the CRPD Committee to unequivocally condemn human rights violations in Czech psychiatry. We also call on the government of the Czech Republic to:

  1. Take immediate action to ensure all cage beds (including those that the Czech government refers to as “net beds”) are immediately dismantled and removed from all psychiatric institutions in the country, in the presence of independent monitors.
  2. Immediately end other forms of torture and ill-treatment including practices such as strapping, mechanical and chemical restraints, and seclusion.
  3. Ensure that all allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in psychiatric facilities are promptly investigated by a team independent from the Ministry of Health and that victims are provided with recognition, rehabilitation and compensation for human rights violations.
  4. Take urgent action to amend national anti-torture legislation to provide protection and redress to victims of torture and ill-treatment in all institutions for people with mental disabilities.
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