Rights of people with mental illness
The right to health
Everyone has a right to the highest attainable standard of health. This is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (also available in Luganda here).
Later, in 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights expanded the right to health to include mental health (Article 12).
These rights have been substantiated by the Banjul Charter, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights:
Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.
State Parties to the present Charter shall take the necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are sick.
The rights outlined in the international conventions above are holistic, and the state has an eminent duty to realize these rights for its people. Uganda has ratified all of these conventions.
In Uganda, the constitution guarantees the right to life, a clean and healthy environment as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, but not the right to health. This can be seen as avoidance by the government of the obligation to guarantee the minimum core standards of human rights. An analysis of the constitutional provisions for the right to health in Uganda is available here.
The rights of people with disability
Mental health challenges can be viewed as psychosocial disabilities. In 2006, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), which aims to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disability.
The list of articles is available here.
Uganda was one of the first countries to ratify the UN CRPD. Nevertheless, people with mental health challenges in Uganda face discrimination and violations of their rights including (but not limited to) their right to health, their right to liberty, their right to own property, their right to education, work, and family life.
The Mental Health Act in Uganda
The Mental Health Bill was passed by Parliament in 2018, resulting in the new Mental Health Act. This replaced the Mental Treatment Act of 1964 which was outdated and failed to protect the rights of people with mental illness.
The new Mental Health Act can be seen as a step forward for the rights of people with mental health challenges in Uganda. It also emphasizes the importance of care in the community.
The Mental Health Act allows health professionals to admit people with mental health challenges to hospital, against their will, if it is “the only means to by which that person may be provided with care, treatment and rehabilitation that would benefit him or her”.
This is considered by some to be necessary to protect the life and health of people with mental illness, for example, somebody who is suicidal or experiencing a psychotic episode. Sometimes, it may necessary to protect the well-being of others.
However, there are others who believe the involuntary treatment for mental illness is wrong (and contravenes the UN CRPD). It may be difficult to come to an agreement on this issue.
At Twogere, we are interested in the fulfillment of the rights of people with mental illness.
If you want to lend your voice to this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact us.