Human rights campaigns group Black Mental Health UK (BMHUK) attended 16th session of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD in Geneva last week as the work of implementing the International Decade of People of African Descent gets underway.
This annual week-long session held at the Palais De Nations in Geneva, Switzerland is convened for the Working Group of Experts to agree on the implementation on the Decade of People of African Descent and hear from nation states, invited speakers and civil society organisations that advocate for or serve people of African Descent across the Diaspora.
Now that the UN Decade of People of African Descent has been announced BMH UK’s attendance at this year’s session is part of the campaigns groups work to ensure that this issue as it relates to the Diaspora in the UK is put on the programme of action for this UN Decade so that some of the most disturbing human rights abuses faced by black people in need of mental health care living in the UK are addressed.
BMH UK presented a 10 page briefing to this working group on the human rights concerns that they have over the way black people living in the UK are treated by mental health services and the police when they are in need of mental health care.
During the week long session BMH UK’s director Matilda MacAttram raised the issue of the mass incarceration of people in the Diaspora in the criminal justice system, and also the issue of policing and it relates to black Britons from the floor of this form.
Connections were also made with many other civil society leaders and agengies around the world also fighting for justice for people of African Descent around the world.
Matilda MacAttram, director of BMH UK and Fellow of the UNWGPAD said: ‘There are very few arenas whether domestically or internationally where the issues that BMH UK have been campaigning on for a number of years now are prioritised. We have found the international human rights community at the United Nations here in Geneva very supportive of our work and now we want to turn this into more tangible action that will make a real difference for the people that BMH UK have been set up to serve back home in the UK.
One of the reasons for attending this year’s session is that BMH UK are of the view that we cannot continue to see people from this community treated so badly by services that are supposed to help them just because of the colour of their skin. It is not right that people from our community on psychiatric wards fear being restrained just because they are in distressed or over- medicated rather than offered talking therapies or counselling services that they need.
It is shocking to know that black people are locked up on overcrowded dirty wards fearful that staff will call the police in riot gear in a hospital with taser, batons and CS spray if they decide a patient in distress is proving to be too much of a handful.
People are truly fearful of what might happen to them and this should not be so. BMH UK are here in at the United Nations so that the protections afforded to this group only on paper right now becomes a reality as is their human right.’
Delegates at this year’s session included Malaak Shabazz, daughter of civil rights leader Malcom X, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Pastor Elias Murillo Marinez, member of the UN committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), UN working group expert Professor Verene Shepherd and current chair of the working group, Mirelle Fanon Mendes France.
Recommendations from this 16th session included establishing a Forum for people of African descent as a platform where individual nation states, civil society and the UN will strategise and plan concrete actions for the Decade.