International court orders Guatemala to improve conditions at institution

A Guatemalan psychiatric hospital where security guards reportedly abused patients, denied basic medical care and engaged in sex trafficking has been formally ordered to overhaul its operations.

Guatemalan boy with its flag on his face
Court rules!

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to intervene at the hospital and separate children from adults, provide appropriate medical care and protect against abuse.

“This is an inherently dangerous facility, and no new admissions should be allowed,” said Eric Rosenthal, executive director of Disability Rights International, in a news release. “It is not a safe place for people with mental disabilities – or anyone. Everyone in this facility could be immediately moved to safe places in the community – starting with the children and women, who are most at-risk.

“We found a climate of terror. Even authorities at the hospital are afraid of their own staff. Authorities told us they cannot remove known abusers because they fear they will be killed or threatened by gang members due to the links between staff and the Mara Salvatrucha,” observed DRI attorney and investigator Sofía Galván.

DRI and the Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala City scrutinized the facility in a report last year and subsequently filed an emergency “precautionary measures petition” to the commission.

The Commission did not rule on the merits of the case, but found enough compelling evidence to grant the petition, a rare step that was taken in only 57 of 422 such requests in the past year, according to a N.Y. Times article.

The Commission, an arm of the Organization of American States, also ordered the Guatemalan government to report back within a month , though it has no official power to compel it to do so.

“This ruling is of great importance for people who are detained in institutions throughout the Americas,” Rosenthal stated in the news release. “It puts governments on notice that it is no longer acceptable to put away children or adults with disabilities and expose them to grave dangers. Guatemala is under an immediate international obligation to provide essential protections.”

A video from Al-Jazeera English on the decision can be seen here.