Special Olympics host called out for abusive conditions

Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum sent a letter June 14 to Greek Health Minister Andreas Loverdos raising concerns about living conditions at a child care facility for people with disabilities, the advocacy groups announced Monday.

Citing a variety of reports from state and outside agencies, the letter expressed alarm about certain practices conducted at the Children’s Care Center of Lechaina, such as “the use of cage beds, systematic sedation and tying of patients to their beds.” The two organizations allege that the center’s conditions violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The announcement letter was sent just prior to the start of Special Olympics Summer Games, which run from June 25 to July 4.

“If Greece is serious about the ideals of the Special Olympics, it should not ignore documented abuses of children and adults with disabilities right under its nose,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch, in a news release.

The state is currently conducting multiple internal investigations into the center’s practices. Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum urged that the investigations be conducted promptly, with its findings open to the public.

Human Rights Watch, in the news release, also urged Greece not to slash programs for people with disabilities amid its recent austerity measures as it looks to close its massive budget deficit. As of July 1, the state is set to cut in half funding for its programs that provide in-home services for people with disabilities, as well as its aid for and with wheelchairs and other mobility services.

Special Olympics officials said they were previously aware of the facility’s conditions.

“We know there is a long battle ahead of us in fighting the injustices that happen to people with intellectual disabilities and that is the reason why we strive to build a global community of respect,” Special Olympics spokeswoman Kirsten Suto Seckler said in a Disability Scoop article.

Greece has signed but not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has now been ratified by more than 100 countries.