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WP Forgotten by the U.N.

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  • Snezana Lazovic
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28841-2002Aug16.html THE WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL Forgotten by the U.N. Sunday, August 18, 2002; Page B06 TO
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 18, 2002



      Forgotten by the U.N.

      Sunday, August 18, 2002; Page B06

      TO LIVE in a psychiatric hospital in Kosovo, a recent inquiry has found, is to
      live in a special kind of hell. Women are raped by male patients while staff
      watch. Mentally retarded patients sit in enforced idleness, day after day, without
      treatment or instruction. Reports of abuse are met with threats and retaliation.
      Filth is everywhere. People who need counseling are instead drugged. People who
      should be free are locked up for life.

      All of which might evoke sympathy but little wider interest -- Kosovo is a poor
      place, after all, and people with mental disabilities suffer in many poor
      places -- but for this particularly shameful element: The institutions in question
      were under the supervision of the United Nations while the abuses were taking
      place; and American and Scandinavian do-gooders -- or supposed do-gooders --
      failed to remedy the situation, even after being alerted. Their failure in turn
      reflects a much broader failing of international aid. Organizations that care
      deeply about human rights in general routinely slight the inalienable rights of
      humans who are mentally ill or mentally retarded. And developed nations that years
      ago learned that the mentally disabled are better off in their communities and out
      of large institutions forget that lesson when they venture into the developing
      world, where they build or rebuild mental hospitals (and orphanages) while
      neglecting community solutions.

      For these findings and insights we are indebted to Mental Disability Rights
      International, a unique nonprofit organization whose executive director, Eric
      Rosenthal, refuses to accept that the mentally disabled in poor countries should
      be consigned to lives of torture. Mr. Rosenthal has looked at aid programs in
      Russia, Romania, Latin America and now Kosovo and has found a dispiriting
      sameness. Donors rebuild institutions that should be emptied because they like to
      see shiny, spanking new results from their aid. The mistreated patients (or
      orphans) inside the institutions continue to be mistreated, and the new buildings
      do not stay shiny for long. Mental disability advocates back home are not
      consulted; women's rights campaigners consider mental disability outside their
      purview. "And so this is the ultimate forgotten problem," Mr. Rosenthal says.

      His organization held off releasing its findings on Kosovo for a year, preferring
      reform to publicity. But U.N. officials did not respond. When the report was
      finally released, U.N. officials such as Fred Eckhard, spokesman for Secretary
      General Kofi Annan, acknowledged the problems but pleaded (1) inability to
      influence local officials and (2) poverty. But the U.N. mission in Kosovo after
      the war, in 2000 and 2001, enjoyed the absolute power of a viceroy and, compared
      to most aid missions, ample resources. That no one could bother to provide a
      locked door between the men's and women's dormitories of Shtime hospital indeed
      reflects a shortfall, but not of cash.

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