DPI Conference 2008
The NGO Relations Cluster is the link to over 1,500 Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) associated with the Department of Public Information (DPI) and supports their efforts to interact effectively with the United Nations in their areas of expertise. The annual UN DPI/NGO Conference is the NGO Relations Cluster’s premier event at the United Nations, attracting around 2,000 NGO representatives from approximately 70 countries.
In 2008, the conference was organized in Paris in partnership with UNESCO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Government of France to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was entitled Reaffirming Human Rights: the Universal Declaration at 60.
Bro. Dr. René Stockman, president of NGO Fracarita International was invited to speak on September 4 and 5, 2008, on behalf of the Brothers of Charity. He spoke about the current state of mental health care in the world, and more specifically how the Brothers of Charity are fighting discrimination against people with mental illness in society and in health care institutions.
Round Table Session 2: Madina Querre, Eugen Brand, Gillian Sorensen, René Stockman and Shamina de Gonzaga
Extract from the Final Report:
Roundtable Session Highlights
The roundtable on the theme 'Overcoming Discrimination to Realize Human Rights and Dignity for All' was moderated by Gillian Sorensen, Senior Advisor, United Nations Foundation; panelists included Eugen Brand, Director General, International Movement ATD Fourth World; Dan Pescod, European and International Campaigns Manager, Royal National lnstitute of Blind People; Madina Querre, Anthropologist; and René Stockman, Superior General, Congregation of the Brothers of Charity.
This roundtable was organised as an interactive discussion session where the moderator posed various questions to the panelists. The panelists responses formed the core of the discussion and were enhanced by interventions from the floor. Key points covered included the need for NGOs to lobby governments that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to do so; and the need to overcome discrimination and restore human dignity to the mentally ill by increasing efforts to sensitize the public about mental illness and by promoting greater awareness.
During the question and answer session the key points raised included:
- the challenge that NGOs face in lobbying governments to gain support for recognizing and respecting the rights of marginalized groups through legal reform
- the need to educate societies regarding the rights of marginalized groups
The roundtable concluded that international organisations should provide spaces for dialogue including forums and direct meetings, so that constituencies could voice their opinions and make an impact on policy initiatives that concern them.
Summary of Panel Discussion
The roundtable discussion highlighted the experiences of diverse constituencies in claiming their rights and becoming empowered agents of change. Presentations focused on the rights of persons living in poverty, persons living with physical disabilities or mental illness, and persons deprived of rights due to irregular status of citizenship in their country of residence. The panelists highlighted the critical role of civil society in lobbying governments and working with the United Nations human rights treaties and instruments to achieve progress in combating discrimination. They also underscored the importance of acknowledging groups that suffer discrimination and lack recognition and representation at a global level.
"The critical role of civil society in human rights. . . to speak out forcefully to protect those
who are abused, marginalized and made invisible? To see them as
human beings worthy of respect and dignity."
- Gillian Sorensen -
The role of civil society was emphasized by Gillian Sorensen who said that speaking up for vulnerable and marginalized persons and recognizing all of their human rights, was both an individual and a collective responsibility. This could be achieved by diverse means, including highlighting human rights violations and holding politicians accountable, making use of the law, as well as sharing knowledge to galvanize support and solidarity.
Strategies for fostering global ethics by forming partnerships across sectors were also identified as a means of achieving human rights for marginalized and minority groups. On the issue of poverty, Eugen Brand said that the concerns of the poorest of the poor were an urgent and compelling question that all had to address. He expressed the hope that the Millennium Review Summit in 2010 would be a step in that direction. He also called on members of the international community, to confront the reality of poverty today by understanding its roof causes and consequences. Mr. Brand suggested that countries work together to create ?spaces of dialogue? between the poor and those organisations that could assist them. These spaces, he explained should consist of forums, direct meetings with the poor and other means of communication, to allow their voices to be heard. The experience of the International Movement ATD Fourth World had proved effective in this regard. Mr. Brand emphasized the necessity of a long term commitment by NGOs to ensure that valuable knowledge and experience gained in finding solutions to the problems of the poor could be utilized as a basis for continued action.
Focusing on the plight of persons with mental illness, René Stockman put forward the view that 14 per cent of all mental illnesses are linked to mental disorders. Many people living with mental illness, he said were marginalized, discriminated against, dehumanized and suffered deep-rooted social stigma. He described the efforts of his organisation, the Brothers of Charity, to overcome discrimination and restore human dignity to the mentally ill by working at the grassroots level to change existing stereotypes. He acknowledged the widespread nature of serious discrimination in the regions in which they worked including Africa, Asia, the United States and the European Union. In many societies mentally ill patients were considered to be "possessed". They were often ostracized and brought to faith healers in their villages. Moreover, he stated that chronic psychiatric patients were far too often relegated to institutions that lack the means and expertise to deal with such issues and treated patients in a degrading manner, sometimes chaining or even killing them. To address that situation, Dr. Stockman recommended effective training for mental health workers; increased efforts to sensitize the public about mental illness and foster greater awareness and respect for the mentally ill. He also urged the adoption and enforcement of proper legal frameworks that would promote the rights and appropriate treatment of people living with mental illness.
"Training of co-workers is a very important issue in order to change mentality. And then we have to influence the broader society... step by step we can change the mentality and step by step we can give back human dignity."
- Bro. René Stockman -