BBtv WORLD + 60 Years of Declaration of Human Rights, and Rights of The Mentally Disabled

(Warning: the video embedded in this post contains graphic content that viewers may find disturbing.)

Boing Boing tv commemorates the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week in partnership with WITNESS. Have you read the declaration lately? You can do so here. It is as timely and essential to our world today as it was on December 10, 1948, just after the end of World War II.

WITNESS was founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel with other human rights groups in 1992. They use video and online media to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We'll be airing reports from the WITNESS archives this week, and tomorrow Boing Boing tv will present an interview with the organization's digital archivist, Grace Lile. She spoke with us about how WITNESS gathers videos like the one I'm embedding here, and why collecting and sharing this footage matters. She also tells us about the recently-launched, which is a sort of gathering place for people who want to get involved.

Today, as a special edition of BBTV WORLD, we present a video from WITNESS that was produced by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). With this video, they sought to "prevent continued unlawful acts that threaten the rights to life, liberty and personal security of two boys, Jorge, age 18, and Julio, age 17, and 458 others detained in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Paraguay." The two boys were detained in approximately six-by-six feet isolation cells, naked, and without access to bathrooms. Hospital staff said the boys have been detained in these conditions for the past four years.

The video is deeply disturbing. I found it very painful to watch. But the producers, and the people behind WITNESS, hope that by documenting these abuses and making the documentation available to the world in this explicit form, we will be inspired to stop the abuse -- in this case, and in others around the world.

Here is a direct MP4 link, if you prefer to download. Below, a video from WITNESS commemorating the Declaration of Human Rights, and what it means to us today.

(Special thanks to Yvette Alberdingkthijm, Sameer Padania, Martin Tzanev, Matisse Bustos Hawkes, and Bryan Nuñez of Witness, and BB Patron Saint Joi Ito.)


  1. Tragedies continue because people don’t or can’t witness them. Thank God for WITNESS and the necessary and important work they do.

    1. @StRevAlex, @Mr_Orion, I feel the same way. What I find interesting here is the challenge that groups like Witness face — this video is, as I said in the blog post, hard to watch. How do you go about sharing, distributing, encouraging people to be exposed to this material, when the material itself is not — well, it’s not entertainment, you know? I feel upset and sad when I watch the videos. And I feel like, this is wrong, and I have a personal connection to the story now. I can’t ignore it as easily as I might if I’d encountered the story in passing, in print form.

  2. I am enraged by this!

    It is maddening that I am the same species as the curators of this shithole!


  3. Thank god for technology.

    Bringing this sort of news to people’s eyes will hopefully pull incredible support and aid throughout our internet culture and beyond.

    Thank you, Xeni, truly.

  4. I, callous to most displays of human depravity, felt bile in my throat as I watched this. Especially at 2:25.

    I really have nothing else to say.

  5. I’m so thankful this was posted on boingboing: not only the acknowledgment of Human Rights Day but also the the acknowledgment of the continuing lack of respect for human dignity and our need to be vigilant in trying to end it. Seeing things like this makes me want to roll up into a ball and cry. I think you are completely right about the monumental effect this video can have on someone who watches it. I wish this was on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX instead of tabloid bullshit and drama ridden, half-assed political talk they call news. Thank you, again.

  6. Here’s the true promise of the Internet being realized as we get an opportunity to help these people. Thanks for making me aware of this. In our community, we don’t look away when it gets tough – we take action.

  7. While I don’t doubt the integrity or intentions of WITNESS to videorecord and display cases of abuse and neglect that they think they may have uncovered, I do want to point out that many of the images that are supposed to be so disturbing in this video are simply of the mentally ill being allowed a great degree of what the Principles of Protection are asking for: personal autonomy. It is a fact that the autonomous mentally ill will run around naked, sit at a barred window and stare for hours, pee where they feel like peeing, and smear the walls with feces. I know, because I’ve dealt with all of these situations in my public library. Not joking.

    The shocking “conditions in the pen outside” look a lot like the flowerbox outside my old branch. 6 x 6 may not be a bad size for a bedroom IF that’s just where you sleep. The building facilities and conditions that they show actually look pretty good for Paraguay.

    What you DON’T see in this video are straitjackets, straps, restraints, hitting, yelling, forced medication, lobotomies, acts of violence, etc.

    So, sorry to be a contrarian. Yes, I’m all for treating the mentally ill with dignity and respect. And yes, if this group thinks there is some kind of abuse going on, lets investigate and alleviate. But what I’m trying to suggest is that if you aren’t prepared to see the mentally ill acting in these shocking ways, and if you aren’t familiar with baseline conditions in developing nations, then you might not be in the best position to sit back and judge from a video like this exactly what’s going on. (Oh, and before pointing a damning finger at Paraguay, ask what you’ve done for the mentally ill lately in your country. Believe it or not, we have them too!)

  8. Although I agree with ThatBob that we should not expect from people with mental disabilities* to behave in the way WE think it’s appropriate, that is no excuse to the kind of living conditions that are imposed to the patients inside this mental institution.

    I’m a brazilian psychologist and I have worked in mental institutions here in my country and I must say that those conditions encountered by MDRI in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Paraguay should not be considered “pretty good” for any nation, be it a developed country or not.

    The conditions encountered by the MDRI in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Paraguay are very similar to the ones found in the Casa de Saúde Anchieta 20 years ago. This was a psychiatric institution located in the city of Santos, in the state of São Paulo. The terrifying conditions encountered there by the new city hall administration in 1989 were responsible for the beginning of the brazilian psychiatric reform movement.

    I don’t personally know how the mental health policy in Paraguay is organized, but here in Brazil one of our major problems regarding the care of the mentally disabled result form the fact that around 80% of the psychiatric beds are in the hands of private hospitals. These hospitals usually “rented” their beds to the government in order to receive poor patients that would not be able to pay for treatment in a private clinic or hospital. This was the case of the Casa de Saúde Anchieta.

    The problem with this system is very simple; it is not profitable to the hospital to “cure” its patients. If the mental estate of the patient develops to a chronic illness the institution is assured that it will receive a stable amount of money for an undetermined period of time. The longer the patient stays in the hospital the better.

    For more than 20 years now vast sectors of the brazilian society are struggling, with relative success, to change the government mental health policies and to focus the mental health assistance in “open-doors” institutions that don’t segregate the patient from his family, friends or the society, granting a short term internment. Unsurprisingly the strongest focus of resistance to this new policy came from the owners of the private hospitals.

    Perhaps the change in the public policies and in the realities encountered in our mental institutions are not happening as fast as some of us would like (me included), but the beginning of change only happens when we stop thinking that these conditions shown in the video are, you know, “pretty good”, because there are not.

    * – I don’t agree whit the term “mental disabled” to describe the patients of mental institutions, but since I don’t know how to translate a more appropriated term to english I used that one. I only want to point that are theoretical arguments against the use of this term.

    PS – Sorry for any errors in my english, it is not my first language.

  9. I agree with ThatBob AND Machinehead. Conditions in the hospital could be so much worse (Virginia used to force-sterilize persons in mental institutions) but they could be so, so much better. I don’t want to imagine the diseases that must run rampant in that place due to lack of basic sanitation.

  10. I’m very glad for this post and discussion.

    In this issue, forgetting is more painful than remembering.

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