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Tasers are not the answer

CAMPAIGN: Matilda MacAttram (centre) with Samuel Kabue, left and Danlami Basharu at the UN headquarters, Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland

HUMAN RIGHTS campaign group Black Mental Health UK’s three-year battle for an outright ban on the illicit use of police Taser guns against patients detained in locked psychiatric facilities has secured a boost with the United Nations (UN) Committee on Disabilities’ call for the UK Government to adopt measures to prevent the routine use of these weapons against this vulnerable group.

This demand comes as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) published its review on the Government’s record on the promotion and protection of the human rights and freedoms of people living with a disability, including those labelled with a mental health condition.

While the mainstream media has been awash with coverage of the concerns that the national disability organisations raised at the UN, there has been a marked absence of even an acknowledgment of the in- justices faced by black people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities who continue to be over represented in secure psychiatric settings, which were also discussed in this forum.

OPPORTUNITY

As the sole agency from the UK’s African Caribbean communities involved in this review, Black Mental Health UK’s (BMH UK’s) briefings to CRPD committee members offered the only opportunity throughout this process for experts on this UN panel to be made aware of the catalogue of human rights abuses that black people of African descent, who come in contact with statutory mental health services, living in the UK are subject to.

During the recent two-day hearing, the UN Committee members questioned the Government on what they are doing to combat the anti-black racism and intersectional discrimination faced by people of African descent who are locked up in the mental health system.

The levels of state violence black people are subject to when detained in psychiatric settings was put to the Government as an issue of serious concern by a number of CRPD committee members.

UN experts noted how there is now a growing consensus among many from this community that the UK’s Mental Health Act is used as a ‘veritable tool of state oppression’ against black people of African descent.

They also posed questions to the UK Government on the over representation of persons of African descent held in psychiatric institutions and asked what was being done to end the disproportionate use of the Mental Health Act against black Britons.

During questioning, experts expressed their incredulity that police weaponry was being used against patients detained by the state, and called for a complete ban on the illicit use of Taser stun guns by police officers in secure mental health facilities.

The committee also reminded the UK that the claim to be a world leader in disability rights carried with it a responsibility. Experts also pointed out that many states still considered the UK to be an example to follow
and as such it has an obligation to set high standards and realise the rights of persons with disabilities enshrined in this convention.

BMH UK’s concerns at the way that the UK’s Mental Health Act has been used as a tool of state oppression against three generations of black Brit- ons and the illicit use of police Taser and other weaponry against black patients, has now been prioritised in the international human rights arena.

For the many voiceless patients from the UK’s African Caribbean communities held in secure psychiatric facilities removed from public scrutiny, the protection of these rights is particularly important. Enshrining the law the CRPD Committee recommendations for the UK Government eradicate the use of Taser firearms within clinical and detained settings would be a first step in realising the rights of these underrepresented people.

Matilda MacAttram is the of director Black Mental Health UK and a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Firearms and Taser Reference Group.

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