July 17, 2023
Update (08/11/23): This has been updated to include a link to the YouTube recording of the hearing.
Washington, D.C. — At a public hearing held on July 14, 2023, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), representatives of the O’Neill Institute’s Health and Human Rights Initiative and Disability Rights International (DRI) presented arguments on the merits on behalf of the victims of the “Casa Esperanza” case.
The “Casa Esperanza” case focuses on Mexico’s international responsibility for a series of human rights violations against 37 persons with disabilities, including children and adolescents, who were institutionalized in “Casa Hogar Esperanza para Deficientes Mentales” (Home for the Mentally Deficient). Casa Esperanza was a private, isolated and segregated institution that received public funding to house children and adults with disabilities in the custody of Mexican social welfare agencies.
Violations and abuses documented at Casa Esperanza include institutionalization without full, free and informed consent by State authorities, gender-based violence, non-consensual sterilization and contraception, the use of prolonged restraints, physical violence and child abuse, as well as sexual slavery and labor exploitation of detainees. Also documented was a complete absence of the social assistance services for which the institution received public funding, including adequate food, quality medical and psychological care, and education.
During the hearing, DRI and the Health and Human Rights Initiative presented the testimony of one of the victims in the case, who entered Casa Esperanza at the age of ten and remained there for more than a decade. Her statement provided a detailed description of the abuses at the institution, including the sexual violence and non-consensual contraception to which she was subjected.
Eric Rosenthal, executive director of DRI, told the IACHR about the abuses that DRI personally witnessed during its visit to the institution in 2015. He also stressed that what happened at Casa Esperanza is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern of systematic abuse, neglect and discrimination of persons with disabilities in the custody of the Mexican state.
Silvia Serrano Guzmán, co-director of the Health and Human Rights Initiative, argued that Mexico is internationally responsible for the torture, sexual slavery, human trafficking, servitude, forced labor, non-consensual sterilization, child exploitation, and right-to-health violations of the victims at Casa Esperanza. She highlighted that these violations occurred with the State’s acquiescence and as a result of a complete lack of oversight of the public services that the institution was supposed to provide.
Priscila Rodríguez, DRI advocacy associate, emphasized that the State’s institutionalization of the victims constituted discriminatory treatment and a denial of their rights to live independently and to receive health and care services in the community.
The “Casa Esperanza” case is framed within the broader context of human rights violations in institutional settings, such as group homes, and highlights the urgency of deinstitutionalizing people with disabilities in order to guarantee their rights. It also focuses on the responsibility of States to monitor the private actors to whom they delegate the provision of public services, such as health and education, and to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to mechanisms to investigate, punish and redress the violations of which they are victims.
The Health and Human Rights Initiative and DRI hope that the IACHR will take into consideration the arguments presented at the hearing and issue a merits report declaring the international responsibility of the Mexican State for the violations of the victims’ human rights, and including recommendations that ensure full reparation for the victims of the case and provide sufficient guarantees of non-repetition.
To interview Silvia Serrano Guzmán, please contact Cynthia Sun at Cynthia.Sun@georgetown.edu.