From Iceland – Special committee recommends inquiry into treatment of people with disabilities

A special committee under Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir intends to investigate the treatment of adults with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems in government institutions as early as the 1970s, Vísir reports.

The committee recommended on Wednesday that the prime minister establish a special commission of inquiry into the matter. Although the inquiry was intended to focus on the past few years, the commission believes it is important to look back at the facilities and treatment of people with disabilities as it is very likely that this group has been harmed in institutions over the past previous years, according to the commission’s report.

Media coverage of the mistreatment of Arnarholt residents in the 1970s prompted the committee to propose a retrospective study. In addition, an assessment of the situation of children in Kópavogur revealed that adults had been abused and subjected to ill-treatment.

“The aim of such a retrospective investigation must be that those who have been abused are recognized for it and given appropriate help to get through difficult experiences,” the committee states, according to Fréttablaðið.

31 out of 69 municipalities did not respond

Out of 69 municipalities contacted, 31 municipalities did not respond to the committee’s request for information despite repeated requests. Those who did not respond include the country’s fourth and fifth most populous municipalities, Reykjanesbær and Akureyri, RÚV reports.

Árni Múli Jónasson, director of the disability services organization Landssamtökin Þroskahjálp, was surprised by the indifference of so many municipalities. He is delighted that the investigation is carried out by parliament and not by the executive but would have liked the investigation to go back further than 1970.

“These are stories that need to be told, both for people to get justice and for it to be recognized that they have been treated in a totally unacceptable way and that we learn from it,” says Árni Múli. “We need much better supervision of these vulnerable people who are removed from society and placed in institutions and placed somewhere. And that of course means that people are placed in situations where there is a high risk that they will not enjoy minimum rights.

Main conclusions of the committee

The committee proposes that the investigation be carried out in accordance with the provisions of Law no. 68/2011 on commissions of inquiry. Such an arrangement gives the commission of inquiry independence, strengthens investigative powers and is in line with parliament’s desire that the common law should apply to such inquiries.

The proposed research periods range from 1970 to 2011 and from 2011 to the present day. Research is based on non-discrimination in research and must be based on transparency, both in terms of procedures and results.

People with developmental disabilities and people with mental health issues should be on the committee. Moreover, gParticular emphasis should be placed on ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health problems receive adequate support to present their cases to the committee and ensure follow-up.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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