Supreme Court of India Reinforces the Rights of People Suffering With Mental Health Conditions

By Camisha Parkins

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

INDIA – On September 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of India ordered all states and Union territories of the country to establish a system for facilitating vaccination against COVID-19 of all individuals residing in a mental health facility– including service providers, health care professionals, and all other associated staff. Each state must submit a progress report to the Department of Social Justice and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on or before October 15, 2021 explaining the steps taken and the number of people who have been vaccinated.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed exacerbated the long-standing inadequacies that already existed within India’s mental healthcare system. In the initial weeks of the lockdown, patients and doctors at mental health hospitals and institutions throughout India received very little support from central or state governments in battling the COVID-19 crisis, which placed patients and mental health professionals in imminent danger of the spread of the virus. Throughout the pandemic, hospitals were forced to turn away patients living with chronic mental illnesses who relied on hospitals due to lack of beds, staffing issues and the inability to provide sufficient medication. “Disabled people accessing health infrastructure, especially people with mental illness, were the last ones to be thought about,” said Anjlee Agarwal, founder of disability advocacy organization Samarthyam.

The Entrance to the Institute of Mental Health in Chennai, India. Photo Courtesy of The Hindu.

The Court’s order came in a contempt petition filed by advocate and petitioner-in-person in this case, Gaurav Kumar Bansal. Bansal accused states of disregarding a July 10, 2017 order from the Indian Supreme Court that required states and union territories to set up rehabilitation homes for mentally ill patients who remained in government-run mental health institutions despite being cured and ready for discharge. After reviewing status reports submitted by states and union territories following the July 2017 order, the Court said it “[did] not find that any genuine progress has been made… though different State Governments have indicated varying time lines for setting up the Halfway homes.” Accordingly, the bench of Justices led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud mandated the establishment of halfway homes and rehabilitation homes for the mentally ill and directed the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to establish an online dashboard that monitors the progress of the states and union territories. Information on the dashboard depicting the availability of institutions, facility provided, capacity, occupancy and region-wise distribution of halfway homes must be updated “on a real time basis.”

The bench, in making such court orders, noted that these problems involving people with mental health conditions “are of serious concern.” While this recent action by India’s Supreme Court counts as a major victory for advocates who work tirelessly in fighting for people with disabilities’ right to equal access to health care in India, ensuring that state governments take “appropriate and timely action” to meet the needs of people suffering with mental illnesses is of utmost importance. As Bansal stated, “We are just at the beginning of the battle… And we will keep fighting, together, until one day, people with psychosocial disabilities can live in dignity.”

For further information, please see:

Hindustan Times – Vaccinate inmates, staff of mental health facilities in a month, Supreme Court tells states – 2 Sept. 2021

Human Rights Watch – India’s Supreme Court Orders to Vaccinate Patients in Mental Health Facilities – 5 Oct. 2021

India Legal – Supreme Court directs all states to ensure vaccination of mentally-ill persons within 1 month – 1 Sept. 2021

Scroll.in – In India, coronavirus crisis has been particularly hard for mental health patients and hospitals – 3 Nov. 2020

Supreme Court of India – Gaurav Kumar Bansal vs. Mr. Dinesh Kumar & ORS – 1 Sept. 2021

Police Drags Woman to Court for Publication of False Kidnapping and Fake Pregnancy News

By: Spencer Kwabena Boateng Mensah

 Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

TAKORADI, Ghana – On September 27, 2021, the police in Takoradi sent Josephine Panyin Mensah, 27, to court with charges of deceiving a public officer and publication of false news with intent to cause fear and panic.

The first charge was her acting, “with intent to evade the requirement of the Law, [because] she made statement to Public Officer and the general public that she was pregnant and kidnapped which she well knew at the time of making it to be false.”

Josephine Panyin Mensah reappears and is being accompanied to the police by some residents. Photo Courtesy of Citi Newsroom.

Her second charge was for “publication of statement which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or to disturb the public peace knowing or having reason to believe that the statement is false.”

Prosecutor Superintendent, Emmanuel Basintale told the court that the accused confessed faking her pregnancy and kidnapping to cover her alleged miscarriage in May 2021.

Husband of accused, Michael Simons reported to the police that his pregnant wife disappeared after she left her mother’s home in the early morning for a walk on September 16.

According to the police, her mother Agnes Essel also received a call from an unknown caller the same day but she could only hear distressed voice of her daughter crying that she had been kidnapped. The accused was found after five days later at a church in a town nearby and was immediately taken to a hospital where she told of her alleged ordeal of being the sole survival among 12 other unknown kidnapped women.

The police say that she told them “she gave birth to a baby girl and afterwards fell unconscious [for] the second time and had no idea how she [survived].”

But doctors from two hospitals could not find any trace of postpartum sign or marks of violence within the last six days of her disappearance.   

The police investigations proved that there was no prenatal records nor diagnosis of pregnancy at the accused’s original hospital. “Accused claimed she has been wearing a pregnancy prosthesis…but threw same into the bush while trekking.”

The prosecutor added that “accused also admitted that the [number] through which she spoke to her mother was her old sim card which she discarded afterwards.”

The accused pleaded guilty and has been bailed since her first appearance in court and the case has been adjourned to be reconvened on October 14, 2021.

Ghana has recorded several kidnapping and killing cases in recent times. One of the prominent cases is the kidnapping of three girls in Takoradi which particularly caused severe tension between the police and public in 2019.

For further information, please see:

Adom Online – Abesim Murder: Residents Accuse Suspect of Killing More People – 28 Aug. 2021

Citinewsroom – Takoradi Woman Pleads not Guilty in Court for Fake Pregnancy and Kidnapping – 27 Sept. 2021.

Ghana Web – Decomposed Bodies of 3 Kidnapped Takoradi Girls Found – 2 Aug. 2019.

Modern Ghana – We May Drag Fake Takoradi Pregnant Woman to Court – ACP Kwesi Ofori – 27 Sept. 2021

 

Unauthorized Science: Estate of Henrietta Lacks Sues Pharmaceutical Company For Using Cells Without Consent

By Tim Murphy

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

BALTIMORE, Maryland – The estate of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose continuously dividing cells have been used in scientific and medical research for decades, is suing the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific for unjust enrichment, stating that Lacks’s cells were taken without her consent and have been used without the estate’s compensation for decades.

Many may have learned about Henrietta Lacks from a high school biology class, or read about her life in Rebecca Skloot’s popular 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was later adapted into a film starring Oprah Winfrey. Born in 1920, Lacks was a Black woman who was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer when a doctor took and used a sample of Lacks’s cells in a petri dish without her consent. The cells, which later became known as “HeLa cells,” continued to rapidly reproduce outside the body, becoming the first human cell line to do so. Henrietta Lacks died shortly after in 1951. Neither Lacks nor her family was not compensated for her cells. 

Four of Henrietta Lacks’ grandchildren and attorney Ben Crump outside the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.

It wasn’t until decades after her death that the general public became aware that the HeLa cells were originally taken and used without Lacks’s consent. While there are now policies in place to protect patients from non-consensual use of cell-samples, these regulations did not exist at the time Lacks was undergoing treatment. Regardless, companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific are still using and profiting from HeLa cells without the compensation of Lacks’s estate.

The lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific seeks “the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks.”  However, for grandson Ron Lacks, the lawsuit is not just about the money. “We will celebrate taking back control of Henrietta Lacks’ legacy,” he said. The estate also plans to file lawsuits in the following weeks against other companies that profit from the HeLa cell line.

For further information, please see:

CNN – Estate of Henrietta Lacks sues biotechnical company for nonconsensual use of her cells – 5 Oct. 2021

Live Science – Henrietta Lacks’ family sues biotech firm for use of ‘stolen’ cells – 8 Oct. 2021

NPR – Henrietta Lacks’ estate sued a company saying it used her ‘stolen’ cells for research – Oct. 4 2021

The Baltimore Sun – Family of Henrietta Lacks files suit against biotech company for using famous ‘HeLa’ cells without permission – 4 Oct. 2021

The Washington Post – 70 years ago, Henrietta Lacks’s cells were taken without consent. Now, her family wants justice – 4 Oct. 2021

ISIS-backed Group Deploys Children to Fight the Mozambique Government

By Ryan Ockenden

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

CABO DELGADO, Mozambique – Across northern Mozambique, Al-Shabab – an ISIS-backed militant group – is kidnapping boys as young as twelve years old and training them to fight and raid their very own villages. Mothers and fathers are beaten and brutalized to relinquish their children, consistently offering themselves up to be taken instead. Once in Al-Shabab’s possession, the boys are trained in weaponry usage, given Islamic classes, and even told to pick a wife amongst the young girls that have also been kidnapped.

Since 2017, Al-Shabab has been terrorizing the gas-rich northern regions of Mozambique, raiding villages and towns to build their caliphate. As the caliphate grows larger, the organization has grown bolder. Their attacks on villages routinely leave dozens dead and thousands displaced. An attack earlier this year occurred on a multi-billion-dollar gas project, prompting a large military intervention from neighboring nations such as Rwanda, Botswana, and South Africa.

Military support from South Africa deployed to the Cabo Delgado region to fight against Al-Shabab, and unfortunately, the kidnapped children that have been forced to join. Photo Courtesy of Alfredo Zuniga from Barron’s.

In 2004, Mozambique ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child for the involvement of children in armed conflict, which prohibits non-state armed groups, like Al-Shabab, from recruiting, let alone kidnapping, children. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights have asserted that, in general, nation parties to the African Charter, which Mozambique is, bear the primary responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights, punishing perpetrators, and passing legislation to help rectify human rights abuses.

The Prime Minister of Mozambique, Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, announced this week that the nation needs $300 million to reconstruct the insurgency in the Cabo Delgado region. While it is absolutely important to secure funding for post-conflict reconstruction, the conflict is not even over. Young boys continue to be kidnapped and trained to fight against the government. Young girls continue to be kidnapped to be child-brides. Innocent families continue to be displaced, left homeless and separated from one another.

It is important for the Mozambique government to create a plan for reconstruction, but they will not reach the reconstruction phase if they cannot put a stop to Al-Shabab’s continued assault on the nation. Before they can rebuild for their people, they must save their people.

For further information, please see:

ACHPR – Press release on the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers – 13 Feb. 2019

All Africa – Mozambique: Al-Shabaab Deploying Child Soldiers in Mozambique, Says HRW – 1 Oct. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Mozambique ISIS-Linked Group Using Child Soldiers – 29 Sept. 2021

Yahoo News – Mozambique Insurgents Train Child Soldiers: HRW – 29 Sept. 2021

Achimota School Appeals Judgment that Greenlights Wearing Dreadlocks in School

By: Spencer Kwabena Boateng Mensah

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

ACCRA, Ghana – On May 31, 2021, an Accra High Court ordered against the senior high school’s regulation that demanded Tyron Marhguy and Oheneba Nkrabea, two Rastafarians by religion, to cut their dreadlocks before being admitted into the school. 

Teroe Marhguy grants interview to multiple media persons after High Court ruling in favor of his son, Tyrone Marhguy who is behind his father taking selfies in the midst of crowded Rastafarians. Photo Courtesy of My Joy Online.

Achimota School and the Attorney General are in the Court of Appeals challenging a judgment by the Human Rights Division of the High Court which declared that wearing dreadlocks in the school is lawful.

In its judgment, the court stated that “[i]n the absence of such compelling justification grounded on the public good of the school as a whole in the face of constitutionally guaranteed rights, I am unable to tip the balance in favor of the implementation of the rule of the Respondents to restrict the Fundamental Human Rights of the Applicant to practise and manifest his religious belief.”

The court further declared that the failure or refusal of the school to admit the applicant on the basis of his Rastafarian religion inclination, beliefs, and culture characterized by his keeping of rasta is a violation of his right to education guaranteed under Ghana’s Constitution.

After admitting the students in their dreadlocks however, the school and the Attorney General have filed an appeal seeking the decision of the High Court to be set aside.

According to them, the High Court erred in declaring that the school’s uniformity regulation which required the students to cut their dreadlocks interferes with his expression of religion.

Achimota School admission forms specify that admission is conditioned on “good academic work, good conduct and strict observation of all school rules and regulations.” The rules among others require all boys in the school to “keep their hair low.”

The judgment divided the public into two sides; while others praised the applicant for setting a precedent, others were concerned that the judgment will open a flood gate of non-compliance of schools’ rules and regulations.    

Reacting to the appeal, father of Tyron, Tereo Marhguy told local news sources that the decision of the school to appeal is motivated by what the school’s alumni want. “If [the school] had filed the appeal shortly after the ruling, it would have made sense,” he stated and added that it was actually because his son was nominated to represent the school for the annual National Science and Maths Quiz.

Ghana’s Constitution advocates for freedom of religion and right to education as fundamental human rights; and the people of Ghana are keenly waiting for a decision from the Court of Appeals on the case – which was filed on September 13, 2021. 

For further information, please see:

Citi Newsroom – Achimota School, AG appeal court ruling on rastafarian student Tyrone Marhguy – 13 Sept. 2021.

Hen Ara Ghana – Achimota vs Rasta students verdict: People are doing Facebook argument – Kwaku Azar – 6 June 2021.

Pulse Ghana – Achimota School’s appeal against my son ill-motivated – Rasta student’s dad – 15 Sept. 2021.