The essence of international treaties is to ensure world governments adhere to agreed-upon principles with regard to certain areas of interest, in particular, those that impact on human populations or the natural environment, including wildlife. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is one of the treaties that make up the International Bill of Human Rights. The others are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The aim of these treaties is to advance the ideal of freedom, where people, wherever in the world, enjoy civil and political freedom as well as freedom from fear and want. To attain this aim, the treaties recognize the need for governments to create conditions that allow every citizen to enjoy their civil and political rights, as well as their economic, social, and cultural rights. From the perspective of ICESCR, the essence of economic, social, and cultural rights is to ensure that populations in countries bound by the treaty are not denied access to the basic necessities for life. These necessities include rights to food and water, rights to decent housing, and rights to adequate healthcare.
Overview of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
The fundamental principle that unites states that are a party to the ICESCR is that to ensure citizens are not bound by fear and want, conditions that allow everyone to enjoy their economic, social, and cultural rights must exist. It is from this background that the goal of the ICESCR, as enshrined in Article 11 of the treaty,is to protectthe right of people toan adequate standard of living, underpinned byadequate access to food, clothing, and housing. Other goals of the treaty, as enshrined in Article 12 and 13, is to protect the right of citizens to enjoy the highest possible standard of physical and mental health, and the right to education, respectively. Article 15 protects the right of citizens to participate in cultural life. These goals form the operational framework of the ICESCR treaty and guide state parties in their effort to uphold and promote principles of human rights. For example, under Article 2(1), governments bound by the treaty commit to maximizing available resources to attain, progressively, the rights enshrined in the treaty. What this means is that every party to the treaty is duty-bound to utilize resources justly and effectively in the promotion of the above rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, the ICESCR, currently, has 169member states as signatories.
In summary, states that are a party to the ICESCR accept to promote human rights in three ways: firstly, they commit to respect human rights by not violating the tenets of the ICESCR; secondly, they commit to protecting the enjoyment of rights; and thirdly, they commit to fulfilling the rights of individuals.
Analysis of a Human Rights Issue
As enshrined in Article 12 of the ICESCR, member states undertake to protect the right of citizens to enjoy the highest possible standard of physical and mental health. This goal is particularly important in light of the growing concerns about mental health in both the general population and the prison population. Several reports by human rights organizations and research studies show that mental health in the criminal justice system does not align with the letter and spirit of Article 12 of the ICESCR. Even though prisons are not meant to , a substantial percentage of inmates have mental health problems, raising questions about the measures put in place to address the physical and psychological wellbeing of the population. The concern about the mental health of prisoners is founded on the notion that the population suffers from multiple and complex problems that exacerbate their psychological wellbeing. While severe major disorders can be treated through medication, there is a need for other approaches to therapy, including counseling, to address social problems impacting the population.
Mental Health as a Human Rights Issue
The historical and current incidence of human rights violations of the mentally ill goes against the tenets of the ICESCR, specifically Article 12. There is evidence of the extent of these violations, including arbitrary detention, inability to access health care, physical and sexual abuse, discrimination and stigma, denial of self-determination in financial and marital matters, and limited vocational and residential resources among other deprivations (Kim, Becker-Cohen, & Serakos, 2015). Mental health is related to human rights in three ways: firstly, people who undergo torture and displacement are denied their human rights and exposed to mental health problems, such as depression; secondly, coercive mental disorder treatment practices and programs impact on human rights; and thirdly, there is synergy when human rights are upheld as it promotes mental health (Asanbe, Gaba, & Yang, 2018). While this relationship concerns mental health, the benefits or suffering thereof extends to individuals physical health (Asanbe et al., 2018). On the basis of the relationship between mental health and human rights, it is, therefore, essential for governments, out of moral and legal obligations, to promote mental health in populations, and specifically in those incarcerated.
Mental health is not limited to the state of mind, but rather embodies the harmonization of psychological, emotional, and social competence and wellbeing (Asanbe et al., 2018). In other words, it encompasses an individuals quality of life and general wellbeing. As far-fetched as it might seem, deterioration in mental health can be interpreted from the perspective of ones cultural grounding, including nationality, language, ethnicity, and religion. In society today, being diagnosed with or manifesting symptoms of mental health breakdown is a ticket to being labeled and subsequently being stigmatized by community members (Asanbe et al., 2018). This labeling involves perceiving the mentally ill as socially incompetent, a reality that makes many people with mental health problems to feel ashamed, humiliated, and worthless. Evidence indicates that a majority of those diagnosed with mental health problems in many cultures come from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Rosenfield, 2012). This is to mean that the economic arrangement of a country can be a source of mental health problems, highlighting the rationality of the ICESCR treaty.
Comparison between the United States and the United Kingdom
A wealth of research paints the sorry state of mental health the world over. Statistics from the World Health organization indicate that one in four people are bound to experience mental health problems in their lifetime, with stigma being a significant determinant of quality of care and access to essential treatment for mentally ill populations (Mfoafo-MCarthy & Huls, 2014). Moreover, the mentally ill population has a reduced life expectancy when compared to the general population, with the life expectancy of mentally ill males and females dropping by 20 years and 15 years, respectively (Mfoafo-MCarthy & Huls, 2014). Despite this reality, almost two-thirds of people presenting with mental health problems do not . The reality of mental health problems in populations suggests the rationality of the ICESCR treaty and the need for countries to approach mental health as a human rights issue.
Mental Health in US Prisons
Mental health promotion is one of the biggest challenges in the US healthcare system. The countrys correctional system is considered the environment with the highest number of people with mental health problems (Human Rights Watch, 2009). Evidence suggests that care in psychiatric institutions violet to a great extent the human rights violations of mentally ill individuals than correctional facilities (Kim et al., 2015). However, this does not mean that prison settings are any better when it comes to protecting the mental health and subsequently the human rights of inmates diagnosed with mental health disorders. Even though the US criminal justice system is not designed to treat mental health problems, the prison system has increasingly assumed this role due to the rising numbers of mentally ill inmates. The high number of mentally ill prisoners is related to the lack of community-based services after psychiatric hospitals were closed (Human Rights Watch, 2009). It has become the norm that those unable to get mental health treatment in the community are introduced into the criminal justice system once they engage in criminal activities. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that almost 55 percent of state prisoners and approximately 43 percent of with symptoms or a recent history of a mental health disorder (Human Rights Watch, 2009). The main disorders high in the population include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, which are almost four times higher than in the general public (Mfoafo-MCarthy & Huls, 2014). Furthermore, close to 19 percent of mentally ill prisoners present with psychiatric disorders associated with significant functional disabilities (Human Rights Watch, 2009). These findings suggest the need for psychiatric intervention during incarceration.