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Robin Hammond – Condemned. Background

September 26, 2014

As part of an awareness raising campaign on mental health issues organized by Jean Paul II Justice and Peace Centre we are hosting the exhibition CONDEMNED – Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis by renowned human rights photographer Robin Hammond.

Exhibition: 25th September to 11th October 2014

 

Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end.  Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Mental Health and Human Rights.
An Initiative by John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre

“No one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time about people with mental illness.”

Elyn Saks, Professor of Law, Psychology and Psychiatry at University of Southern California Gould Law School, living with Schizophrenia

Last year the research department of John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre decided to look into a frequently ignored or neglected topic: the human rights situation of people with mental health problems in the post-conflict region of northern Uganda. What we found has been mostly sad and disturbing. People, even teenagers, abandoned or chained, mistreated and abused verbally and physically. Families struggling with poverty left alone with a mentally ill relative. Stigma and discrimination – even towards mental health professionals.

It is much easier to condemn or to ignore than to show acceptance, empathy and trying to understand. Because of the fear of “the other” thousands or maybe millions of people all over the world are either forgotten or abused – by individuals and health systems. Especially in post-conflict societies people suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, after having lived through the horrors of war, are left to suffer silently because their injuries are often not as visible as the physical ones.

Sometimes societies tend to forget that human rights are for all – not only for the strong and healthy. People with mental health problems are often perceived as “less than a whole person” and therefore not deserving the same rights. Their potential to actively and productively contribute to the society gets lost. Countless famous artists, scientists, leaders, politicians and even Nobel Prize laureates have lived with mental illness.

The engagement for human rights of people with mental health problems brought Robin Hammond, a human rights photographer, and John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre together. Now his photographs from various African countries can complement the research and advocacy initiative of JPII JPC.

With this project we are aiming to raise awareness about the life some members of our society are leading. We hope that people will realize how this concerns society as a whole and how every individual can make a difference by not turning away and closing the eyes. We hope to reduce the ignorance and fear, to break the silence and ensure people with mental health problems are welcomed into the midst of our communities.

CONDEMNED – Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis

Photographs by Robin Hammond

Over the course of two years, in ten different African countries, I sought them out. I found them crouching in the dark corners of church basements, chained to beds in crumbling hospitals, tethered to sticks in dust blown tent cities, locked away behind the rusted bars of prisons. The worst was the children – wide eyed with fear, faces aged from never having known the touch of love.

To document the mental health impact of crises in Sub-Saharan Africa for ‘CONDEMNED’ I travelled to war ravaged regions of eastern Congo, South Sudan, Mogadishu, northern Uganda and Liberia. I spent time with the displaced in refugee camps in Somalia and Dadaab. In Nigeria I went to see the impacts of corruption on facilities for the mentally ill. In Sierra Leone I documented how mental illness was treated when government facilities were dysfunctional.

In these countries in crisis I witnessed mental illness caused by horrors experienced and those with mental disability from birth. In the ruins of cities destroyed by war, and institutions rotten with corruption, where the infrastructure of care has collapsed, I documented the catastrophe life is for people with mental disability.I discovered an entire section of communities abandoned by their governments, forgotten by the aid community, neglected and abused by entire societies: A voiceless minority condemned to lives of quiet misery.

There is no larger group of neglected people in the world than the mentally disabled. Even when they are capable of articulating their suffering they are deprived of the right to advocate for themselves, after all, they are ‘crazy’. There are a few groups fighting for the rights of the mentally disabled. Ignored by the aid community and their own governments, and against a tide of stigma and discrimination, their modest resources and meagre skills have little impact.

‘CONDEMNED’ aims to raise awareness about the disaster of mental health in African countries in crisis. Through publications, articles, exhibitions, and online productions it will bring focus to this most neglected issue and give a voice to a group of people who have been denied one for so long.

John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre (JPIIJPC) is a Ugandan NGO established by a consortium of six religious institutions: Missionaries of Africa, Mill Hill Missionaries, Congregation of Holy Cross, Comboni Missionaries, Comboni Missionary Sisters and Society of Jesus. JPIIJPC consists of three departments, namely training, advocacy and research and works in the fields of peace building and human rights. In 2013 the research department carried out a study on the human rights situation of people with mental health problems in the post-conflict region of Northern Uganda called “Drugs, spirits and human rights. Mental health in post-conflict Northern Uganda in the context of modernization and traditional beliefs”. This research started the initiative of JPIIJPC in advocating for the rights of people with mental health problems. The photo exhibition of Robin Hammond’s work and the mental health activism campaign constitute a crucial component of those advocacy efforts.

Contact:
John Paul II Justice & Peace Centre
Plot 2468 Nsereko Road, Nsambya.
P. O. Box 31853 Kampala, Uganda
Tel: +256 414 267372, Email: jp2justice.director@gmail.com; Web: http://www.jp2jpc.org

Robin Hammond is an internationally renowned photographer. He was born 1975 in New Zealand and is currently based in Paris, France. Hammond has dedicated his career to documenting human rights and development issues around the world through long term photographic projects. For “Condemned – Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis ” he has won numerous awards like World Press Photo and R.F. Kennedy Journalism in in 2014 and W. Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography in 2013, among others.

Contact:
Email: pictures@robinhammond.co.uk
Web: http://www.robinhammond.co.uk

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