First Anniversary of Argentina’s Mental Health Law


The first anniversary of the adoption of the Mental Health Law was celebrated today. Luis H. Alén, Undersecretary for Human Rights Protection presided at the event, together with Stella Maris Martínez, National Public Defender; Mónica Cuñarro, Secretary of the National Coordinating Committee for Public Policies regarding the Prevention and Control of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Transnational Organized Crime and Corruption; Graciela Natella, representative of the National Bureau of Mental Health and Addictions; and Hugo Cohen, the Pan American Health Organization’s Sub-regional Mental Health Adviser for South America. 

“Today we celebrate the first anniversary of a law that embodies the spirit of what the government had been promoting since 2003. This project was intended to repair the severe harm that was being done in our society, to include those who had been marginalized for years, and to recognize and restore rights that had been violated for so long,” said Luis Alén, noting that the law was made possible by a “collective effort.” He went on to say that “this law also exemplifies the possibilities for working in these fields, in the human rights field…. This law was not developed in an office. It was not developed in isolation. Rather it was developed in the field and in collaboration with everyone: with civil society organizations, with the family members, and with other branches, with representatives from the National Public Defender’s Office and from the legislature and the executive. All three branches of government promoting a state policy that seeks to repair and include; to recognize the rights of all people; to put an end to an unfair system of exclusion and marginalization that stripped patients of their basic rights and condemned them to be treated as something other than people, with their inherent dignity.”

Finally, he appealed to the Federal Mental Health, Justice, and Human Rights Roundtable to continue its efforts to ensure that the law is “fully in force throughout the national territory.”

Stella Maris Martínez then drew attention to the law’s “dual effect:” “This law is going to change the lives of many people. In essence, not only will it create a full-blown crisis for antiquated, inhuman practices in the treatment of the mentally ill, it will also—we hope—breathe fresh air into the obsolete family justice system that far from providing protection, has been limited in the vast majority of cases to keeping people out of sight.” Finally, the law provides us with an instrument with which to fight.”

On behalf of the National Bureau of Mental Health and Addictions, Graciela Natella read the words of its director, Yago Di Nella, who affirmed that the law creates a “paradigm shift” and is a “transformative tool.”

Both Cuñarro and Cohen mentioned Argentina’s international commitments in this area and stressed that the law sets an example at the regional and international levels.

The Federal Mental Health, Justice, and Human Rights Roundtable hosted the event in order to share progress and experiences in applying the law. Representatives of other organizations also gave presentations and the event was broadcast live by Radio La Colifata.

This article was published on 7 December 2011 (Communications and Press Office of the Human Rights Secretariat, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Nation).