Board and Staff of Mental Health in Human Rights - FGIP

Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP is governed by a Federation Council consisting of both chairpersons of the boards of the member organizations of the Federation and a number of selected persons who have been invited because of personal competence.

Each member organization of Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP is a separate legal entity with its own board.

The staff of Mental Health in Human Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP consists currently of Robert van Voren, Chief Executive, and Katja Assoian, financial manager. They are supported by a number of volunteers and project managers and consultants who are hired on a contract base for concrete project activities. 

The Board of Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP

General Board Members

Sir Graham Thornicroft, Chairman (UK)

Graham Thornicroft is Professor of Community Psychiatry at the Centre for Global Mental Health in King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry. He is also a Consultant Psychiatrist working in an early intervention community mental health team in South London, and is Director of King’s Improvement Science. His areas of expertise include: mental health needs assessment, the development of outcome scales, cost-effectiveness evaluation of mental health treatments, stigma and discrimination and human rights, the development of community-based mental health services, and global mental health. He has published 29 books and 333 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He is committed to improving the quantity and quality of mental health care provided worldwide.


Benedetto Saraceno, Past Chair (I)

Dr. Benedetto Saraceno is a psychiatrist trained in public health who serviced as Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the World Health Organization until February 2010. Dr. Saraceno is Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatry of the United Kingdom and received a Doctor Honoris Causa degree from the New University of Lisbon and the City University of Birmingham. He assisted in the reform of mental health services in South and Central American countries, including Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Chile and Cuba. In 1996, Dr. Saraceno was appointed Programme Manager of the WHO special programme Nations for Mental Health and in 1999 he became WHO's Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.


Vanessa Cameron, Secretary (UK)

Mrs Vanessa Cameron MBE is the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  The College has over 17000 members, a turnover of £19 million and a staff of 200.  The Chief Executive ensures that the College carries out its objectives and purposes as defined in its Royal Charter.

Mrs. Cameron works very closely with the President, Honorary Officers and other trustees who are responsible for the governance of the College. Mrs. Cameron provides the overall management of the College’s staff and infrastructure.

Mrs. Cameron has an appointment with the UK Ministry of Justice as a lay member of the Tribunal Service for Mental Health that has responsibility for reviewing the detention of individual patients. She is also a trustee of the Arts Educational Schools and the Chair of their Development Committee. 

She was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours in 2013 for services to psychiatry

Her particular interests are in the public perception of psychiatry, the eradication of stigma in psychiatry, equality issues and organizational change.

John Bowis, Past Secretary (UK)

John Bowis is a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for London and was the Conservative spokesman on the Environment, Health and Food Safety in the European Parliament. He also serves on the Parliament's Development Committee and is Vice-President of the African-Caribbean-Pacific/EU (ACP/EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Earlier he was a British Minister on the Council of Health Ministers and he was Minister for Transport and Road Safety in London. In the nineties he was an International Policy Adviser to the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, supporting the UN's Nations for Mental Health Campaign.


Hans 's Gravesande, Treasurer (NL)

Hans 's Gravesande is a retired education expert. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, Hans ‘s-Gravesande was secretary of the Dutch foundation "Second World Center" which supported the democratic forces in the former Soviet Union and provided active help for freedom fighters condemned and confined in camps, prisons and psychiatric hospitals. In consequence of his former activities he joined the FGIP board in 2015.


David Gzirishvili (GEO)

David gzirishvili is a freelance consultant from Georgia, with more than 16 years experience primarily in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in health care systems and reforms, health care financing, service delivery, applied research, strategic and financial planning, and organizational development. He has been actively involved in civil society development and policy making. He has served in different positions in management and governance bodies of non-for-profit organizations. As a medical doctor, David practiced emergency medicine and family medicine from 1989 to 1995. He also holds a MSc in International and European Law in Social Security (KatholiekeUniversiteit Leuven, Belgium).


Jos Poelmann (NL)


Jos Poelmann has been graduated as a social scientist and psychotherapist and has been working in (mental) health institutions since 1975; with the exception of a period of 6 years (1981 and 1987) as a Prison Governor.

Since 1987 Jos was director/head of treatment in an institute for the treatment of Youth (learning disabilities combined with psychiatric diseases). Since 1994 his main influence concerned the Dutch Forensic Care system, as successively general director, president of the executive board of a forensic mental health institute and as president of the Dutch Association of Forensic Mental Health Executives. Since 2004 these activities were combined with membership of the executive board of a regional Dutch Mental Health Hospital (MH Nijmegen, MH Pro Persona). Since 2010 Jos has been international consultant for hospitals in developing countries (Africa, Asia) in service of the Dutch Association of Employers. He is now an independent consultant on (mental) healthcare issues and non-executive board member in several related organizations.
Charlene Sunkel (SA)
Charlene Sunkel is a leading South African voice for the rights of people with mental health problems. She works for the South African Federation for Mental Health as Program Manager for Advocacy and Development where she manages the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement. She authored several papers from a service user’s perspective. She has written and produced theatre plays and a short feature film on mental disorders – to raise public awareness.

Ms Sunkel had been involved in the review and drafting of various policies and legislation in South Africa and provided technical assistance to international mental health related reports and documents. She serves on a number of national and international boards and committees, including: Editorial Advisory Board of the Lancet Psychiatry; Presidential Working Group on Disability; Ministerial Advisory Committee on Mental Health; Disability Empowerment Concerns Trust; Mental Health and Human Rights FGIP; citiesRISE; Rural Mental Health Campaign; and amongst others.

Ms Sunkel is also the Principal Coordinator for the Movement for Global Mental Health. Ms Sunkel was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1991 which led to her passion for mental health advocacy and human rights, where she received a number of national and international awards for her work. 


George Szmukler (UK)

I am a psychiatrist, now retired from clinical practice as a Consultant at the Maudsley Hospital in London, who has had major interests in the past in eating disorders, carers of patients with a psychosis, and health services research. My research now concerns methods of reducing compulsion and ’coercion’ in psychiatric care, for example, through the use of ’advance statements’ or ‘joint crisis plans’. This is related to my interest is mental health law, which I argue discriminates against people with a mental illness. I propose generic legislation covering all persons, whether they have a ‘mental’ or ‘physical’ disorder who have a difficulty in making a treatment choice which has serious consequences. I am interested in the implications of recent human rights treaties, for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for such law.

My past posts have included Dean of the Institute of Psychiatry (2001-2006), and Medical Director of the Bethlem and Maudsley NHS Trust (1997-1999) then joint Medical Director of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (1999-2001). I was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics (2005-2014). Between 2007-2015 I was an Associate Director of the NIHR Mental Health Research Network, with lead responsibility for Patient and Public Involvement (PPI). A major aim was to increase the involvement in mental health research of service users and carers as partners in the conduct of research, as well as to engage the interest and support of the general public.

I am currently the chair of the Special Committee on Human Rights of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK.


Dr. Marija Veniute (no photo yet)
Dr. Marija Veniute is a public health expert and associated professor of public mental health at Vilnius University, Faculty of Medicine. Since 2001 Marija has been actively involved in the field of public mental health as a researcher, lecturer and expert. Herewith Marija participated in several research projects on evaluation of mental health policies and services in Lithuania, mental health promotion and mental disorders prevention, social integration of people with mental disabilities and mental health indicators. Marija has expertise in evaluating international mental health projects for The Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency of the European Commission, also conducting international evaluations of empowerment and activation of people with mental disorders. She is a member of national informal NGO and expert coalition on Mental Health 2030.


The Chief Executive of Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP

Robert van Voren - Chief Executive (NL/LT)

Robert van Voren (1959) is a Sovietologist by education. A graduate of Amsterdam University, he obtained his PhD at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania) where he is Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. He is also Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Starting in 1977, he became active in the Soviet human rights movement. In 1980, he co-founded the International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry and became its General Secretary in 1986. 

Van Voren holds a number of positions on boards of organizations in the fields of human rights, mental health and prison reform.

Van Voren has written extensively on Soviet issues, the Second World War, and issues related to mental health and human rights. More than a dozen of his books have been published.


Supporting staff

Human Rights in Mental Heakth-FGIP has a virtual office which allows us to keep overhead costs to a minimum. The virtual office is managed by Robert van Voren, Chief Executive, who is supported by a number of volunteers and experts contracted on an ad hoc basis. The financial administration is maintained by Katja assoian, supported and supervised by the Treasurer and the administrative office of Vorwerk in Amersfoort.