In a statement to mark the International Day of Sign Languages, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes,* highlights that sign languages are fully-fledged languages, and that their users have the same human rights and freedoms as members of other linguistic minorities:

“There are some 72 million deaf people worldwide, according to the World Federation of the Deaf.

States should undertake concrete legislative, institutional and policy measures to ensure they are recognised as users of fully-fledged minority languages and that their rights as members of linguistic minorities are protected and promoted without discrimination and in accordance with all relevant international human rights standards.

Human rights are interconnected and interrelated, and the challenges faced by deaf people worldwide demand coordinated actions based on comprehensive advocacy frameworks that build on the State commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the international framework on the human rights of minorities, including the 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

Particular attention needs to be placed on the systematic inclusion of sign languages in the provision of services, and in areas such as employment, education, justice and healthcare.

States must facilitate the learning of sign languages, as well as quality education in these languages, and promote the linguistic identity of members of the deaf linguistic minorities as part of their human rights obligations.

Deaf people around the world are achieving increasing recognition – including through the adoption by consensus on 19 December 2017 of the United Nations General Assembly resolution that declared 23 September as the International Day of Sign Languages.

This important development was followed by my commitment at the 10th UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva on 1 December 2017, that users of sign languages were also to be recognised as members of linguistic minorities under my mandate.”

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