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Discrimination against autistic persons, the rule rather than the exception – UN rights experts


World Autism Awareness Day - Thursday 2 April 2015

GENEVA (1st April 2015) – Two United Nations human rights experts today called for an end to discrimination against autistic persons and a celebration of diversity. Speaking ahead of World Autism Awareness Day, the Special Rapporteurson the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, and on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, noted that about one per cent of the world’s population -some 70 million people- is estimated to be on the autism spectrum worldwide.

“As part of human diversity, autistic persons should be embraced, celebrated and respected. However, discrimination against autistic children and adults is more the rule rather than the exception.

In many countries, autistic persons lack access to services which would support, on an equal basis with others, their right to health, education, employment, and living in the community. When available, services are too often far from human rights friendly or evidence-based.

Autistic persons are particularly exposed to professional approaches and medical practices which are unacceptable from a human rights point of view. Such practices – justified many times as treatment or protection measures – violate their basic rights, undermine their dignity, and go against scientific evidence.

Autistic children and adults face the proliferation of medicalized approaches relying on the over-prescription of psychotropic medications, their placement in psychiatric hospitals and long-term care institutions, the use of physical or chemical restraint, electro-impulsive therapy, etc. This may be particularly harmful and lead to the deterioration of their condition. All too often, such practices amount to ill-treatment or torture.

The autism spectrum should be understood from a broader perspective, including in research. We call for caution about enthusiastic attempts to find the causes of autism and ways to ‘cure’ autism through sophisticated but not necessarily ethical research. Autism as a condition is a critical challenge for modern health systems, in which we need to ensure that the practice and science of medicine is never again used to cause the suffering of people.

More investment is needed in services and research into removing societal barriers and misconceptions about autism. Autistics persons should be recognized as the main experts on autism and on their own needs, and funding should be allocated to peer-support projects run by and for autistic persons.

It is about providing individuals and families with the necessary skills and support to have choice and control over their lives. It is also about equal opportunities, access to inclusive education and mainstream employment to achieve equality and rights enjoyment by autistic persons. It is about promoting their independence and respecting their dignity.

Autistic persons should be respected, accepted and valued in our societies, and this can only be achieved by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their basic rights and freedoms.”

Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in December 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas Aguilar has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Strategic Partnerships with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/SRDisabilities/Pages/SRDisabilitiesIndex.aspx

Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. Mr Pûras is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social pediatrics at Vilnius University. He is also a human rights advocate who has been actively involved during the last 30 years in the process of transforming public health policies and services, with special focus on the rights of children, persons with mental disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the ‘Special Procedures’ of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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