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International Day of Sign Languages
23 September 2019

States should recognise deaf people as members of linguistic minorities and ensure the full enjoyment of their human rights, says UN expert

GENEVA (20 September 2019) – 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."


Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Canada), was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council with promoting the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things. He is one of the world's leading experts on minority rights in international law, with more than 200 publications in some 30 languages.

(*) This statement is endorsed by Ms Catalina Devandas Aguilar (Costa Rica), the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The 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: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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