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France must act to end segregation and inequality for people with disabilities, UN expert finds


GENEVA / PARIS (17 October 2017) – “To achieve equal citizenship for persons with disabilities, France needs to end segregation and move towards inclusive services and support in the community”, UN disability rights expert Catalina Devandas warned.

“While the country invests significant resources to address inequalities faced by people with disabilities, efforts in this area are highly compartmentalized and segregated,” said the Special Rapporteur in a statement following her official visit to assess the situation in the country.

Ms. Devandas recognized France’s work to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools, but said the system would need a significant transformation to achieve inclusive education for all. Most children in residential institutions did not receive quality education, while others received no education at all, she noted.

The Special Rapporteur expressed serious concern about the high number of French people with disabilities living in residential institutions - at least 300,000 in France itself and another 6,500, including 1,500 children, in Belgium.

“People with disabilities, including those with high support needs, have the right to live in their communities, to choose their place of residence and with whom they live,” Ms. Devandas stressed. 

She urged the Government to close all institutions as soon as possible and switch to community-based services, including adequate housing. Moving children out of institutions should be a political priority, she added, and the Government should consider a moratorium on new admissions.

“France is a country with a strong tradition of republican and democratic values, resting on the ideals of ‘freedom, equality and fraternity’. Disability policies in France need to embrace these ideals to guarantee the full inclusion of all people with disabilities in society, endowing them with more opportunities to live the lives they choose to live.

“Full citizenship won’t be a reality until some 750,000 people with disabilities who are under guardianship or tutorship in France, many of whom are deprived of their right to vote, have their legal capacity restored”, she added.

Ms. Devandas also noted that autistic people and those with psychosocial disabilities are systematically hospitalized or receive psychiatric treatment without consent. She reminded the government that deprivation of legal capacity and any type of involuntary treatment are contrary to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“France needs to carefully revise and transform its system to truly provide inclusive responses and solutions for all people with disabilities, manage and allocate resources more efficiently, and provide specialized services and support in the community on an equal basis with others,” Ms. Devandas said, urging the government to include people with disabilities in all decision-making processes.

During her 10-day visit, the Special Rapporteur visited Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Avignon, where she met senior Government officials, representatives of independent institutions, people with disabilities, organizations, and service providers. She also visited several psychiatric facilities, segregated institutions for people with disabilities, a school with inclusive practices, and an inclusive housing project.

The UN Special Rapporteur will present a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2019 on the main findings of her visit.


Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 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 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.

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.

UN Human Rights, country page: France

For press enquiries and additional information, please contact:

Ms. Cristina Michels (+41 22 928 9866 / cmichels@ohchr.org) or write to sr.disability@ohchr.org, or to Ms. Alina Grigoras, (+41 22 917 9289, agrigoras@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9826, mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)  

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