Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Covid-19: Urgent application before French Conseil d’Etat on rights to life and freedom of persons with disabilities

By Erzsébet Oláh 2nd April 2020

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JOINT STATEMENT

Collectif pour la Liberté d’Expression des Autistes and Validity are concerned about the French government’s decision to confine persons in medical and social care institutions that host persons with disabilities. Confronted by massive violations of fundamental rights, particularly the rights to freedom, protection from arbitrary detention and the rights to life and dignity, the Collectif, supported by Validity’s experts, have filed an urgent application before the French Conseil d’Etat earlier this week. The government was ordered to provide observations by 1 April.

On 14 March 2020, the Secretary of State of the Prime Minister’s office in charge of persons with disabilities, Mrs. Sophie Cluzel, made an announcement through a press conference concerning new measures to confine persons with disabilities in institutions.

This decision, which lacks a proper legal basis, orders social care institutions to be locked. This measure places persons with disabilities at enhanced risk of psychological distress and physical danger during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving them prone to all kinds of possible abuse. Residents are often confined to rooms, deprived of all contact with their loved ones and of all means of alternative communication. It renders the institutions totally opaque and places them beyond all independent control and oversight.

Arbitrary, unlawful and undignified measures

These measures seriously violate French law and international conventions, particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

People with disabilities in France are often deprived of their liberty in institutions and have their legal capacity restricted. These measures exacerbate the already precarious position of many people with disabilities in the country, result in people being arbitrarily locked into social care institutions and are discriminatory on the basis of disability. The measures increase the risk of severe human rights violations including of the rights to life, dignity and access to healthcare.

The current pandemic further worsens the situation of these persons. The Secretary of State’s decision places greater restrictions on persons with disabilities in social care institutions than are in place in prisons.

The Collectif, which is an activist organisation that fights for the rights of persons with disabilities in France, decided to file a lawsuit before the Conseil d’Etat, with the support of Validity. The urgent action seeks an order to obtain emergency measures necessary to guarantee freedom of movement, equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities in institutions.

For the sake of transparency, and in order to prevent abuse of persons with disabilities deprived of their liberty in social care institutions, the partners argue that it is essential to install independent control mechanisms and allow third parties to access these institutions, in accordance with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

The emergency around the pandemic should not be used to justify derogations from core human rights norms. Persons with disabilities have the right to benefit from the same protection and rights as all other persons in the country. Protecting society and limiting the spread of Coronavirus must not lead to a tacit acceptance of a death sentence for people in institutions who are deprived of access to healthcare and which become hotbeds of infection.

The morbid effects of the government’s decision are already in evidence. French regional press has already reported massive numbers of infections causing the death of more than 200 persons in social care institutions.

Alarming testimonies

The Collectif has received numerous alarming testimonies about the situation of people confined in institutions, including serious cases of self-harm, children crying and screaming “mummy, daddy” seeking to contact their parents, others yelling “do not touch me, let me die”, and several persons with disabilities who stopped eating.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the already disastrous situation of persons with disabilities

Support staff in social care institutions lack skills to respond to the specific needs of persons with disabilities, further endangering their safety.

The Collectif and Validity are calling for the immediate provision of reasonable accommodations and guarantees that persons with disabilities can exit institutions. The current pandemic is, more than ever, the moment to eliminate the “dependency model” inherent within the French system that denies core human rights protections. The partners also demand an acknowledgement that these institutions are in fact places of detention where people are deprived of liberty. Due to the discriminatory nature of these facilities, the partners call for their closure.

In ordinary times, the “dependency model” perpetuates a system of arbitrary deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities across France. During the pandemic, social care institutions become epidemiological traps, the scenes of massive violations of human rights, beyond all independent control.