ADF International

Disability rights advocates speak out for freedom of expression on World Down Syndrome Day

Summary

  • Advocates with Down syndrome and their supporters gathered for high-level conference to make their voices heard
  • Widespread prenatal blood test condemned as ‘eugenic’ by human rights experts

GENEVA (19 March 2021) – Two hundred disability rights campaigners and supporters have spoken out at an online conference ahead of World Down Syndrome Day, organised by the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation (JLF) and government representatives from every global region.

Persons with Down syndrome, supported by the JLF and the Permanent Missions of the Philippines, Poland, El Salvador, Burkina Faso, Argentina and Panama, gathered at the event “Down Syndrome: Let’s talk more…and better!” on 17 March to bring attention to the discriminatory hurdles they face in society.

“Sunday marks World Down Syndrome Day, an important occasion to reiterate that human rights apply to all members of the human family, regardless of their mental or physical condition. Targeting and even eliminating unborn babies with Down syndrome because they are perceived as ‘different’ is nothing short of a contemporary form of eugenics. In accordance with human rights law, the international community must take action to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of disability. People with Down syndrome, whether born or unborn, have an equal right to life,” said Giorgio Mazzoli, UN Legal Officer for ADF International.

Challenge to French censorship of disability rights advocates

The JLF has, for years, set the standard in research and care for people with Down syndrome. The JLF has recently brought a case to Europe’s top court to fight for the rights of persons with Down Syndrome to be equally heard in society.

In 2014, the JLF participated in the production of an awareness raising video entitled “Dear Future Mom”. In the video, 18 children and adults with Down Syndrome describe their joys and challenges. They offer encouragement to women preparing for motherhood with babies with Down Syndrome. The video garnered multiple awards from the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and the Art Directors Club of Europe and was widely shared around the world – yet, faced censorship in France.

The JLF challenged an advisory opinion from the French Broadcasting Council which declared that the 30 second video was not a “message of general interest” and therefore could not be shown in the requested broadcasting slots on TV. The government, however, is still standing by the advisory opinion, despite many petitions to reinstate the airing of the video. The JLF affirms that it is essential that the voices of those living with Down syndrome are heard.

“No matter who the child is, his or her mother can be happy! I urge you to accept those like me because we are no different from you,” said Robin Sevette, featured in the video.

The censorship in question “makes it impossible to talk about Down Syndrome in any other way than with cold, clinical language, yet the only suitable language is that used by the persons concerned themselves: the language of the heart,” explains Jean-Marie Le Méné, president of JLF.

“Children and adults with Down Syndrome deserve to be heard and seen in society. Their joy and challenges in life are so often hidden away from the world. Sidelining their voices and preventing them from speaking out in ways available to others contributes to a culture of discrimination and suggests their voices are somehow worth less. International law protects against discrimination and ensures freedom of speech for all,” said Jennifer Lea, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Strasbourg where the European Court of Human Rights is located.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.