Last week, France delivered some good news on the human rights and equality front: All people with disabilities are to be granted the right to vote.
Currently Article 5 of France’s Electoral Code allows a judge to deprive people who have been assigned a guardian to make decisions on their behalf of the right to vote. Most of the time this impacts persons with a disability. However State Secretary for Persons with Disabilities, Sophie Cluzel, has declared she wants people with disabilities under guardianship to have the right to vote.
“Our French legislation cannot on the one hand assert that people with disabilities are citizens like any other, and on the other hand take away from them the most emblematic attribute of citizenship,” she said.
Already in January 2017, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights called for repeal of Article 5 of the Electoral Code. This was also a recommendation of United Nations expert on the rights of people with disabilities. The UN disability rights treaty, ratified by France and more than 170 other countries, recognizes that people with disabilities have the right to make decisions for themselves just like anyone else. To this end countries should not deprive or limit a person of legal capacity on the basis of disability, including by placing them under guardianship.
Yet, few countries allow unrestricted political participation by people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities. In Peru, after continued pressure from national disabled peoples' organizations, officials admitted that some 20,000 people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities had been excluded from the voter registry. In 2011, policies excluding people with certain disabilities from the electoral rolls were nullified. In Europe, civil society successfully mobilized against guidelines from the Council of Europe that permitted people with disabilities to be deprived from exercising their right to vote if they were deemed to lack “proper judgement”. But there is no competency test for voting, except when it comes people with disabilities.
In spite of France’s international obligation to recognize people with disabilities’ legal capacity, guardianship is still widely applied: according to the UN expert, some 385,000 people were under guardianship in 2015. Seventeen percent of them – roughly 65,000 people – were deprived of their right to vote. France should proceed promptly with the reform and become an example to help make universal suffrage truly universal.