Protection of sign languages in the member states of the Council of Europe
Recommendation 1598 (2003)

Doc. 10214 rev.
7 July 2004

Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 888th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (16 June 2004)

1.         The Committee of Ministers has been paying sustained attention to the question concerning the protection of sign languages and the rights of their users since the adoption of its reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1492 (2001) on the rights of national minorities, which contained a paragraph on sign languages, and, more particularly since the Assembly’s Recommendation 1598 (2003) on protection of sign languages in the member states of the Council of Europe.

2.         On receipt of this recommendation, the Committee of Ministers requested three Council of Europe expert committees, namely in the fields of education, rehabilitation of disabled people and protection of regional/minority languages, to give their opinions on it.

3.         On the basis of these opinions, the relevant Committee of Ministers subsidiary bodies held in-depth discussions and the following conclusions were reached:

a.         sign languages are important and merit special consideration and protection;

b.         the action of the Council of Europe should be focused more on access to rights by the users of sign languages than on promoting the status of the language;

c.         before deciding on the question of any possible future instrument, a study of the needs of sign language users, including consultation with sign language users and organisations representing them, should be conducted.

4.         The Committee of Ministers welcomes the idea of holding an international conference on sign languages, under the aegis of the Council of Europe, with the participation of sign language users, in due course, depending on resources available. The Parliamentary Assembly would be invited to be represented at any such Conference.

5.         The Committee of Ministers considers that, in line with item 9.i. of the Recommendation, such a conference could be instrumental in clarifying outstanding issues and moving the agenda forward.

6.         A study of the current situation in respect of sign languages and the rights of their users in a number of member states, presently conducted by the Council of Europe, could serve as a starting point for the above-mentioned needs analysis.

7.         The Committee of Ministers will inform the Assembly on further development in this regard.