Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Malaysian Bar: Equal rights now for people with disabilities

Press Release: Equal rights now for people with disabilities

The Malaysian Bar is disappointed that persons with disabilities continue to battle discrimination in almost every aspect of their daily lives, including routine matters that we take for granted, such as safe access to buildings and to public transport. Existing laws that are intended to protect the rights of the disabled and to improve their quality of life, such as those mandating access to public buildings, ring hollow as they still lack enforcement.

These shortcomings were illustrated only too well when Karpal Singh reportedly fell from his wheelchair in the Kuantan High Court building while being carried up two flights of stairs to attend a hearing recently. If even lawyers face such problems in accessing courtrooms, it requires no feat of the imagination to believe that persons with disabilities face unacceptable barriers in their daily mobility due to the lack of proper infrastructure to cater to their basic needs.

The Malaysian Government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“Convention”) on 8 April 2008. However, it has yet to ratify the Convention, which means that the Government is not yet bound to comply with the provisions of the Convention.

Pursuant to signing the Convention, the Government introduced new legislation by way of the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 (“PWD Act”), which came into force on 7 July 2008. The Act represents a small but significant step forward, but it is not comprehensive nor inclusive enough. It only incorporates selected objectives from the Convention, and its relatively narrow language does not adopt the full spirit and intent of the Convention, which calls for governments to take steps to “ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability”.

In addition, there are some major omissions and gaps in the PWD Act. One glaring example is the lack of penalties for any party who fails to comply with its obligations, with the Federal Government enjoying an express exclusion from any wrongdoing. This exemption casts serious doubt on the Government’s commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities. Furthermore, disabled individuals have little or no recourse to legal remedies if they face discrimination in areas such as public transport, housing, education, employment and health care.

Other laws that address the needs of persons with disabilities also exist. One example is the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984, which stipulate that all public buildings must have adequate facilities to ensure that persons with disabilities can enter, move around within and exit such buildings. These by-laws have been gazetted in all 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia, but full compliance is needed.

Without doubt, there is a cost element involved in redesigning public areas and buildings, and generally with undertaking obligations under international treaties. The Convention therefore calls for the “progressive realization” of most of its provisions.

We urge the Government to spare no cost in dismantling, without delay, all obstacles that hinder the full and effective participation of disabled persons in society on an equal basis with others. Furthermore, any costs incurred will be more than offset by the greater contributions that persons with disabilities can then make to society.

The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the Government to immediately ratify the Convention, sign and ratify the Optional Protocol, and take measures to implement its obligations under these instruments. We also call on the authorities to take a pro-active stance in improving and enforcing the existing laws that pertain to the rights of disabled persons, with the goal of ensuring full inclusion and equality of opportunity for them. These are crucial steps in promoting respect for their inherent dignity and in moving from a charity-based approach to a rights-based approach.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar
5 May 2009

1 comment:

Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...


As world's free people of honour
Let us all show our "true colour"
Whether at the brightest or darkest hour
Who we can turn to as our real Saviour?

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 060509
Wed. 6th May 2009.