Promoting rights of people with disabilities in ASEAN

ASEAN needs to be consistent as a human rights friendly community, given its vision to be “a concert of Southeast Asian nations, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.”

Hafid Abbas, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, December 10 2015, 4:33 PM

It is a historic coincidence that the commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Dec. 3, marks a decade of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), while ASEAN will officially become a single community of nations politically, economically and socio-culturally by the end of this year, and seven days prior to the commemoration of the 67th of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The theme of the day for 2015 is inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.

ASEAN needs to be consistent as a human rights friendly community, given its vision to be “a concert of Southeast Asian nations, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.”

Across ASEAN, some 62 million people live with disabilities — about 10 percent of the region’s population. Just under half (45 percent) of them live in Indonesia, some 16 percent live in the Philippines, 13 percent in Vietnam, 11 percent in Thailand, and the other 15 percent in the remaining ASEAN countries.

This figure would probably double or multiply even further if the aging population is included. They belong to the poorest of the poor, and encounter a myriad of physical and social obstacles that prevent them from receiving an education; getting jobs, even when they are well qualified; accessing information, obtaining proper health care; etc.

ASEAN should prepare a regional plan of action to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. As a regional plan of action, it should address the challenges facing rights in the region. Challenges include its diverse government systems, languages and religions, not to mention size and a myriad of cultures and ethnicities.

Under these circumstances, it is utopian to prepare a regional plan of action for human rights in a uniform approach. Further, a regional plan of action should be goal oriented. The Incheon Strategy provides the Asia-Pacific region, and the world, with the first set of 10 regionally agreed disability-inclusive development goals, such as expanding early intervention and education of children with disabilities. ASEAN could adopt those goals into a plan of action framework.

First, each ASEAN member state should identify and strengthen the line ministries and other related institutions with a mandate to deal with education.

For example, to increase primary education enrollment rates of children with disabilities, the education, social affairs and home ministries and teachers’ associations are the most responsible institutions for making education available, accessible, acceptable, affordable and adaptable to all disabilities.

A next step would be to prepare policy frameworks and legislation. Indonesia alone has 16 laws dealing with disabilities including Law No. 4/1997 on persons with disabilities, and Law No. 19/2011 on the ratification of the CRPD.

These laws have to be harmonized with international and regional standards as mandated by the convention.

Step three is training and campaigns. The universal principles of the CRPD should be understood by teachers, principals, law enforcers, civil society organizations and the media. A new culture is needed to respect differences and accept persons with disabilities.

Step four is the implementation of norms and standards of human rights with better comparability of disability data. To achieve the Incheon Strategy, centers of excellence could be identified in member countries as a basis for regional collaboration.

The last step is to monitor the plan of action. One of the mandates and functions of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is to promote capacity building for effective implementation of international human rights treaty obligations undertaken by member states.

Hopefully ASEAN as a single community of nations could be a disability-friendly community, which is an inclusive and accessible society for all.

The writer, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, was director general of human rights at the Law and Human Rights Ministry, the focal point for the preparation and the implementation of Indonesia’s National Plan of Action on Human Rights.