Human Rights Day 2010: “Against All Odds”: The Malaysian Bar – December 9, 2010

Press Release: Human Rights Day 2010: “Against All Odds”
Thursday, 09 December 2010 10:40am

On 10 December this year, the Bar Council Human Rights Committee once again joins the rest of the world in celebrating Human Rights Day.

Our focus this year is on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Malaysia recently ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“CRPD”). While the Malaysian Bar welcomes this move, there are still grave concerns on the Government’s reservations to Article 3 on general principles, Article 5 on equality and non-discrimination, Article 15 on freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Article 18 on liberty of movement and nationality, and Article 30 on participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

Malaysia has also not signed or ratified the Optional Protocols of CRPD, which grant specific rights to the citizens/residents of a country to refer their government to the international supervisory committee for non-compliance with any of the articles.

Locally, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 has yet to be amended to provide for any form of punishment or remedy for breaches.

These are fundamental issues that need to be addressed, to give full force and effect to the CRPD, without which the rights of persons with disabilities in this country are not even close to being fully acknowledged, what more protected.

Aimed at raising public awareness on rights of persons with disabilities, “Against All Odds” will feature a Public Forum on Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 that will take place on 12 December 2010 (Sunday) from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the Bar Council Auditorium, No 15, Leboh Pasar Besar, 50050 Kuala Lumpur.

Invited panellists, and the topics of discussion, are:

(a) Professor Dr Tiun Ling Ta, President, Persatuan Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia: “Opportunities in education – early, primary, secondary and tertiary”;
(b) Zakaria b Yahaya, Teacher, Sekolah Menengah Pendidikan Khas Setapak, Kuala Lumpur: “Observation and expectation from the vocational and recreational perspectives”;
(c) Helen Chin, advocate and solicitor: “Malaysia’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and human rights for the disabled community in Malaysia”;
(d) A representative from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) (TBC): “Commitments by the government ministries and agencies”; and
(e) A representative from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (TBC): “Enjoying life from human rights perspectives”.

The forum will be conducted in both Bahasa Malaysia and English.

After a successful inaugural event in 2008, the Bar Council Human Rights Debate is now being featured again in conjunction with the Human Rights Day celebrations. It is a three-day event that will be held from 10-12 December 2010 (Friday to Sunday) at KDU University College, Section 13 Campus, No 76, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Aimed at promoting free speech and creating greater awareness and education of human rights standards, while at the same time advocating important principles of international rights law, the theme for this year’s Human Rights Debate is “Against All Odds – Making a Difference for Human Rights”.

Out of RM30,000.00 prize money allocated from registration fees and corporate sponsorships, RM25,000.00 will be donated equally to five institutions caring or advocating for persons with disabilities from all over the country, to be selected by the Bar Council Human Rights Committee. The remaining RM5,000.00 will be awarded as prize money to the champion of the tournament.

Teams from 18 institutions, including some from India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Singapore, as well as local universities such as Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia, have registered for the tournament.

This is a unique debating tournament, the first in the world to be hosted by a statutory body of legal professionals.

Admission to both the public forum and the human rights debate tournament is free, and open to the public. Due to limited space, pre-registration is required in order to attend the public forum. To register, please contact Adi Irman by telephone at 03-2031 3003 ext 105 or by email at

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar

9 Dec 2010

Time to remove all reservations and sign the Optional Protocols: The Malaysian Bar – July 8, 2010

The Malaysian Bar
Press Release: Time to remove all reservations and sign the Optional Protocols

Thursday, 08 July 2010 03:11pm
The Malaysian Bar welcomes the Government’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Alongside Malaysia’s well-publicised ratification, the Government has nonetheless taken reservations to Article 3 on general principles, Article 5 on equality and non-discrimination, Article 15 on freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Article 18 on liberty of movement and nationality, and Article 30 on participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

This means that the Malaysian Government does not fully subscribe to the fundamental principles that persons with disabilities should enjoy such equality, non-discrimination, freedom or liberty, or to fully participate in culture, recreation, leisure and sport. This makes for a hollow ratification since such reservations take away from fundamental principles that underpin CRPD.

These kinds of reservations are consistent with the reservations made to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malaysia acceded to in 1995. Despite withdrawing reservations to Articles 1, 13 and 15 of CRC, Malaysia still has five reservations in place. These are to Article 2 on non-discrimination; Article 7 on name and nationality; Article 14 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Article 28(1)(a) on free and compulsory education at primary level; and Article 37 on torture and deprivation of liberty. This indicates that the Malaysian Government still takes the view that children can be discriminated against, have no right to a name or nationality, have no freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and staggeringly, should not be free from torture and deprivation of liberty.

The Malaysian Bar also welcome the Government’s withdrawal of reservations to Articles 5(a), 7(b) and 16(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While noteworthy strides have been made in terms of efforts to eliminate discrimination against women, Malaysia also still has five reservations in place with respect to CEDAW. These deal with equal rights for women to pass their nationality to their children (Article 9(2)); equal rights to enter into marriage (Article 16(1)(a)); equal rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution (Article 16(1)(c)); equal rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children (Article 16(1)(f)); and the same personal rights in a marriage, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation (Article 16(1)(g)).

In addition to these reservations, the Malaysian Government has still not signed or ratified any of the Optional Protocols to CRPD, CRC or CEDAW. These Optional Protocols grant specific rights to the citizens/residents of a country to refer their government to the international supervisory committee for non-compliance with each of these conventions. At present, although Malaysia is a State Party to these conventions, Malaysians cannot hold the Government accountable if it does not honour or comply with their provisions.

Similarly, the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008, which supposedly implemented the provisions of CRPD and which came into force in July 2008, does not provide for any form of punishment or remedy for breaches. It remains to be seen how the Malaysian Government will ensure that provisions of that Act are implemented. The Act also does not ensure that the persons with disabilities are not discriminated against, e.g. in education and employment opportunities.

The ratification of CRPD, and the withdrawal of some of the reservations to CRC and CEDAW, are all positive steps. However, more can, and should, be done.

We call on the Malaysian Government to give full effect to its international obligations by removing all remaining reservations, and by signing all three Optional Protocols. It should also expand the scope of the existing Child Act 2001 and Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 to comprehensively cover all areas of CRC and CRPD respectively. Currently, many of the provisions of CRC and CRPD have been left out of the enabling Malaysian legislation.

Finally, to show that it is fully transparent and accountable to the rakyat, we call on the Malaysian Government to insert provisions in all enabling legislation to allow the Malaysian Government to be challenged in Malaysian courts for non-compliance with its full obligations under CRPD, CRC and CEDAW. In particular, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Malaysian Government should do no less.

Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar

8 July 2010

A disabled-friendly Malaysia?: The Nut Graph – February 19, 2009

A disabled-friendly Malaysia?
19 Feb 10 : 8.00AM

By Ding Jo-Ann

MALAYSIA passed the Persons with Disabilities Act (PWDA) in 2008 as part of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN Convention). According to the PWDA, those persons with disabilities shall have equal access to the following in Malaysia:

public facilities, amenities, services and buildings;
public transport;
information, communication and technology;
cultural life;
recreation, leisure and sport.

Malaysia also amended the Uniform Building Bylaws in 1990, making it compulsory for buildings to provide access and facilities for disabled persons. Existing buildings were given three years to make modifications to comply with the bylaw.

In addition, then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in September 2006 that all buildings and public amenities, including existing buildings, must be disabled friendly.

But two years after the Act and nearly two decades after the bylaw amendment, have there been substantial steps taken in providing equal access for persons with disabilities? If not, why not?

No change

Peter Tan, a disability rights advocate living with spinal cord injury, says that as far as accessing public places is concerned, not much has changed since the PWDA or bylaw amendment were passed.

He says accessible facilities have only been provided on a piecemeal basis so far. “For example, if a wheelchair user wants to go to Suria KLCC from Cheras, there are too many barriers in the built environment and public transport system that makes the journey impossible.

“We need to have accessibility from a holistic point of view. What is the point of having a building that is fully accessible when the wheelchair user cannot even get out from his [or her] house safely and conveniently?” says Tan.

He adds there is currently no code of practice for disabled access to public transport. “RapidKL claimed they have 100 buses with ramps. However, the buses don’t allow wheelchair users to board. Even if they did, the bus stops are not suitable.

“If I don’t drive, I won’t be able to move around the city conveniently. I have taken the Kelana Jaya LRT line, which is wheelchair accessible, but there is no connectivity from our homes to the stations,” says Tan.

RapidKL buses, which Tan says aren’t as disabled friendly as they are claimed to be
(Pic by mailer_diablo / Wiki commons)

Helen Chin, a lawyer and advocate for the learning disabled, cannot think of any examples of significant improvements brought about by the PWDA.

“There are some radio announcements on launching programmes to sensitise people on the rights of disabled persons. This is encouraging, but no details have been given,” she says in a phone interview.

“We’re in 2010 now; the Act was passed in 2008. [The government] has to move faster… there are so many who are disabled.”

Chin says that at an October 2009 Bar Council public forum, an Education Ministry spokesperson announced plans to remove the words “non-educable” from the Education Act (Special Education) Regulations 1997 by early 2010. This was to align the regulations with the PWDA, which ensures equal education opportunities for all.

To date, however, Chin says nothing has been gazetted.

Change possible

Anthony (Courtesy of T Anthony) Petaling Jaya (PJ) City Council councillor and The Star Wheel Power columnist Anthony Thanasayan says the council has been working hard to make PJ disabled friendly.

He says having a technical committee on disabilities is a must to ensure access for disabled persons.

Anthony, who is a wheelchair user, says having a disabled person in the committee is also crucial to ensure plans are usable.

“All new buildings [in PJ] now need the committee’s approval. Through this process, we’ve spotted many plans that needed improvement. Often, [developers] genuinely have no clue [about how to construct a disabled-friendly building].”

Anthony says the PWDA is “useless” without a disabilities committee in every council. “Change must be top-down, not down-up,” he says. “It has to start with the pavements outside your house, not at some beautiful five-star hotel or shopping complex.

“If Najib means what he says [about ensuring all public buildings and amenities are disabled friendly], he should set up disability committees in all councils,” says Anthony.

Anthony predicts that a satisfactory level for disabled access can be gradually achieved in three years, provided the council stays committed. The council also plans to build 150 disabled-friendly car parks with shelters, and now issues official disabled passes for free. It also built a 500m universal-design pavement along Jalan Gasing that is disabled friendly.

Tan (Courtesy of Peter Tan) Tan adds that accessible facilities do not just benefit disabled persons, but can also be used by senior citizens, pregnant women, and adults with prams.

Making change happen

On a national level, Chin says the government needs to set up a board of inquiry with session court powers if it seriously intends to address issues faced by disabled persons.

“At the moment, there is no machinery for channelling complaints and to draw the government’s attention to grouses,” says Chin. “You can write a letter just like to any government department, but there’s no accountability to this process. So how effective can it be?”

The PWDA establishes a National Council for Persons with Disabilities chaired by the minister in charge of social welfare, which meets at least thrice yearly to implement the PWDA.

However, Chin says the PWDA doesn’t provide for any sanctions if the government fails in its obligation to provide equal opportunities of access as outlined in the PWDA. Further, there are conflicting provisions in the PWDA on whether an individual can sue the government for not meeting its obligations.

“Without penalties [for contravening the PWDA] and a board of inquiry, [the Act] is more like a policy statement. There should be separate regulations made to ensure that implementation is down-to-earth and practical,” says Chin.

Chin notes that sanctions already exist for buildings that do not comply with the Uniform Building Bylaws, which provide for disabled access. However, enforcement has been weak. “Even when there are legislative provisions providing for sanction, its success depends on enforcement,” she says.

(Pic by Thoursie / Malaysia signed the UN Convention, we did not ratify it or sign the Optional Protocol. The protocol allows those adversely affected by a country’s non-compliance with the UN Convention to report such violations to the UN committee, which oversees its implementation.

“The authorities often say that things cannot change overnight,” says Tan. “I have been a wheelchair user for 26 years, and have not been able to live independently even after the PWDA or Uniform Building Bylaws amendment.

“Fifteen years since the bylaw amendment, politicians are still using this excuse.”