Concerns Remain on Government’s Willingness to Enforce Convention Fully
August 16, 2010
Malaysia has taken an important step to protect the rights of people with disabilities. But the convention should be seen as a springboard for changing Malaysian laws, policies, and practices that violate the rights of people with disabilities.
Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher

(New York) - Malaysia's ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can help bring real improvement in the lives of people with disabilities in Malaysia, Human Rights Watch said today. But Malaysia should withdraw its formal reservations to the treaty that will undermine its efforts to protect and promote those rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The Disability Rights Convention affirms broad protections for people with disabilities, including the rights to life, freedom from discrimination, equal recognition before the law, and access to justice, education, employment, and health. The treaty will go into effect in Malaysia on August 18, 2010.

"Malaysia has taken an important step to protect the rights of people with disabilities," said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. "But the convention should be seen as a springboard for changing Malaysian laws, policies, and practices that violate the rights of people with disabilities."

While the Malaysian government has indicated plans to improve acceptance of people with disabilities into the mainstream, there are still problems with putting the plans into practice, Human Rights Watch said. Compliance with the 1984 law that mandates that public buildings be designed for accessibility is sporadic. In addition, a non-binding plan announced in 2009 to ensure that one percent of the government work force is reserved for persons with disabilities has not matched expectations.

The dropout rate for children with disabilities is a major concern, Human Rights Watch said. In part, this results from a lack of access to schools for children who use wheelchairs, for example, and in part from a lack of facilities, programs, and trained personnel to assist children with learning disabilities. The country's education regulations even exclude the "non-educable" from schools.

Malaysia entered formal reservations to the Disability Rights Convention concerning the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment (article 15) and the right to liberty of movement and nationality (article 18). It also made a declaration limiting the government's legal application of the principles of non-discrimination and equality.

Human Rights Watch urged Malaysia to withdraw these reservations immediately and to ensure that anyone with disabilities in Malaysia has the full protection of all rights set out in the convention. Countries that have ratified the Disability Rights Convention should make formal objections to Malaysia's reservations and declaration, Human Rights Watch said.

Malaysia's reservations are especially problematic, Human Rights Watch said, because the government has yet to ratify other major human rights treaties that incorporate these rights, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The prohibition against torture is one of the most basic under international law, permitting no exceptions. Malaysia has recently withdrawn a number of its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but should remove all the remaining reservations, Human Rights Watch said.

"Malaysia's reservations are troubling and send a terrible message to people with disabilities," Barriga said. "What possible justification could Malaysia have for objecting to protecting persons with disabilities from torture or allowing them to move around the country?"

Human Rights Watch also urged Malaysia to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Disability Rights Convention, which allows individuals to send complaints of human rights violations to an international monitoring body. At present, Malaysia's Persons with Disabilities Act provides no mechanisms for redress, and expressly prohibits legal actions against the government for violating the rights of persons with disabilities.

"By ratifying the Disability Rights Convention, Malaysia made progress toward fulfilling one of its pledges as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt more international human rights instruments," Barriga said. "However, its reservations to the convention fall far short of honoring that pledge."