(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government should revise a draft disability law to ensure equality for people with disabilities under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said today. In 2012, Cambodia ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which aims to ensure that all persons with disabilities enjoy the unrestricted and equal enjoyment of all human rights while at the same time enabling their full inclusion and equal participation in society.
The bill to protect the rights of people with disabilities was not released, but Human Rights Watch received a copy of the bill dated March 3, 2021. The bill is intended to create a legal framework for the rights of people with disabilities, but it will not address human rights based approach. It uses language that reinforces the stigma against people with disabilities rather than ensuring equal access to education, employment, transport, social and legal services, and independent living.
“Cambodia has long needed a disability rights law, but the bill must drop stigmatizing language and support the right to be fully included in society, not marginalized,” said Kriti Sharma, disability rights expert at Human Rights Watch. “If the bill is revised to meet international standards, the government would take a monumental step towards ensuring equality and strong social protection for the large number of people with disabilities in Cambodia.”
The bill’s definition of disability is based on an outdated paradigm modeled on a medical model of disability and uses stigmatizing languages such as “disorder”, “damaged” and “defective”, which means that a disability needs to be “cured” or “feast.”
The bill should be revised to implement key articles of the international treaty, Human Rights Watch said. This includes CRPD Article 4 on the requirement to consult people with disabilities; Article 12 on equal recognition before the law; Article 14 on the right to liberty and security, including the prevention of arbitrary detention in institutions; Article 15 on freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; Article 19 on the right to live independently and to be accepted into the community; and Article 29 on participation in political and public life, including ensuring the right to seek public office.
The draft law establishes “degrees of discrimination”, which are discriminatory as they create a basis for excluding people with certain disabilities from independent living or from access to adequate support. The government should reformulate the provision to reflect the international pact’s call for adequate support measures for people with disabilities that would enable them to be fully involved and live independently in society.
Chapter IV sets out the rights of people with disabilities and the obligations of government, including employment, health services, education, accessibility regulations, equal participation and legal services. The section on education states that the government offers courses for “people with disabilities who cannot attend an inclusive class”. This introduces a form of segregation rather than ensuring inclusive, quality education. According to Article 24 of the Convention, state schools and educational institutions are required to take reasonable accommodation – necessary and appropriate adaptations that are tailored to the individual needs of people with disabilities – and to teach using inclusive methods to ensure that teaching is tailored to needs all is adapted to students.
The draft law on protection against sexual violence and harassment does not comply with Article 16 of the Convention, which protects against all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse, including gender-based ones, and provides guidelines for surveillance systems and support services. The bill uses vague language that requires only “appropriate and effective action” and does not protect against other forms of violence such as physical violence, exploitation and abuse. The article should contain complaints procedures that are accessible, anonymous, and provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.
Chapter III aims to establish a Cambodian National Council for People with Disabilities. This government agency should be supplemented by an independent agency in accordance with Article 33 of the Treaty and involve people with disabilities and representative organizations in decision-making in accordance with the fundamental principle of the Treaty: “Nothing about us, without us. ”
In 2019, Cambodia piloted a disability card in eight provinces and said it had registered around 14,000 people with disabilities by early 2021. This card is intended to enable access to social benefits. However, the process has been slow as information about registration and the inadequate training of officers has been inadequately shared with people with disabilities. “Of course, the handicap card doesn’t have much value right now,” said Yeap Malino, head of the disability department, in February.
In June 2020, the Interior Ministry proposed a public order bill that will further tighten discrimination against people with psychosocial disabilities – mental illness. The current draft law gives the authorities full powers to arbitrarily deprive people with psychosocial disabilities of their civil liberties and detain them in institutions.
Human Rights Watch reported in a 2013 report that people in Cambodia with real or perceived psychosocial disabilities continue to be handcuffed – handcuffed or confined – due to a lack of adequate and accessible community services, stigma and discrimination . The government should immediately ban the shackles, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Cambodian government should not miss the opportunity to move away from a system of isolation and abuse and build a system of support and independence,” Sharma said. “The United Nations, donors and others involved in drafting Cambodia’s Disability Act should insist on a final text that is compatible with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
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