1. Regional initiatives
There is currently no regional treaty in the Asia Pacific that addresses the rights of persons with disabilities. However, various initiatives have been taken in the region to promote greater protection of human rights for persons with disabilities.
In April 1992, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (“ESCAP”) proclaimed the decade (1993-2002) the ‘Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons’. During this ‘decade’, efforts were made to promote the human rights of persons with disabilities in a region which probably has the largest number of the world’s population of persons with disabilities. The ‘decade’ was extended twice (in 2002 and 2012 respectively). The current ‘decade’ runs from 2013 to 2022.
At the conclusion of the ‘1993-2002 decade’ in October 2002, ESCAP adopted the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society in Asia and the Pacific (link) whereby States committed to signing the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region. The Biwako Framework identifies seven areas for priority action. The Biwako Framework explicitly incorporates the millennium development goals and their relevant targets to ensure that concerns relating to persons with disabilities become an integral part of efforts to achieve those goals. Signatory States pledge their commitment to developing effective policies and programmes at national, sub-regional, and regional levels (aimed at systematically improving the conditions of persons with disabilities and harnessing their full development potential). The Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability (“APCD”), a regional center jointly set up by the Thai and Japanese governments, is one of the legacies of the ‘1993-2002 decade’.
In late 2012, governments of the ESCAP region, joined by civil society organizations and representatives of intergovernmental organizations, gathered in Incheon, Republic of Korea to chart the course of the new ‘2013 – 2022 decade’. An important outcome of that meeting was the adoption of the Incheon Strategy to ‘Make the Right Real’ for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific (link), which provides the Asia Pacific region (and the world) with the first set of regionally agreed disability-inclusive development goals. The Incheon Strategy enables monitoring of improvements in the quality of life and fulfilment of rights for the 650 million persons with disabilities in the Asia Pacific region (most of whom live in poverty). The ESCAP Secretariat is mandated to report every three years on progress in the implementation of the ‘2013 – 2022 decade’ and the Incheon Strategy until 2022.
Separately, States from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”) have adopted their own sub-regional disability policy framework in 2011 in the form of Bali Declaration on the Enhancement of the Role and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the ASEAN Community. The period 2011 to 2020 has been proclaimed the ASEAN Decade of Persons with Disabilities.
2. Ratification of international treaties
Most Asian States have ratified the major international treaties that address the rights of persons with disabilities.
Whilst most Asian States (except Tajikstan) have signed or ratified the CRPD, most Asian States (including China and India) have not signed its Optional Protocol.
Except for China, which only signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), most Asian States have ratified the ICCPR.
Nearly all Asian States have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) but only two Asian States (Kazakhstan and Mongolia) have signed or ratified its Optional Protocol.
All Asian States have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) but many Asian States (including China and India) have not signed its Optional Protocol. Most Asian countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) but many Asian States (including China and India) have not signed its Optional Protocol.
3. Accountability measures
There are several mechanisms whereby the Asian States may be held accountable regarding the rights of persons with disabilities:
The CRPD: States Parties are required to submit an initial report to the CRPD Committee two years after ratifying the CRPD (and every four years subsequently). However, it is important to note that the CRPD Committee has no enforcement powers against States Parties that fail to submit reports.
The ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (“AICHR”): the AICHR should play a key role in holding accountable ASEAN States. However, its current mandate is to promote (not enforce) human rights. There is no authority to receive, oversee, or investigate complaints
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (“ESCAP”): the ESCAP (as part of the current Asia Pacific ‘decade 2013-2022’), is expected to play a monitoring role.
4. Main civil society actors
Disabled Peoples’ International Asia-Pacific (“DPI-AP”): as one of the convening organizations of the ASEAN Disability Forums, the DPI-AP is a cross-disability, self-help, human rights organization of persons with disabilities. Based in Bangkok, it has organizations at the national level in Singapore and Indonesia.
Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (“Centre”): based in Bangkok, the Centre brings people together from different parts of the region to share their expertise in disability-related areas (such as strengthening self-help organizations and implementing community-based rehabilitation services).
ASEAN Autism Network (“Network”): the Network supports and strengthens autism-related family support groups
ASEAN General Election Network for Disability Access (“AGENDA”): as a consortium led by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, AGENDA aims to improve access to political and electoral life for persons with disabilities throughout Southeast Asia.
CBR Asia-Pacific Network: the CBR Asia-Pacific Network was established by the World Health Organization to promote and strengthen community-based rehabilitation across the region and to support members of the Network in 36 countries.
Institute on Disability and Public Policy (“Institute”): the Institute is a network of universities and non-governmental organizations that promote the analyses and understanding of public policies for persons with disabilities in the ASEAN region. It offers study fellowships, conducts policy research, and undertakes public education and capacity-building activities to realize the vision of an ASEAN region that is inclusive, barrier-free, and rights-based (where persons with disabilities are leaders in the determination of their own destinies).
Abilis Foundation, Save the Children, CBM International, Handicap International, Helen Keller Foundation, Leonard Cheshire Disability International, World Vision, ADD International, UNICEF and WHO made important contributions to the disability movement in Asia-Pacific