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LETTER | The Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Act, 2008, fails to protect and uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. The PwD Act also fails to be fully in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to which Malaysia has been a state party for more than 11 years.

Malaysia has not once submitted its country report (to the UN) since it ratified the CRPD on July 19, 2010. Malaysia has yet to withdraw its reservations to Article 15 (freedom of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and Article 18 (liberty of movement and nationality) of the CRPD. Malaysia has also not ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRPD.

The Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, an advocacy group, calls for urgent action to, firstly, amend the Federal Constitution under Article 8(2) to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability. That amendment will give legal effect to stop the isolation and segregation of persons with disabilities from the mainstream society.

As it stands, the PwD Act is just an administrative legislation, a “toothless tiger.” It has no redress and enforcement provisions. The PwD Act needs to be amended in at least six areas, for it to be harmonised with the CRPD:

1. Broaden the definition of disability to more than seven categories;

2. Define "discrimination" and "harassment";

3. Provide remedies available in the event of discrimination and harassment;

4. Repeal Sections 41 and 42 of the PwD Act that protect the government and public servants, as their representatives, from being sued when they fail to fulfil their legal duties and obligations towards persons with disabilities;

5. Establish an independent commission, accountable to Parliament, to monitor the implementation of the PwD Act and systematically advance the mainstreaming of disability inclusion in all ministries and sectors and at all levels of government; and

6. Establish a tribunal to handle cases involving infringement of disability rights.

The advantages of a tribunal for resolving cases amenable to its resolution, as distinct from pursuing a formal court process involving expenses and lawyers, include:

(a) Easier access (more disability-friendly) for the aggrieved party;

(b) Lower cost; and

(c) A quicker solution.

The abovementioned amendments of the six areas were presented at the government town hall meeting held on June 26, 2019, with a suggestion that the government set up a task force to address those issues. We thank Hannah Yeoh for agreeing to look into this suggestion.

Harapan OKU Law Reform Group appreciates the support of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for the rights of persons with disabilities. In this regard, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group urges Wan Azizah to set up, without further delay, the special task force to work on the review of the PwD Act, 2008.

And to do this in close collaboration with Harapan OKU and other civil society stakeholder groups committed to protecting and upholding the rights of persons with disabilities.

The special task force must work in close consultation with persons with disabilities, representing the voices of diverse disability groups, including on rights and access issues that they have been raising for the past 30 years and more. Harapan OKU Law Reform Group stands ready to work closely with the special task force.

We call on the government of the day to ensure that the marginalised and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, are not left out and rise to the clarion call of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, "Leave no one behind!"

We also welcome the press release of the Bar Council president, Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor, that acknowledged the need for amendment of the PwD Act and we look forward to collaborating with the Bar Council.

Together, let us make it right for Malaysia!

The above is endorsed by 115 civil society organisations (CSOs) nationwide including Sabah and Sarawak. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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