On Oct 1, Cambodia became the 116th country to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—a step local activists are hoping will finally hasten the passage of a national law on disability rights.
Cambodia does not currently have any laws concerning its roughly 660,000 disabled citizens—most of them victims of traffic accidents and landmines—though a disability-rights draft law has been batting around the ministries since 1996, said Ham Hak, acting executive director of the Disability Action Council.
The UN convention represents a step forward on the part of the government, but the passage of a national law would be more enforceable and likely lead to more tangible changes, he said. For example, the draft law includes tax breaks to businesses hiring qualified persons with disabilities, he said.
“The international convention is one thing…. But in order to implement it, we need to set up national mechanisms to make the convention applicable to our own country,” Ham Hak said.
Social Affairs Secretary of State Ung Tea Seam said Thursday that he was hopeful the draft law would be passed soon.
“We expect to send the draft to the Council of Ministers next week,” he said, adding that penalties for those violating the law were now being discussed with the Ministry of Justice.
Bruno Leclercq, Handicap International-Belgium country director, said the UN convention does not create new rights for the disabled, but rather insists all people receive the same rights, taking into account that adjustments may be needed.
Chris Minko, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), said the convention “legitimizes the approach that will be taken to ensure disability rights are accepted within mainstream society.”
Areas of focus will be making buildings accessible to physically handicapped people, and integrating disabled children into the mainstream education system, he said.