UN Convention Seen as Step Towards Disability Rights Law

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.

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