New dawn for those with disabilities
The adoption of the "Asean Enabling Masterplan 2025: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities" at the Singapore Summit in November marks a new milestone for persons with disabilities in the community. For the first time since the commencement of Asean in 2015, the leaders have shown to people with disabilities what it means to be part of a "People-Centred Community".
The masterplan lays down key action points on disability rights for all three Asean pillars from the Political Security Community to the Economic Community and the Social-Cultural Community, making people with disabilities visible and relevant in every corner of Asean.
This will help shift the perception that disability rights concern only social welfare agendas. As they can vote and be voted for in politics and run businesses like everyone, people with disabilities feature as actors in the political and economic arenas of Asean as well.
For example, the Masterplan talks about meaningful participation in public and political life and the equal opportunity for people with disabilities to access financial services and be entrepreneurs or self-employed, especially in micro, small and medium enterprises.
In the social sector, the Masterplan makes references to inclusive education, accessible healthcare benefits and systems, and disaster risk reduction and preparedness for persons with disabilities. Throughout its 76 action points, the Masterplan refers to the intersectional status of people with disabilities who are children, women and elders.
The Masterplan is based on and in alignment with various international and regional instruments, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that all Asean member states have ratified, the Incheon Strategy: Making the Rights Real for Persons with Disabilities in the Asia Pacific, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Therefore, effective and comprehensive implementation of the Masterplan means that Asean and its member states are simultaneously discharging their obligations arising from those instruments and commitments. As their names imply, the key action points that are identified represent common priorities for Asean on disability rights and member states are encouraged to "go beyond" these points and adopt additional measures that will further concretise disability rights.
It is recognised that the most important actions are those that occur at the national level and the Masterplan is intended to complement, and not supplant, national policies and endeavours. The dual national-regional track of cooperation and implementation will enhance the rights more effectively. The year 2025 is indicated in recognition that the Masterplan is an extension of and a tool to achieve the Asean Vision 2025.
Perhaps the most important implementation challenge is to raise the awareness among public agencies that disability rights are an integral part of their policy landscape. The silo structure of governments that is also reflected at the Asean level has made it difficult to mainstream crosscutting issues like human rights and disability rights.
As a regional document that is not legally binding, the Masterplan is unique in setting up a reporting mechanism to the summit. The Asean Secretariat will report the progress of its implementation for the three Communities to the Joint Consultative Meeting that submits an annual report to the Asean Summit. This means the relevant agencies whose works pertain to the key action points will incorporate disability-related agendas in their programme and present the annual submission of the progress that they achieve to the Asean leaders. This novel step will ensure policy relevance of disability rights at the regional and national levels.
A key success factor that led to the adoption of the Masterplan is the inter pillar cooperation and consultation. The process to draft the Masterplan as a regional instrument to realise disability rights in Asean started in 2015 when the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) set up a tripartite Task Force that comprised its representatives and those from the Senior Officials on Social Welfare and Development and the Asean Commission on Children and Women Rights.
Consultations on the draft were regularly conducted with stakeholders, particularly Asean sectoral bodies, organisations of people with disabilities and experts from the UNESCAP. Parallel with the negotiation of the Masterplan, the AICHR also conducts a regional dialogue to mainstream disability rights among Asean stakeholders. The annual dialogue focuses on different themes and has helped to raise awareness and served as a platform to give meaningful representation and participation to persons with disabilities across Asean.
The focus for the 2018 Dialogue is application of universal design in various areas, including physical infrastructure, financial services and access to justice.
It is shown for example that even in correctional facilities like prisons, prisoners with disabilities are entitled to dignified living conditions. It is envisaged that this annual dialogue will continue to be held to help implement the Masterplan. The 2019 edition is already planned and its emphasis will be on gender perspective on disability rights.
It is also heartening to note that the Asean Secretariat that supported the drafting process of the Masterplan has already walked the talk by incorporating universal design in its new building in Jakarta as well as hiring persons with disabilities as its staff members.
The Masterplan will be used as a tool by many stakeholders.
For Asean governments, it will give focus to regional cooperation on disability rights.
For sectoral bodies, it will help guide their work programmes to be responsive and inclusive as well as achieve synergy especially on action points that require cross pillar coordination.
For civil society organisations and those of persons with disabilities, it will serve as an advocacy framework for the enhancement of their rights and better livelihood.
They can use the Masterplan to interact with and solicit responses on the specified action points from relevant sectoral bodies.
The Masterplan is meant to be truly "enabling".
Essentially the people-centred community must be one that is inclusive and sustainable.
The Masterplan will play an important role in fostering accessibility for persons with disabilities in a variety of policy fields which in turn will help lead to a Community that is barrier free for everyone.
Seree Nonthasoot, PhD, is representative of Thailand to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. He was also a Co-Chair of the Task Force created to draft and negotiate the Asean Enabling Masterplan.
Human Rights Representative
Seree Nonthasoot Thailand Representative at ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights