Reinforcing multi-stakeholder partnership for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Biwako Millennium Framework: Opportunities and challenges in the Asian Region
Chairperson, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
People of Quebec City, Happy Birthday.
I am deeply grateful and pleased to be granted this excellent opportunity to address such an outstanding audience from all over the world. We are coming here to answer the call of RI to realize our common dream for a rights-based and inclusive world. This RI Congress is hosted by a great country which is renowned for its human rights tradition, and a model for the world in achieving a society free from any forms of discrimination. Quebec City is celebrating its 400 Happy Birth Day. This sends out special meaning to not only people of Canada but other cities around the world, that Quebec City includes a major world congress concerning disability in its 400 anniversary celebration.
I am asked to share with you the Asian situation and perspectives concerning disability. I trust a brief highlight of the general, and disability specific situations of the Asian Region would provide us a useful framework for an informed debate on disability issues. I would explain why it is vitally important for disability advocates to actively mainstream disability issues through cross-sector and multi-discipline approaches.
Asia is a vast region. It has about 60% of the world population. In Asia, you can find some of the oldest civilizations and religions; some of the most advanced as well as poorest economies, and many Asians living in rural and mountainous areas. The Asian history is not lack of armed and racial conflicts within as well as between countries, and frequent large scale natural disasters. You would find it interesting that only two countries in Asia have never been colonized, namely, China and Thailand. Diversities and differences among governments and peoples of Asia are the norm rather than the exception. Poverty, armed conflicts and natural disasters are among the main causes of disability in Asia.
Financial turmoil: Currency speculators' attack on the Thai Baht in May 1997 marked the beginning of rapid depreciation of most Asian currencies, stock values and assets, which affected in turn businesses and industries resulting rapid rise of unemployment rates. All peoples have suffered from the financial crisis with varying degrees. After nearly five years when countries in Asia are about to return to a sound recovery path, there came the 2003 spread of Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which practically crippled the airline, travel and food industries in Asia. On top of these crises, most developing Asian economies are still in the process of adapting to the transition from labor intensive to knowledge economies. From late 2007, Asian countries again are affected by the subprime mortgage crises and liquidity crunches in USA, which is spreading fast to the world, and still seeing no final solution to bringing back the once robust momentum of the global economy.
Man-made disasters: Severe man-made disasters include massive racial confrontations in Indonesia in 1998 targeting at ethnic Chinese, frequent racial and religious conflicts and armed confrontations in a number of countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Timor Leste, terrorists' insurgents in Philippines, and boarder confrontations.
Political upheavals: Major political upheavals include people's movements in Philippines which toppled two presidents, people's movement in Nepal in 2006 giving rise to a new constitution and a new government, massive demonstrations against government corruptions in Thailand and Taiwan in 2006, military coup in Thailand in September 2006 bringing Thailand back to military rule after 19 years of constitutional democracy.
Severe natural disasters: Asia is not lack of major natural disasters, e.g. the Kyoto earthquake in 1995, the Taiwan 21 September 1999 earthquake, the frequent massive flooding in China and Bangladesh, the unprecedented Tsunami in December 2004. Just in May 2008, Asia was hit by two catastrophes with such severe magnitudes not found in recent history. Myanmar was devastated in the first week of May by a severe cyclone, leaving tens of thousands dead or missing, and many more without food, medical care and shelter. Then, on 12 May, the deadly earthquake measuring 8.0, the most severe in the Richter scale rocked China, laying waste to major cities and villages in Sichuan Province. The number of people injured by the earthquake already rose to 370,000 by end of May, and about 10% of the injuries are of severe grade. Early in February 2008, China was already hit by the most severe snow storms causing breaking in electricity grid and transportation systems during the severest winter in 50 years that hit central and southern regions. A great deal of efforts on a long term basis will be needed from both government and society to support and empower the large number of people who have become disabled.
Anti-terrorists measures: Asia also feels the after shock from the 9-11 terrorists attack on USA, not only because of the sudden shrinking of inter-continental traveling, but also the heightened alert of similar terrorists' insurgents in the Region. Terrorists' movements have often been reported in Southeast Asia, Northwestern China, and Middle Asia.
Other emerging issues: On top of crises and turmoil, Asia has social issues of its own making, such as those concerning migrant workers from developing economies (e.g. Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand) to developed economies (e.g. Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan), cross boarder marriages resulting splitting families (as in the case of Hong Kong), and influx of large number of brides of different culture (as in the case of Taiwan).
People with disabilities in the Region are facing critical and severe situations. About 80% of Asian people with disabilities live in rural or remote areas. Among the 900 million very poor people in the Region, the disabled are among the most discriminated against and the most impoverished. Although comprehensive figures are hard to come by, there may be between 250 million and 300 million people with disabilities in the region, and close to 200 million have severe or moderate disabilities that need special services or assistance. It is estimated that 238 million people with disabilities in the region are of working age (United Nations Statistics Division, 2004; Perry, 2002). They are grossly under-represented in the workforce. If they are employed, they tend to be underemployed or may work in informal settings where they lack protection with regard to security, safety, and decent wages. At the same time, people with disabilities often lack access to the very services and experiences that could lead to successful participation in the economic mainstream - such as vocational training, job opportunities or credit for self-employment. It is therefore not surprised that the unemployment rates of people with disabilities in many countries are about 40% to 80%.
Asia's experiences have strongly supported the thesis that no single government can rely solely on its own to handle domestic issues, majority of which will have regional and international linkages. A framework for policy mandates blessed with consensus among all nations in the Region has proven to be effective in guiding national practices and regional collaborations through sharing of capacity building resources and good practices.
When it comes to disability concerns, there is a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood as well as examples of deep collaboration among governments and peoples in Asia. Immediately upon the close of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons 1983-1992, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) with the unanimous approval of all its member governments, proclaimed the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons 1993-2002 (A/P Decade), a demonstration of a rather exceptional Asian solidarity and consensus political will. In 2002, ESCAP again with unanimous approval of its members, proclaimed the extension of the Decade to 2003-2012, and the proclamation of the Biwako Millennium Framework for compliance of its member governments. The Biwako Millennium Framework (BMF): Towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific, (ESCAP, 2006) which was adopted at the high level intergovernmental meeting in Japan in 2002, identifies seven priority areas, covering: self-help organizations of persons with disabilities and related family and parent associations; women with disabilities; early detection, early intervention and education; training and employment, including self-employment; access to built environments and public transport; access to information and communications, including information, communications and assistive technologies; poverty alleviation through capacity-building, social security and sustainable livelihood programmes.
The NGO sector in the Region has been working very closely together in promoting the A/P Decade. A Regional NGO Network for the Promotion of the Asian and Pacific Decade was founded in 1993, and reorganized in 2002 as Asia Pacific Disability Forum, the membership of which comprises major NGOs and international NGOs. One of its key activities was the annual campaigns for the Decade, which were held in rotation among its member countries. The involvement of major stakeholders of both governmental and non-governmental sectors in the development and monitoring of the Regional framework has proven to be useful in sensitizing and supporting interventions at national and local levels.
In March 2000, the first International NGO of and for people with disabilities World Summit was held in Beijing, and unanimously committed to urge the United Nations to adopt an international convention on the rights of disabled persons. Asian stakeholders are among the most active players in the Convention drafting process, including both governmental and non-governmental representatives, and organizations of persons with disabilities. The Asian sector met regularly during the drafting period involving all key stake holder representatives, UN regional experts and subject matter experts, and produced a number of important documents for the reference of the UN Ad Hoc Committee, including the often referenced Bangkok Recommendations 2003.
The United Nations does not lack of Convention statements. The new UN convention, considered a major landmark for the new Millennium, is but the 8th of the first degree human rights convention. There are more others in the list in the second and third degree. We would be naive to belief that the implementation of the UN Convention will automatically attract priority attention of governments and be supported with due resources. In fact, it would hardly be the case. We are quite pessimistic that only small percentages of people outside the disability sector have heard of, not to mention, sound knowledge of the Convention. The monitoring and implementation of the Convention would be a daunting task for leaders and advocates of the disability sector.
The BMF is an important instrument of ESACP, with personnel and resources support from ESCAP. BMF is an extension of the A/P Decade, and just concluded its mid Decade review. Its closing year is 2012. What happens next is every body's guess. The outlook is less than exciting. BMF is becoming less and less known to governments and people of the region. Even within ESCAP, the impact of resources constraints is felt. Donor governments' support for BMF is less enthusiastic probably due to other distractions. Some UN expert systems are getting less involved in disability issues as compared with the past Decade.
Given UN's commitment in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and heavy demands from other issues, there is an obvious trend that disability concerns is becoming less a focal programme within the overall action agenda. ESCAP, for example, has incorporated disability concerns into its section on Emerging Social Issues, and has replaced the Thematic Working Group on Disability Concerns which has participation of nearly all concerned UN systems, by a multi-stakeholders working group without the presence of key UN systems. ILO gives another sign of diluting its regional disability focal point that it cancels its regional disability expert post. Ms Debra Perry had been the ILO regional expert for nearly a decade, and her impact is far above everybody's expectation. Her departure from the Region will be a great loss to us all. The focal positions of UN systems on disability, either serving as a full-time or an existing expert with a doubling up role assignment had been effective change agents over the past decades in achieving strengthened partnerships and collaboration between actors in the disability from developed and developing areas in the Region, as well as dialogues in a North-South perspective. These regional experts had been very effective in raising funds from donor governments to support such partnership projects. With the enforcement of the UN Convention, we should make use of all opportunities to impress on UN to reinstate such regional disability focal positions. On a positive note, ESCAP and other UN regional systems are required to respond to the UN Convention, which therefore opens the door to mainstreaming disability issues.
Since the adoption of the Convention in December 2007, it has attracted the attention of only a small percentage of people in a society. Event among these few better informed groups, many of them would have a perception that the Convention concerns only people with disabilities and primarily deals with State action. This of course is not true. In order for the Convention to become truly effective, it has to go far beyond raising people's awareness. One important, key measure is to promote multi-stakeholder, cross-sector and multi-disciplinary partnership. With the limited time given to me, I would highlight those issues that should require mobilization and involvement of key inputs from mainstream systems, cross-sector and inter-professionals. A strong sense of ownership of the Convention by all people in society will help achieve a road path of enforcing compliance to nurturing Convention and disability friendly practices. The issues I select for presentation here are normally less referred to in RI platforms but which have no less profound impact on the society.
Equality and non-discrimination (ARTICLE 5 of the Convention): Comparative studies on disability legislation shows that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws. The implementation of Article 5 of the UN Convention will first need to raise the disability awareness of legislators and concerned legal professionals. Disability advocates have the unique role to carry out such disability awareness campaigns targeting at law-makers, and to work in partnership with human rights bodies in a country to strengthen human rights alliance and to achieve meaningful participation in existing or new national frameworks monitoring anti-discrimination laws and the Convention. Developing alliance with human rights concerned legal professionals and seeking partnership with law-makers are therefore particularly important in Asia.
Article 9 Accessibility to information and communications, including information and communications technologies requires States Parties to take appropriate measures to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet; and to promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost. The situation however is rather dismal. Great majority of leading web-sites do not meet minimum accessibility standards established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). ICT is changing at a phenomenal rate and becoming a necessary tool for conducting every day business. Access of people with disabilities to web-based information, and ICT hard and software has become an urgent issue for both developing and developed economies. Disability advocates have a unique role to raise the disability awareness of ICT professionals, ICT corporations, and related GOs to speed up the transformation process to full ICT accessibility.
Article 31 Statistics and data collection requires States Parties to collect appropriate information for the Convention. This item seems to be rather distant to disability advocates. However as the next population census of many countries are being targeted at the turn of the decade from around 2010 to 2012, mainstreaming disability data collection has become a very urgent issue, which should require close partnership with statisticians and concerned policy makers.
Article 27 Item (h) Work and Employment is to promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies and measures, which may include affirmative action programmes, incentives and other measures. This item has a much broader scope of activity than expected, and covers also social enterprises. The former Regional Expert of ILO, Ms. Debra Perry, had developed a range of good practices relevant to this item, including national networks comprising businesses and disability concerned organizations. She initiated round table exchanges for multi-national corporations and NGOs of and for PWD. Inclusion and diversity objectives under the umbrella term of corporate social responsibility has become a common goal for many multi-national corporations and leading businesses at national and local levels. This provides good opportunity for disability advocates to carry out disability awareness campaigns within the business sector. Just April this year, I was invited to deliver a key note address on disability and employment in the Global Conference on Inclusion and Diversity of the Standard Chartered Bank held in Bangkok. Also in April, ESCAP Disability Expert, Ms. Aiko Akiyama, addressed disability issues and opportunities to increase participation in the workplace of persons with disabilities at the business based Asia-Pacific Diversity & Work-Life Strategy Council.
Given the challenging environments in Asia, we should seek out opportunities that support disability issues. Such opportunities could come from the region's own initiatives. With a strong solidarity among regional stakeholders, stronger impacts and influences on governments and peoples could be expected. I wish to share my observations on Asia in action below.
Coupling with mainstream campaigns: Olympics have become media favorites all over the world, and its coupling with Paralympics have created an excellent opportunities in disability awareness among governments and peoples, as well as contributing very significantly to the creation of barrier free environments for athletes, tourists and society in general. Abilympics offers another excellent example. The first International Abilympics was held in Japan in 1981, the UN International Year of Disabled Persons, and sponsored by RI. In 2007, the International Abilyimpics Federation succeeded to bring together the 7th International Abilympics (IA2007) and the 39th World Skills Competitions (WSC) under one grand programme, namely, the International Skills Festival for All, Japan 2007 (ISF2007). A total of 1,172 IA and WSC competitors from 55 countries/regions around the world showcased their brilliant skills in a range of vocational areas. A more recent example was the Accessible Tourism held in Bangkok in December 2007 in conjunction with an International Conference on Tourism. Coupling of disability focused campaigns with mainstream campaigns proves to be an effective strategy to raise society's awareness and mobilize support from government and people.
Mainstreaming disability issues in development programmes and post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction: Disability advocates have to be pro-active in providing inputs to policies and guidelines for development and post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes. World Bank has developed such model projects in selected Asian countries. Similarly, we have to ensure that projects sponsored by UN development systems and national governments for achieving MDGs will have to be disability friendly. The disability regional platforms sponsored by ESCAP are useful opportunities to involve the presence of such UN development agencies in order to raise the profile of disability friendly practices, and for networking, capacity building and sharing of good practices.
Mainstreaming disability issues in corporate social responsibility framework: Networks of corporations, at national, regional and international levels are responding positively to the call for corporate social responsibility, and one major domain is on inclusion and diversity. Disability is one of the key items and also one that is less understood by private corporations. Disability advocates will find it beneficial to reach out to such corporations' networks, to enhance cross network relationship, and to help sharing of good practices among corporations. On this strategy, I wish to share with you the impact of a great model. Community Business1 in Hong Kong is a unique, not for profit organization of, and funded by, the private sector. A great majority of its members are multi-national corporations. Its mission is to lead, inspire and support businesses to continually improve their positive impact on people and communities, and one of its strategic action programmes is on diversity in work place. Its Conventions on diversity and inclusion in workplace are among the largest and most significant events in Asia. The disability sector in Hong Kong was invited as plenary chairpersons and speakers on topics related to disability issues, alongside speakers from private sector all over the world and UN experts. In November 2008, it will organize the third Convention of the same kind. This time, members of the disability sector have further roles to play, including co-organizers and supporters of the important event.
Regional programmes focused on the monitoring and implementation of the Convention and the BMF and sharing of good practices: ESCAP and INGO platforms are good opportunities to identify issues of monitoring and implementation of the Convention and the BMF, and sharing of good practices. National governments are natural alliance and sponsors of such programmes. The Asian Pacific Disability Forum just held a regional conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh in February 2008. The local host succeeded at the Conference in getting Government's open commitment to support the implementation of the Convention and other key disability concerned policies and programmes.
Self-help organizations of People with Disabilities (SHOP) and the Asian Pacific Centre on Disability (APCD): During the first A/P Decade, ESCAP devoted major inputs in organizing self-help organizations at regional and national levels, with much emphasis on women with disabilities. The progress has been significant as SHOP leaders have been more visible in disability related ESCAP and inter-governmental regional platforms. The development has been brought forward to new heights with the launching of APCD at the beginning of BMF. APCD is a bilateral project between the Japanese Government and Thai Government to support the BMF. While it is governmental structure by design and relies mainly on Japan development grants for its capital and operating costs, APCD has deviated from most inter-governmental bureaucratic structures. Apart from being friendly to Asian governmental organizations, APCD is a strong disability advocate, and a major supporter of disability movement. It provides effective leadership training to SHOP, and has achieved great impact in empowering self-help organizations to have become equal partners in practically all inter-governmental regional platforms concerning disability. In spite of the rapid growth of SHOP in the region, their organization strength and capacity are still relatively weak compared with other advocacy and grass-roots organizations. As a movement, the disability sector has much diversities and differences within itself, and in many areas the growth of SHOP is seen more in number of organizations formed around specific disability characteristics. Few countries in the Region have a strong and consolidated national level networks or coalitions to nurture the necessary political force to raise the priority of disability issues in national action agenda. Given the challenges, APCD is an outstanding Asian model that may be of highly valued references to the rest of the World.
The Asian disability situations that I have just shared with you will be incomplete without reporting what RI has been doing in the region. In fact most of the landmark developments bear the marks of outstanding RI leaders.
RI Regional Committee was a founder member of RNN and APDF, and is among the most active alliance partners in delivering actions. The Secretariate of APDF is a complimentary service from Japan Society for Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD). JSRPD's support for regional programmes are led by Dr. Satoshi Ueda, who is the longest serving RI National Secretary for Japan, as well as the most effective Hon. secretaries of the RI Regional Committee for Asia and the Pacific. The Secretary Generals of RNN and APDF are respectively the late Professor Ichiro Maruyama and Professor Ryo Matsui who are highly valued members of RI.
RI facilitated the World Summit of International NGOs in 2000 in Beijing, which was hosted by CDPF, and sponsored by Professor Sir Harry, our Former RI President. The World Summit produced the first ever INGO joint statement, calling for the UN Convention, and sounded the marching horn to launch a global campaign for the Convention. Subsequently, the famous Bangkok Statement for the Convention (ESCAP, 2003) was partly a result of continued and active participation of RI members.
Over the past decades, RI Regional Committee for Asia and the Pacific has nurtured two CBR centres which have since made outstanding impacts in the Region. One is the CBR centre in Bacolod City, Philippines, which subsequently has become a WHO collaborating Centre. The other one is the CBR Centre in Solo, Indonesia, which has been serving as a CBR resource centre for RI and the Region. Recently, it also provides consultation to a new RI member in Timor Leste through a joint project sponsored by some RI members.
RI and its regional networks have by all criteria been effective partners and stakeholders in supporting disability movements in the Region. I wish to take this opportunity to share with you my personal observations on the leadership characteristics of RI which I think is the key success factor for us to pass on to our younger leaders.
RI as a global family has a great history and a great tradition. It has a history of great leadership making landmark impacts on the global disability movement, as witnessed by the impacts made by the RI Charter for the 80s, and the RI Millennium Charter. RI also has a valued tradition in working together with GOs, NGOs concerned with disability and across sectors. People of today, like us, owe all these achievements to our global leaders, with or without disabilities.
Indeed, RI, especially RI in the Asian Region, is better remembered and acknowledged for its leaders in action. Asian people are not too concerned about RI's organizational structure. Therefore, as an organization, RI should try its best to enlarge its family boundary to nurture and attract leaders, with or without disabilities, who have high moral commitments and dedications to the disability movements, and effective capacities. RI is in fact competing for capable young leaders to join its family. RI's unique tradition in being an organization embracing multi-sectoral and multi-interdisciplinary networks will have a special role in promoting a sense of ownership of the Convention by the whole society.
At this junction, I wish to elaborate my thoughts on the phrase 'leaders with or without disability'. No human being is perfect. We are all differently-abled. Those of us involved in the debate on the drafting of the UN Convention would realize that there is no absolute definition to the concept disability, not to mention the criteria in defining a disabled person. The leadership of Professor Sir Harry, when he was RI President and when UN was celebrating the IYDP, was recognized globally and respected by Chief Executives of many governments (Fang, 2002). He was then not identified as a disabled person. He became a visibly disabled person and required the use of mobility device after his first stroke. Immediately after his returning to social activities from intensive rehabilitation, he remained as active as before in guiding and leading disability movements. Even after he became immobile after his second stroke, he still remains the spiritual leader of our movement. The life history of Professor Sir Harry should have enlightened us to think with greater depth and longer vision about debates on who are disabled and who are not. RI should open its doors and arms to pools of people with the heart, talents and capacity to take on the leadership torch. Similarly, the disability movement should open its arms to partners from other sectors and disciplines to take an active role, who may not be visibly disabled, but will certainly be disabled one day, if they remain for long enough in the disability movement.
The late Professor Ichiro Maruyma was another shining model for RI members. He was the founder and primary mover of the Regional NGO Network for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002 (RNN). During the entire 10-year life span of RNN, Professor Ichiro Maruymam was not considered a person with disability. His effectiveness as an organizer and dream builder in raising the Region's awareness on disability and the A/P decade was equal to, if not beyond, any great leaders in the disability movement. When he became disabled in 2007, he took on another even more daunting challenge, by taking to task his government's violation of the ILO Convention which upholds the right to work of PWD with severe challenges. His views are being heard by ILO, and his initiative and action is creating huge impact in the Region. Identifying the late Professor Ichiro Maruyama as a leader without disability or with disability at his different life phases becomes totally irrelevant when all of us in the Region have lasting memory of his impacts, devotion and sacrifices relating to the disability movement.
Into the new era with the coming into force of the International Convention, RI should refresh itself with its great history and tradition, in mobilizing all sectors, all peoples and all who share the same vision. We should learn to recognize the devotion, commitment and perseverance of all leaders in supporting the disability cause.
Along with uncertainties and challenges, Asian countries and their people are entering into the new Millennium with more opportunities, more choices, stronger political consensus, and heavier commitments on humanitarian values.
Disability movement is facing uncertain challenges. All partners of the movement are entering into unknown situations and embarking on new territories of agenda of action. All partners, including RI should seek out creative and innovative approaches to serve our common objectives of achieving a rights-based, barrier free and inclusive society with effect and efficiency.
RI's valued history and tradition, and its rich human resources, and leadership will continue to serve the disability movement in the Region. RI in the Asian region will continue to uphold its strategic role as a genuine, dedicated and effective partner of all disability focused and mainstream networks.
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