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Ensure equal rights for disabled, says Bar Council

KUALA LUMPUR, 5 May 2009: The Bar Council has urged the government to eliminate all obstacles that hinder the participation of people with disabilities in society immediately.

“Any costs incurred will be more than offset by the greater contributions that persons with disabilities can then make to society,” said Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan in a statement today.

He said people with disabilities continue to battle discrimination in “almost every aspect of their daily lives.”

“[This is] including routine matters that we take for granted, such as safe access to buildings and to public transport,” he said.

The Malaysian Bar also urged the government to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities immediately. It also wants Malaysia to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol under the convention, which introduces procedures to strengthen the implementation of the convention.

Ragunath said the government signed the convention on 8 April 2008 but has yet to ratify it.

“[This] means that the government is not yet bound to comply with the provisions of the convention,” explained Ragunath.

He said the government introduced the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 (PWD Act) after signing the convention, which was “a small but significant step forward.”

However, Ragunath said that there were some “major omissions and gaps” in the Act.

“One glaring example is the lack of penalties for any party who fails to comply with its obligations, with the federal government enjoying an express exclusion from any wrongdoing,” he explained.

He added that the exemption cast serious doubt on the government’s commitment to the rights of the persons with disabilities.

Ragunath also lamented that existing laws that were intended to protect the rights of people with disabilities rang hollow as they still lack enforcement.

“One example is the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984, which stipulate that all public buildings must have adequate facilities to ensure that persons with disabilities can enter, move around within and exit such buildings,” he said.

He said although these by-laws have been gazetted in all 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia, full compliance is lacking.

“These shortcomings were illustrated only too well when Bukit Gelugor member of parliament Karpal Singh reportedly fell from his wheelchair in the Kuantan High Court building while being carried up two flights of stairs to attend a hearing recently,” explained Ragunath.

“Furthermore, disabled individuals have little or no recourse to legal remedies if they face discrimination in areas such as public transport, housing, education, employment and healthcare,” added the Bar Council president.

Hence, he called on the authorities to take a proactive stance in improving and enforcing the existing laws that protect the rights of disabled persons, to ensure full inclusion and equality of opportunity for them.

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