Go On! ASIL, NYLS to Host Panel on Need for a Disability Rights Tribunal in Asia/Pacific Sept. 29

The American Society of International Law International Courts and Tribunals Interest Group and the Disability Rights Interest Group will be hosting a luncheon Panel Discussion on “The Need for a Disability Rights Tribunal in Asia and the Pacific” on Monday, September 29, 2014, from noon to 2 pm at the New York Law School, 185 West Broadway, New York, New York 10013.


There is no question that the existence of regional human rights courts and commissions has been an essential element in the enforcement of international human rights in those regions of the world where such tribunals exist. In the specific area of mental disability law, there is now a remarkably robust body of case law from the European Court on Human Rights, some significant and transformative decisions from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and at least one major case from the African Commission on Human Rights.

In Asia and the Pacific region, however, there is no such body. The lack of such a court or commission has been a major impediment in the movement to enforce disability rights in that area.

The need for such a body has further intensified since the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In order for the CRPD to be more than a mere “paper victory,” it must be enforced. Only then can we begin to be optimistic about the real-life impact of the CRPD on the rights of persons with disabilities in Asian and the Pacific region.

The creation of a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific (DRTAP) would be the first necessary step leading to amelioration of the deprivation of civil rights of this population. It would also be, ultimately, a likely inspiration for a full regional human rights tribunal in this area of the world.

This panel will consider the existence and role of regional human rights tribunals in regions other than Asia, some of the important disability rights cases litigated in those tribunals so as to demonstrate how regional tribunals have had a significant impact on the lives of persons with disabilities, the need for a body like DRTAP, focusing specifically on the gap between current domestic law on the books and how such law is practiced in reality, as well as the importance of what is termed the “Asian values” debate, and why the creation of the DRTAP is timely, inevitable, and essential if the CRPD is to be given true effect.


The following individuals will be on the Panel:

  •  Eva Szeli, former director of European Operations for Mental Disability Rights International, and co-author of International Human Rights Law and Comparative Mental Disability Law: Cases and Materials (Carolina Academic Press 2016)
  • Maya Sabatello, lecturer on human rights and co-author of Human Rights and Disability Advocacy (U. of Pennsylvania Press)


  • Michael Stein, Harvard Law School & William and Mary Law School; co-director. Harvard Law School Project on Disability


Moderator: Prof. Michael L. Perlin, New York Law School, Director, International Mental Disability Law Reform Project.

For more information, contact Michael Perlin at mperlin [at] nyls.edu.

Bringing Disability Rights Home: How U.S. Senate Hearings on the Disabilities Convention Point the Way to Ratification

7556591142_98ed835e05Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the second hearing this month on U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). A year ago, when the Committee first scheduled hearings on the CRPD, a Senate vote that followed fell just a few yeas shy of the 2/3 majority needed to ratify the treaty.  At the time, opponents asserted that ratifying the treaty would give UN experts unfettered authority to change U.S. law, particularly in relation to homeschooling and reproductive health. Similar arguments re-emerged in hearings on November 5th of this year, along with federalism concerns.

Yet, a number of rationales for ratification remain. As Senator Bob Dole, Representative Tammy Duckworth and former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh indicated two weeks ago, and as Secretary of State Kerry reinforced last week, ratification would allow the United States to act as a global leader on this issue by exporting U.S. constitutional values and by guaranteeing the credibility of the United States in promoting disability rights abroad. Although opponents have argued that ratification is unnecessary since the Americans with Disabilities Act served as a model for the Convention’s provisions, in fact participation in the treaty would allow the United States to more tangibly act as a leading voice on equality. Indeed, international law professor Timothy Meyer testified that ratification would provide the United States an opportunity to nominate a U.S. citizen to serve as one of the Committee members tasked with monitoring treaty compliance. In addition, ratification would allow the United States to share the U.S. perspective on the treaty’s provisions in colloquy with the CRPD Committee. (To be clear, as a matter of law, treaty body members serve in their personal capacities and do not advocate the policies of their home states. Nevertheless, states whose citizens are appointed to treaty-monitoring committees are sometimes looked to as leaders on that particular human rights issue.)

Second, by strengthening the treaty, ratification would increase Americans with disabilities’ opportunities to live, work and travel abroad. While ratification proponents have focused on the travel concerns of veterans with disabilities (a timely concern after over a decade at war), in fact increased global accessibility would benefit all citizens venturing abroad. Opponents have argued that the United States’ own treaty ratification would not affect the practice of other states, the majority of which are already bound to the treaty. However, as the Rome Statue demonstrates, U.S. nonparticipation can weaken a treaty’s impact even among its own states parties by implying that the treaty’s provisions are not universally accepted or that they do not apply to powerful states.  Continue reading

The Marrakesh Treaty: Books for All

Forgotten Books

(Photo Credit: Corey Templeton)


Missing Information
Have you ever picked up an exciting book and found that pages are missing or damaged?  Nothing could be more frustrating. Most readers feel the same way when they download a much anticipated book onto a tablet or smartphone, only to find that it is garbled or unreadable.

For blind and print-disabled book lovers, it is even more frustrating to know that a helpful book on a topic of interest exists, but is closed to them because it is not available in accessible format. This is a serious and life-altering issue for the estimated 314 million visually impaired people around the world.  According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of them live in the Global South.

The Marrakesh Treaty
Now comes word that a Diplomatic Conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) hosted by Morocco adopted “the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled” (Marrakesh Treaty) on June 27, 2013.   The treaty’s adoption was timed to coincide with the birthday of political activist, author, and educator Helen Keller.

Ending “Book Deserts”
Once ratified and implemented by states parties, the Marrakesh Treaty will help end “book deserts” around the world, where persons who are blind or who have print disabilities are denied access to the full range of print materials.  The World Blind Union notes that “of the million or so books published each year …, less than 5 per cent are made available in formats accessible to VIPs [Visually-Impaired People].” The treaty allows for easier and more uniform cross-border access to, and sharing of, reading materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and accessible digital files.

Why was such a treaty necessary?  These days, can’t people with print disabilities just download the books and articles they need or want from the internet?

Not so easy.

Barriers to Access
Among the challenges:

  • Not all online reading materials (such as pdfs) are accessible to screen reading software and other assistive technology.  Some materials appear only as unreadable “images” (i.e., photographs of a page, not identifiable words on a page).  Some materials can be converted into readable text with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, but this requires access to the relevant software, equipment, and training.
  • Conversion of books to Braille, large print, audio, or electronic files requires political will, time, and resources that not all international bodies, governments, and private actors have been willing to support, even though the benefits of including millions in human and social development far outweighs the limited costs.
  •  Access to Education and Technology:  Many visually-impaired persons are poor because of discrimination, lack of access to education and employment, and other domestic and international policies.  If they are also members of minority or marginalized communities, they are even more likely to lack effective access to schools, learning materials, and assistive technology.
  • Gender and Disability Discrimination: Girls and women with disabilities experience compounded forms of discrimination and exclusion from access to education in many societies.  Although accessible materials may be available in their home countries, gender stereotypes and violence may limit their effective access to books. (Check out Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinarily moving speech at UN Headquarters on the right to education of women and girls, an end to poverty, and a commitment to nonviolence.) Continue reading