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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities examines report of Thailand

Committee on the Rights of Persons
  with Disabilities

31 March 2016

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today considered the initial report of Thailand on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Presenting the report, Maitri Inthusut, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, explained that the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007 had reflected a major transformation of perspectives on persons with disabilities in Thailand, from a charity-based to a rights-based paradigm.  That act had been revised in 2013 to introduce new key policies and infrastructures, such as Community-Based Rehabilitation, disability service centres and anti-discrimination mechanisms.  It was imperative for the Government to expand the coverage of disability services in order to reach persons with disabilities living in remote areas.  Thailand faced important challenges with regard to achieving significant inclusive education.  Multi-sectoral discrimination also remained an issue, and the Government would redouble its efforts to eliminate negative stereotypes and stigma against persons with disabilities.

Hansa Boonrat, Human Rights Advisor at the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, said that one of the main challenge faced by persons with disabilities in Thailand was the lack of access to inclusive education.  Most public hospitals also lacked the expertise for the rehabilitation of persons with mental disabilities.  Measures to promote employment of persons with disabilities had not resulted in much improvement.  What was needed was a better implementation of relevant laws and more investment and budget allocations to concerned agencies. 

During the ensuing dialogue, Experts expressed their concern about a general lack of implementation of the laws enacted by Thailand in the field of disabilities, as well as about the lack of data collection.  Experts raised a number of questions on the persistence of a medical approach to disability, rather than the rights-based approach of the Convention.  Other issues raised pertained to access to inclusive education, forced sterilization, access to services in rural areas, institutionalization, the work of the National Human Rights Commission and the situation of refugees from Myanmar. 

In concluding remarks, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission, encouraged the Government to fully comply with international human rights standards in an open-minded way.

Mr. Inthusut, in his closing statement, pledged that the Government would continue to work towards awareness-raising and removing social barriers and enhancing accessibility.

Hyung Shik Kim, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Thailand, concluded by encouraging the Government’s better cooperation with organizations of persons with disabilities and better monitoring of the implementation of the Convention. 

The delegation of Thailand included representatives of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Chulalongkorn University, the Thammasat University, the Sirindhorn National Medical Rehabilitation Institute, as well as the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will resume its work today at 3 p.m. to start the consideration of the initial report of Chile (CRPD/C/CHL/1).

Report


The initial report of Thailand can be read at: CRPD/C/THA/1.

Presentation of the Report


MAITRI INTHUSUT, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, presenting the initial report of Thailand, said that the report had been prepared in cooperation with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand as well as with organizations for persons with disabilities, which had helped identify remaining gaps and challenges in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  As of February 2016, the total number of registered persons with disabilities in Thailand was 1.567 million, or about 2.41 percent of the total population.  The National Statistical Office had been collaborating with relevant agencies to achieve more precise figures which could be used to shape and evaluate targeted policies.  In the meantime, Thailand was working hard to encourage more persons with disabilities to register so that they could be accorded appropriate support and assistance. 

The Interim Constitution of Thailand guaranteed all human rights, while a new Constitution had been drafted taking inputs from various groups of persons with disabilities.  Thailand had recently withdrawn its interpretative declaration to Article 18 of the Convention, following the enactment of the Civil Registration Act, and was on the process of becoming party to the Optional Protocol.  It also considered becoming a party to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.  The Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007 had reflected a major transformation of perspectives on persons with disabilities in Thailand, from a charity-based to a rights-based paradigm.  That act had been revised in 2013 to introduce new key policies and infrastructures, such as Community-Based Rehabilitation, disability service centres and anti-discrimination mechanisms.  The National Committee on Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities served as the main national mechanism that made decisions, formulated policies and pushed forward the agenda related to persons with disabilities, on issues such as grant, education, healthcare, discrimination, accessibility, employment and independent living. 

Thailand had achieved several Millennium Development Goals, and would continue implement development policies to empower vulnerable groups.  The Fourth National Plan on Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities pronounced a vision for persons with disabilities to live independently and happily with full and equal enjoyment of their rights.  Persons with disabilities could register for disability identification cards, which enabled them to apply for benefits such as monthly allowances, medical rehabilitation services, free public transportation, free standard public education, house modifications, personal assistance and sign language interpreters.   Challenges remained, however.  It was imperative, for example, for the Government to expand the coverage of disability services in order to reach persons with disabilities living in remote areas.  Thailand faced important challenges with regard to achieving significant inclusive education.  The Government had introduced a quota system requiring private companies to employ one person with disability for every one hundred persons hired.  A similar system had been recently introduced for the public sector.  Multi-sectoral discrimination also remained an issue, and the Government would redouble its efforts to eliminate negative stereotypes and stigma against persons with disabilities.  

Statement by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand


HANSA BOONRAT, Human Rights Advisor at the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, welcomed Thailand’s recent withdrawal of its interpretative declaration to Article 18 of the Convention, and noted that the Convention had allowed many persons with disabilities to be aware of their rights.  One of the main challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Thailand was the lack of access to inclusive education, as most schools were not equipped to accommodate their specific needs.  Most public hospitals also lacked the expertise for the rehabilitation of persons with mental disabilities.  Measures to promote employment of persons with disabilities had not resulted in much improvement.  Persons with disabilities also lacked access to public buses and had to use taxis, which were more expensive.  The monthly disability allowance was not enough for persons with disabilities from poor families to cover their needs.  What was needed was a better implementation of relevant laws and more investment and budget allocations to concerned agencies. 

Statement by the Country Rapporteur


HYUNG SHIK KIM, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Thailand, noted with satisfaction that the initial report of Thailand contained many positive aspects such as legal reforms, policy and programme developments, and the involvement of cross-cutting ministries in the process of implementing the Convention.  It appeared, however, that comprehensive legislative reforms were not backed by an effective system of implementation and subsequent monitoring in a number of areas, such as inadequate measures to combatting widespread discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It seemed that the new Constitution would not include the rights of persons with disabilities.  There was also an absence of a national action plan for the implementation of the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007, with the exception of the area of employment. 

There was an implementation gap on issues related to accessibility, participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities.  The overall implementation process had been characterized by a top-down approach as shown by the exclusion of women with disabilities in the National Committee for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities; the limited power being granted to the Subcommittee on Anti-Discrimination; the limited role granted to organizations of persons with disabilities; and the lack of participation of persons with disabilities in the management of the National Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.  There was also an issue of over-reliance on the medical model of disability, rather than adopting a human rights-based approach.  That resulted in the failure to stress the importance of right-based services and inclusion, which was critical in removing social and legal barriers.  In addition, Thailand’s report did not provide any information on guardianship.  It appeared that the practice of substitute decision-making was widespread.  A number of women with intellectual disabilities were subjected to forced sterilization in their adolescence, although there was no legal basis for that. 

Questions by Experts


An Expert asked whether the legal definition of disability was in line with the provisions of the Convention.  The Expert was concerned that the delegation had referred to the “prevention of disability”, which reflected a medical model, and seemed to fall outside of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  What was being done to improve the image of persons with disabilities throughout the media? 

Another Expert noted Thailand’s efforts to identify and register persons with disabilities, but was concerned that official figures were much lower than estimations from international organizations and to the average number of persons with disabilities in other countries, which was around 15 percent, according to the World Health Organization. 

With regard to discrimination, an Expert was concerned that the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007 seemed to permit discrimination based on academic, culture and public interest, and seemed not to recognize the denial of reasonable accommodation as a possible ground for discrimination.  Another Expert asked whether persons with disabilities could file complaints in cases of discrimination against them.  Statistics and figures in that regard were also required.  An Expert raised specifically the issue of discrimination in refugee camps near the border with Myanmar.  What concrete measures had been taken to ensure that persons with disabilities in rural areas had access to services? 

On accessibility, a Committee Member noted lack of accessibility in Bangkok, and asked what measures would be taken to address architectural and social barriers faced by persons with disabilities there.  Increasing the public awareness on disability inclusiveness was needed. 
Public transportation was also difficult to access.  Was there a national accessibility plan?  What resources were allocated to improving accessibility?  Questions also pertained to accessibility of information, including online.  What were the conditions and procedures to apply for assistive technologies and devices for the means of persons with disabilities?  What steps had been taken to improve the rate of captioning and subtitling in the media? 

A Committee Member regretted that police officers and judges lacked knowledge on intellectual disabilities, and that persons with such disabilities as a result had limited access to justice.   Information was asked vis-à-vis the accessibility of justice facilities and court proceedings. 

With regard to violence, an Expert asked whether Thailand had taken measures to prevent corporal punishment against persons with disabilities, particularly against children with autism.  Was there any awareness-raising targeting the parents?

Experts raised a number of questions regarding measures adopted to ensure that the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities were being addressed by State policies. 

Replies by the Delegation


The most recent draft Constitution had various sections touching upon disability issues.  It prohibited discrimination on 13 grounds, including disability.  The denial of adequate accommodation for persons with disabilities was considered a ground for discrimination, a delegate said.  The Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007 contained a general prohibition of discrimination, and provided for a definition of discrimination against persons with disabilities as an act or omission resulting in the loss of benefits with regard to the rights of persons with disabilities.  Discriminatory actions regarding academic or traditional purpose could be made on a case-by-case basis.  Complaints for cases of discrimination could be filed to the Committee for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. 

Only one case had been file to the National Human Rights Commission since 2011 by a person with disability.  Several cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities had been filed since 2012 to the Subcommittee against discrimination.  In 2012, the Constitutional Court had ruled that banning persons with disabilities from being civil servants was contrary to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Regarding the number and registration of persons with disabilities, a delegate said that Thailand faced difficulties for registering persons with disabilities living in rural areas.  Local authorities lacked knowledge on persons with disabilities, as well as resources for registration facilities. 

Thailand had several laws and policies for the empowerment of women and girls with disabilities, a delegate said, including the Gender Equality Act, the Women’s Development Plan, and the Strategic Plan on the Empowerment of Women with Disabilities, which all aimed to protect and promote the rights of women and girls with disabilities, eliminate discrimination against them, and to support their empowerment and economic development.  A fund provided financial support to projects aimed at strengthening women’s and girls’ empowerment. 

The Government was conducting workshops and awareness-raising programmes to combat negative stereotypes against persons with disabilities, including in the media, explained the delegation.

On accessibility, a delegate said that the Government had adopted policies to ensure that all television channels included captioning and subtitling.  All Government agencies had to provide accessible facilities for persons with disabilities.  The Government would also strengthen the provision of inclusive education materials for children with specific learning disabilities.  

Questions by Experts


An Expert encouraged the delegation to make comments on the implementation of policies and legislations rather than to read legal provisions relating to persons with disabilities.  

With regard to violence, the Expert referred to cases of women with disabilities - victims of sexual violence who faced social and economic barriers to access justice and redress.  The delegation was asked about measures taken to ensure access to justice for cases of violence, including for minorities and in rural areas.  How were people, and particularly children with disabilities, protected from sexual exploitation and trafficking?

Question was asked  on figures regarding forced sterilization, and whether compensation had been given to the affected women. 

Institutionalization still existed in Thailand, one Expert noted, including in the form of institutional care for children with disabilities or special schools.  Was there any plan to shift from the institutionalization model towards the inclusion model? 

Was there any plan to review the guardianship and mental health laws that were in contradiction of Article 12 of the Convention?

Experts inquired on how the views of persons with disabilities were taken into account when enacting legislations or policies affecting them. 

Referring to the situation of refugees with disabilities, question was asked on whether services and registration was provided to them. 

How was Thailand planning to protect undocumented citizens with disabilities?

Experts asked how organizations of persons with disabilities were included in the design of disaster risk-reduction policies, including national post-tsunami emergency protocols. 

An Expert was concerned that section 15 of the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2007 was in violation of the Convention and asked whether the Government would repeal this provision. 

Replies by the Delegation


The delegation informed that the Government was planning to offer disability cards to non-citizens, thus entitling them to some benefits.  At the beginning, such benefits might not be equal to those enjoyed by Thai citizens.

Mobile medical services had been carried out to rural areas, a delegate said. 

In 2015, there had been 471 cases of trafficking in persons, of which 236 had been children.  Unfortunately, Thailand did not have disaggregated data on trafficking in persons with disabilities.  The legislation prohibited child pornography. 

The National Human Rights Commission played an important role in advocating the rights of persons with disabilities, and worked in cooperation with the Government on those issues.  Following recommendations made by it, the Government had decided to provide accommodation and various services to facilitate independent living of persons with disabilities. 

The delegation said that a fund had been established to support independent living for persons with disabilities.  The Government would consider the possibility of providing financial support to parents of children with disabilities.  It offered financial assistance to centres for training persons with disabilities on how to live independently. 

Thailand had policies on disaster risk-reduction.  Organizations of persons with disabilities had been involved in the elaboration of the national plan for disaster risk-reduction.  Prevention activities had been organized in cooperation with persons with disabilities. 

A delegate said that courts were accessible to persons with disabilities.  The Justice Fund would provide legal assistance to everyone in the country, particularly to the poor and the vulnerable.  The criminal courts had measures to facilitate access to justice for persons with disabilities, including sign language interpreters.  Persons with disabilities had the same legal capacity as others.  Complications could arise as regards persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, and psychiatrists could decide whether such person was legally competent. 

Children with disabilities from rural areas usually lived at home, while their parents were working.  They faced risks of sexual abuse, leading to some parents deciding to have them sterilized.  Legislation, however, strictly prohibited forced sterilization except when the patient gave written consent after she had been informed.  The Government would enhance family awareness on the need for protection against sexual abuse, and would offer compensation for parents to take care of children with disabilities.  Awareness-raising campaigns had been carried out to minimize the abandonment of children with disabilities. 

Turning to education, a delegate said that the Government had issued a declaration on punishment of pupils, which prevented teachers from physically punishing children, including those with disabilities.  Teachers could face disciplinary measures and criminal charges.  Children with intellectual disabilities were enrolled in specific schools adapted to their needs.  

Women with disabilities were protected from violence through legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act.  The Government was trying to offer the most reachable services for women with disabilities victims of violence, including through hotlines.  Health volunteers conducted home visits to persons with disabilities, and victims sometimes shared stories of abuses with them.  Those health volunteers visited women throughout the country, including women belonging to minorities. 
With regard to refugees from Myanmar, a delegate said that healthcare services were provided for everyone in refugee camps with the help of non-governmental organizations and international humanitarian organizations.  Some of them had provided specific support to refugees with disabilities.  The Government had facilitated monitoring visits of the camps by international agencies and foreign diplomats.  It had been providing occupational skills development to give them the means to earn their livelihood in the future. 

Questions by Experts


An Expert asked whether persons with disabilities could purchase health insurance provided by private insurance companies.  The delegation was asked what had been done to prevent HIV transmissions. 

An Expert asked what part of the budget was allocated to support more inclusive education. 

Turning to employment issues, an Expert noted that if a person with a disability became employed, he or she would change the status and lose access to some social services.  It seemed as if there was no sanction if public entities did not fulfil their obligation to employ persons with disabilities.   

An Expert asked about the number of persons with disabilities who had access to rehabilitation services, in the fields of health and education.  

How did Thailand intend to replace institutionalization to support community-based independent living?

An Expert emphasized the need to respect the right to privacy in psychiatric institutions. 

Committee Members asked what was done to systematically collect and disseminate disaggregated data on violence, employment and other issues affecting persons with disabilities, including in light of the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. 

Several questions were raised as regard to the composition and functioning of the National Human Rights Commission. 


Replies by the Delegation


The National Human Rights Commission was not fully in compliance with the Paris Principles because of the lack of involvement of civil society organizations in the nomination of its members, said the delegation.  The next steps to improve the Commission was a better integration of non-governmental organizations in the selection process and in the work of the Commission, as well as strengthening its ability to reach out to rural areas. 

A delegate explained that sign interpreters were available in all programmes of public television channels, including during electoral campaigns. 

On employment, a delegate explained that Government agencies had tried to develop the working skills of persons with disabilities and to promote attendance in vocational schools for students with disabilities.  The Government had identified the employment of persons with disabilities as a priority.  The target was that 10,000 persons with disabilities were employed in the public and private sectors during this year.  Measures had been taken to increase employment rates in rural areas.  When persons with disabilities had employment, they were not entitled to the same benefits and insurances as unemployed persons with disabilities. 

Efforts had been made to strengthen the access of persons with disabilities to inclusive mainstream education.  Challenges remained as of the lack of teachers and facilities to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities.  in 2012, the Ministry of Education had launched a plan to overcome barriers to access to education for children with disabilities.  The Ministry of Education received a budget of 1.27 million USD.  Over one million USD had been allocated to special needs education in 2015, and the Ministry of Education had allowed a fund of 5.8 million USD to support units providing assistance to student with disabilities and teachers.  There needed to be more sense of ownership on the school side to provide better accessibility for students with disabilities. 

The Ministry of Public Health had conducted various campaigns to control the transmission of HIV and other diseases.  Psychiatric hospitals provided treatment in respect with the rights and dignity of patients.  Projects had been carried out to enhance access to health in rural areas and to empower communities for the independent living of persons with disabilities. 

The Government was providing a monthly disability allowance of 27 USD, which was not meant to constitute the only source of income for persons with disabilities. 

The delegation informed that the Government would conduct a disability survey in 2017, which would include face-to-face interviews with persons with disabilities.  The data resulting from the survey would be disaggregated and made available to persons with disabilities. 

Concluding Remarks


ANGKHANA NEELAPAIJIT, Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, said that the dialogue held with the Committee had been fruitful and informative on how the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities could be implemented in an more effective manner.  The Commission would give due attention to the conclusions of the Committee.  She referred to the key priorities for the Commission, including a better inclusion of organizations of persons with disabilities, and better consultation of persons with disabilities on matters affecting them.  Ms. Neelapaijit encouraged the Thai Government to fully comply with international human rights standards in an open-minded way, and to collaborate with the Committee and with organizations of persons with disabilities. 

MAITRI INTHUSUT, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, in his concluding remarks, thanked all Committee Members for their questions and remarks.  The Thai Government would give due consideration to the Committee’s recommendations and to face remaining challenges.  The Government would continue to work towards awareness-raising and removing social barriers, enhancing accessibility, strengthening partnership with civil society organizations, realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, and reforming legislations in line with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

HYUNG SHIK KIM, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Thailand, thanked the members of the Thai delegation for their cooperation and the answers they had provided.  Some concerns remained, he said, encouraging better cooperation with organizations of persons with disabilities and better monitoring of the implementation of the Convention.  He welcomed that the Government had shown the willingness to repeal pieces of legislation that were incompatible with the Convention. 

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