The draft constitution going up for the referendum vote on 7 August degrades the issue of disability rights to an appalling level. It shows the junta’s point of view of the disabled as those who should receive public support but are deprived of guaranteed disability rights. According to experts, this situation will weaken the force of law for equality for the disabled.
“Disability rights” are rights that have been legislated in the laws, legislative acts, and even agreements between Thailand and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The rights agreed upon help the disabled in their daily lives and ensure support from the state so that their quality of life is equal to the abled. Accordingly, this means that Thailand must pass laws to support their agreement with the CRPD.
Although Thailand has quite a few legislative acts relating to the disabled, such as the Promotion and Development of Quality of Life for Disabled Persons Act and the Education for Disabled Persons Act, they have not actually been implemented. Disability rights groups have been hoping that the Constitution, which has the highest rule of law in the country, will be able to guarantee the rights of the disabled in reality.
Theerayut Sukonthawit, secretary of the Thailand Council for Independent Living (TIL), talks to Prachatai about the glaring lack of disability rights in the draft constitution, namely accessibility rights to public facilities and support for equal education.
Disability’s rights have become merely state’s job
This draft Constitution erases all disability rights progress made in the past Thai constitutions, says Theerayut.
Head of the draft committee, Meechai Luechupan uses a “cutting-it-short” tactic when writing the draft. Disability rights are not specifically mentioned, but are lumped into the state’s scope of responsibility. This is troubling for disability rights groups, since it will weaken the already-feeble enforcement of disability-related laws. Without disabled persons decrees, the disabled will be unable to refer to the Constitution to cover the protection of their rights.
“The disability rights procedure should begin with defining those rights. Then, roles and regulations come after. People must have rights first, then it is the relevant department’s responsibility to enforce the laws so that people receive the rights promised to them,” said Theerayut.
Article 71 Section 4 in Meechai’s draft states that “the state must set aside funds, while considering the different wants and needs of different sexes, ages, and conditions of people in a just way” is so confusingly, vaguely worded that it allows a loophole for disability rights to be deferred and ignored, as well as discrimination towards the disabled.
“Of course, these regulations decrease existing disability rights,” says Theerayut. “Disability rights are not even clearly defined. Without definition, as well as making it the state’s job, disabled person’s rights are sure to decrease. If a disabled person does not have access to a right, then the only step they can take is to keep filing a complaint with the state, since they do not have any clearly-defined rights.”
Disabled persons’ accessibility rights to facilities were protected in Article 55 in the 1997 Constitution and Article 54 in the 2007 Constitution. In this draft constitution, however, this right is completely absent. Disability rights groups have tried to lobby against this, but they were unsuccessful.
The aforementioned Articles hold great importance for disabled persons, since they determine whether disabled persons get access to public facilities or adequate support from the state. For example, one regulation states that disabled persons and their families should receive the necessary support and aid from the state. Then, the family is able to support the disabled person to exercise their rights in full, equal to any other citizen. Another regulation stipulates that disabled persons should have physical accessibility to transportation, information technology, and communication systems, as well as public facilities in both urban and rural areas.
Although Thailand has a law about the disabled’s access to and use of public facilities, welfare, and other forms of aid from the state in Article 20 of the Promotion and Development of Quality of Life for Disabled Persons Act of 2007, the law has never been enforced or implemented in reality in a widespread way.
Theerayut says that the fact that the highest form of law, the Constitution, is brushing aside regulation of disability-related laws will cause their already-weak enforcement to become even weaker, more unclear, and more troublesome to understand and execute. Weaker disability laws might also halt the recent trend of constructing accessible public facilities, built according to the universal design principle.
Non-discriminatory laws still allow loopholes for social and legal disadvantages
Both the 1997 and 2007 Constitutions had non-discriminatory regulations regarding the disabled in Article 30. In fact, the word “the disabled” is clearly stipulated in Article 30 in both of these Constitutions. The first draft of this draft constitution, however, did not include anything about “disabled persons or the infirmed.” This caused disability rights groups to protest against this, causing the drafters to add the words “disabled persons” into the latest draft.
However, disability rights in the draft constitution are lumped into one catch-all term of “the disadvantaged” in almost every occurrence in the draft. Theerayut views this lumping-in as a sign that this draft constitution does not view the disabled as entitling any rights, but it’s the state’s responsibility to “help” them by providing welfare for them.
“In this draft constitution, disabled persons are valued even less than before. Disabled persons groups have to discuss how we are going to act regarding this draft: are we going to say yes or no?”
Equal education for the disabled—doable or not?
The latest draft of the draft constitution has regulations regarding education in Article 54: “the state must manage it so that every child receives 12 years of free quality education, from preschool until the completion of mandatory education.” However, the draft constitution does not have any stipulations regarding education for the disabled, unlike the 2007 Constitution’s Article 49 Section 2, which states that “the disabled have the right to receive support from the state for a level of education equal to everyone else.”
The draft constitution includes the words “every child” in this section, painting a utopian, democratic picture–but how realistic is that image? Theerayut says that the words “every child” does not help support public education for the disabled, but continue to bar off disabled children from mainstream schooling.
“They’ll say that they aren’t prohibiting disabled children from coming to school. Then when the disabled children go and enroll, there’s no teachers for them or there’s no facility for them, and they’re forced to sit at the back of the class alone, or a guardian has to accompany them at all times because the teachers have no time or training to take care of them,” Theerayut explains the common situations and problems facing disabled children. Disabled children, he says, are often not accepted into most schools and have to be sent to specialized schools for the disabled.
At present, although Thailand has passed the 2008 Education for Disabled Persons Act, support for special education and training for special education teachers is absent in the draft constitution, which ignores the needs different groups of people, such as the disabled.
Disabled persons: yes or no to the draft?
Among the clamor regarding the erasure of rights in the current draft constitution, some groups have voiced that they should accept the draft, with the reason that this draft is acceptable on some levels, especially with the current social situation in Thailand. Disabled persons groups also have a very low interest in the draft constitution issue overall: many do not know the current news and are unable to access the draft constitution itself. It will be interesting to see how disabled persons groups react to the draft constitution in the near future. Prachatai asked two people with disability how they will vote in the referendum:
Piyabut Tienkumsri, area operations administrator at the Phaya Thai Independent Living Center, said that he does not accept the draft constitution because the aforementioned draft seems to be untouchable. There is nothing to enforce the stipulations in it if the state does not execute them. Piyabut says the state only has the job of drafting laws to strengthen rights so that the disabled benefit from them. “In my opinion, the disabled have rights, and it’s not the state’s sole responsibility to make sure they are carried out. Each person has rights and humanity, which is equal to everyone else’s.”
Ornrotpol Srishisanuwaranont, director at the Phuttamonthon Independent Living Center, also does not agree with this draft constitution since it cuts out “disability rights” completely, such as those regarding facilities and education. He says that this lessens the existing, necessary, and useful rights of the disabled.
“These reasons should suffice for my refusal of this draft constitution. If you tell me that this is democracy, then I say that it produces inequality,” said Ornrotpol, adding that viewing disability rights from the state’s point of view is limiting and does not provide solutions for the multi-dimensional problems, which cannot be solved by hastily consolidating power and cutting issues short.
Trasnlated from Thai to English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich.