Malaysia: new report on right to education for disabled children has important lessons for government

Children with learning disabilities are among the most disadvantaged in Malaysia, and many thousands of them find themselves unable to access even basic education. The National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) is determined to confront this longstanding injustice, however. With the support of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) it is working to ensure these children are not left behind in efforts to achieve universal primary education.

Malaysia, which has ratified both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), is currently progressing towards universal primary enrollment through its “2013-2025 Education Blueprint”. Effective monitoring by civil society organizations and, crucially, the Human Rights Commission will be essential if the plan is to achieve its goal of ensuring equal access to quality education for all children.

CESR has been working with SUHAKAM to ensure the government’s plan reaches children with learning disabilities, and this collaboration has now culminated in a new SUHAKAM report. ‘The Right to Education for Children with Learning Disabilities’ was developed with guidance from CESR as part of a joint initiative between the Center and the Asia Pacific Forum aimed at strengthening the role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in protecting economic and social rights. This project, which has supported collaborative partnerships with NHRIs in the region since January 2012, has already aided the New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s work to monitor human rights after the Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes, and that of Palestine’s Independent Commission on Human Rights, in ensuring the Palestinian Authority’s National Development Plan realizes economic and social rights.

The new SUHAKAM report aims to increase the number of children with learning disabilities receiving inclusive and quality primary education by raising awareness of the challenges they experience in this regard, and identifying the gaps in information about education for these children. It is also designed to help build connections between government agencies and civil society to promote more participatory, transparent and accountable education policy. The document examines challenges to realizing the right to education for children with learning disabilities, including logistical difficulties in accessing learning facilities, inconsistent implementation of screening and assessment processes, the lack of adequate funding for programs, and the lack of adequate support in learning institutions. It also makes recommendations aimed at helping the government effectively improve access to education for this community. 

SUHAKAM’s research utilizes the four-step OPERA Framework for uncovering patterns of socio-economic rights deprivation and linking these deprivations to weaknesses in design or implementation of government policies. The analysis builds on a series of workshops in which SUHAKAM’s staff was introduced to OPERA’s tools, including the identification of indicators and benchmarks, gathering primary and secondary data, and analyzing budgets. Researchers at SUHAKAM deployed OPERA to clearly articulate the government’s legal obligations and to examine the current challenges that exist in realizing the right to education for children with learning disabilities. The project was spurred by concerns that a large number of children with learning disabilities appear to be excluded from primary education, while little accurate data is readily available in this regard.

A recurrent theme in the report is the need for the government to gather and make available accurate disaggregated data on children with learning disabilities, along with related budgetary information. The report therefore recommends that the government collect such data and statistics on access to education among children with learning disabilities, at both the primary and secondary levels, and that the collection of this data be systematized and shared among all relevant government agencies.

Having already presented their findings to the Ministry of Education – which has recognized the validity of the concerns raised – SUHAKAM is now planning follow-up discussions to monitor progress in addressing them. The report will also be presented to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, with a view to garnering its support, and there are plans for further school visits around the country in 2017.

  • To learn more about CESR's partnership with the APF, see here.
  • To learn more about our work with National Human Rights Institutions, see here.
  • To learn about CESR's monitoring work and the OPERA Framework, see here.

Posted by Holly Stubbs on January 15th, 2016

Strictly business: national rights institutions and the private sector

In an age when major corporations play an increasingly powerful role in global affairs, it is essential that the private sector be called to account for its impact on the human rights of people and communities.  Being conscious that National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have a critical part to play in this endeavor, CESR participated in the Annual Seminar for NHRIs, which focused on the topic of Business and Human Rights, in New York recently.

CESR’s Allison Corkery addresses the UNDP-hosted seminar
Organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the seminar sought to expand discourse on the relationship between human rights and business and the corresponding role of NHRIs. Framed within the global debate on the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), and in light of the third anniversary of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), the event facilitated a timely discussion on how to strengthen corporate accountability for human rights.

Drawing on our recent publication A Post-2015 Fiscal Revolution, Allison Corkery, Director of CESR’s Rights Claiming and Accountability Program, stressed the potential for NHRIs to play a key role in ensuring accountability for the ways that corporate activity influences states’ fiscal policy.  Through their promotion and protection functions, NHRIs can for instance, advocate for greater transparency of the state’s fiscal data, as well as analyze how tax policies might enable businesses to indirectly harm economic and social rights. She also proposed a number of strategies NHRIs might employ to strengthen their capacity to advance economic and social rights. For example, forming alliances with tax inspectors and economic think-tanks could support them to undertake innovative budget and policy analyses, reinforcing their advocacy in this area.

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish National Human Rights Commission, suggested that the future success of the Guiding Principles would depend heavily on whether or not they are integrated into the post-2015 SDG framework. Their inclusion, however, will not be the end goal; it will be crucial to measure how and where the Guiding Principles generate real change in the realm of human rights and business. Although it has only been three years since Professor John Ruggie authored the Guiding Principles, the demand for quantifiable evidence of their impact is growing. If we can’t show they’re making a difference, the international community may need to consider a legally-binding treaty. A potential treaty on business and human rights was first proposed by Ecuador in August of 2013 at the Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The critical role of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs) in implementing the Guiding Principles was a dominant theme throughout the presentations and Q&A discussions. Well-designed NAPs lay the foundation for states to assess the human rights impact of business activity, as well as for comprehensive monitoring and remedies for human rights violations committed by the business sector. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of consensus on best practice for NAPs, for example the particular indicators and methods for measuring progress.

In closing remarks, OHCHR highlighted the pressing need to ensure strong accountability mechanisms for the post-2015 SDGs. Voluntary reports on progress will no longer suffice; concrete reporting measures are necessary to ensure responsibility, answerability, and enforceability of human rights standards at the local and national levels, including of business.

The timely event also included valuable contributions from Anita Househam, UN Global Compact Program Manager, and Lauretta Lamptey, chair of the African Network of NHRIs and Chairperson of the Ghana Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice.

With the private sector playing an evermore influential role in social and economic policy, it is essential that NHRIs effectively address the human rights implications of this trend. CESR will continue to support the work of these key bodies as they confront this challenge.

Posted by on June 25th, 2014

OPERA in the Occupied Territories

While the human rights situation in Palestine is profoundly shaped by the situation of occupation, the welfare of ordinary people in the territory is also contingent on the effectiveness of development policies implemented by the Palestinian Authority (PA). With this fact in mind, CESR has been working closely with Palestine’s Independent Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) to support its efforts to ensure the PA’s development plans serve to realize the human rights of all those under its authority.

CESR's Allison Corkery and Niko Lusiania (front row, first and
second from left) with members of the ICHR in Ramallah

The ICHR is the most recent member of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions to participate in a pilot project on economic and social rights monitoring, as part of a joint initiative between CESR and the Asia Pacific Forum aimed at strengthening the role of these institutions in protecting these rights.

The pilot began with a four-day program, held in Ramallah from 11 – 14 May, to explore strategies the Commission can incorporate when analyzing development-related policies from a human rights perspective. Approximately 30 staff from the Commission’s headquarters, West Bank and Gaza field offices, participated in a two-day training workshop led by CESR's Allison Corkery and Niko Lusiani.

Over the course of the workshop, participants were introduced to OPERA, an accessible four-step framework for uncovering patterns of socio-economic rights deprivation—such as preventable disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, or homelessness—and linking these deprivations to weaknesses in design or implementation of government policies. In addition, participants undertook activities to familiarize them with the tools and techniques underpinning the framework, including identifying indicators and benchmarks, gathering primary and secondary data, and analyzing budgets.

The training workshop was followed by two days of facilitated discussion with directors and managers of the Commission’s programs and field offices. ICHR plans to use the skills shared in the training to track progress in the implementation of the PA’s National Development Plan, which sets out a broad and ambitious policy agenda for the coming three years. The Commission's role in monitoring implementation of the plan will be crucial to ensure the aspirations it contains are effectively translated into real improvements on the ground.

Members of the ICHR tackle one of the group exercises

National Human Rights Institutions have a critical role to play in holding all relevant actors and authorities accountable to their human rights obligations in the development context. Effective monitoring is essential for ensuring such accountability; highlighting when laws and policies create, perpetuate or exacerbate deprivations of economic and social rights. Combining quantitative and qualitative evidence—including statistics and data, policy and budget analysis and the personal stories of affected communities—will enable ICHR to pinpoint the challenges in achieving equitable development in Palestine´s constrained context, and to promote human rights centered reforms. Staff from CESR will provide ICHR’s team with methodological support and advice during the course of the project.

Like ICHR, many other national human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific have highlighted their desire to more effectively monitor economic, social and cultural rights in their respective countries. NHRIs across the region—in emerging economies such as Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as in transitional countries such as Nepal, Palestine, and the Maldives—have been vocal advocates for the adoption of a human rights-based approach to development. To respond to this need, the APF and CESR will develop a comprehensive training resource to support APF member institutions to plan and undertake this crucial work.

  • To learn more about CESR's partnership with the APF, see here.
  • To learn more about our work with National Human Rights Institutions, see here.
  • To learn about CESR's monitoring work and the OPERA Framework, see here.

Posted by Luke Holland on May 30th, 2014

Accountability in the Post-2015 Development Framework: What role for National Human Rights Institutions?

Video: UNDP seminar 'Twenty years later: The Paris Principles and the national human rights institutions'

Last month, CESR Executive Director Ignacio Saiz joined a panel discussion on the way forward for national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the post-2015 development agenda. Hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the panel was part of a seminar for NHRIs to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Principles, the normative framework that defines the role, composition, status and functions of these institutions.

CESR Executive Director Ignacio Saiz (right) looks on as
Amina Muhammad, Special Advisor to the Secretary General on
Post-2015 Development Planning, speaks at the UNDP event
Accountability gaps have impeded the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And while NHRIs have often been cited as key mechanisms for filling these gaps, their comparative strengths and weaknesses in this regard have only recently been explored in depth.

As debates on what the post-2015 framework should look like progress, there are clear expectations that NHRIs will form part of the accountability infrastructure supporting it. But what should NHRIs do specifically? CESR suggested four broad proposals for NHRIs to consider:

  1. Contributing to global decision making on the post-2015 framework: Most immediately, NHRIs can more actively contribute to debates about the content of the new framework. The positions of member states are currently being defined. NHRIs, individually and collectively, can seek to influence the positions drawn up by their countries and other relevant actors, so as to ensure that the new development commitments are firmly grounded in international human rights standards.

  2. Engaging in the process of tailoring goals, targets and indicators nationally: There is increasing consensus that while a framework of internationally-agreed goals should be universal, targets need to be ‘tailored’ to the national level. NHRIs can ensure that this tailoring exercise is undertaken through a participatory process and that it takes their country’s human rights commitments fully into account. Specifically, NHRIs can ascertain that their country’s national targets are ambitious and achievable within a defined timeframe and can develop indicators and other monitoring tools to measure whether policies are effective and that outcomes are distributed equally among all sectors of society.

  3. Monitoring and reviewing progress on agreed commitments: The importance of establishing robust country-owned monitoring mechanisms to periodically review progress (or lack of) towards agreed goals and targets is broadly recognized. This kind of periodic review would fit well with the reporting mandate many NHRIs’ already hold, and they are well-placed to actively contribute to such mechanisms, for example by facilitating community participation or submitting their own ‘shadow’ reports. At the international level, too, NHRIs can play a key role, as an independent source of information for any new international monitoring mechanism and by encouraging greater scrutiny by existing human rights mechanisms such as treaty bodies and special rapporteurs.

  4. Enforcing accountability and enabling access to justice and remedies: NHRIs have not only a monitoring role but also an enforcement function. Their enforcement powers may derive from NHRIs’ quasi-judicial complaint mandates, investigative capabilities or even by strengthening other enforcement mechanisms through training and guidance. This is important for backstopping and reinforcing accountability, ensuring access to justice for people whose rights are denied because of a failure to meet development commitments.

It is clear that NHRIs have a lot to contribute to the post-2015 development framework. Their unique placement between the government and civil society, their legal mandate and the powers that derive from it, as well as their particular human rights expertise gives them huge potential to guarantee that the post-2015 framework has human rights at its core and that states can be held accountable for their commitments under it.

Despite many good practice examples—some of which are highlighted in the report Who Will Be Accountable?—experience of NHRI engagement with the MDGs and with development policies more generally shows uneven results. The degree of success an institution will have depends on a number of legal, political, financial and social factors that affect it both internally and externally. CESR continues to work with NHRIs and their networks across the world to build internal capacity, as well as strengthen their external relationships, so as to help them meet the expectations placed on them in the post-2015 context.

Posted by on August 14th, 2013