Human Rights Law for Persons With Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific: The Need for a Disability Rights Tribunal


  • Note: This article is drawn from one of a series of invited addresses presented at the Asia-Pacific IASIDD 3rd Regional Conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 22–24, 2013. Professor Perlin is the director of the International Mental Disability Law Reform Project as well as the director of the Online Mental Disability Law Program at the New York Law School, New York, NY, USA.

Correspondence: Michael L. Perlin, New York Law School, 185 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013, USA. Tel: +1 212 431 2183; E-mail:


Human rights are arguably the most significant political force shaping the life experience of people with disability. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets the standard at an international level, creating both positive and negative rights, and calls upon member states of the United Nations (UN) to develop policies and enact programs to safeguard and progress these rights for people with disabilities. However, without some means of enforcement, UN conventions and national policies can amount to little more than political rhetoric. The paper reviews legal mechanisms and processes established in various regions of the world to enforce the human rights of people with disability. The author examines the role of litigation in upholding the rights of individuals and of groups and critiques the proposed facilitators and barriers to the establishment and effective operation of regional human rights tribunals. Evidence from case law demonstrates that national courts can be powerful forces in mandating the practical implementation of international law. However, litigation in these jurisdictions appear most evident and effective where there has been a body of law established by regional commissions; such as The European Court on Human Rights, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and The African Commission on Human Rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is, potentially, the single most transformative legal initiative affecting persons with disabilities. However, it is unlikely that it will have any significant impact in Asia and the Pacific because of the absence of a regional court or commission in that area of the world. The creation of a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific offers a solution to this dilemma.