My first time to hear about the Marrakesh Treaty – What is it really?

By Mao Meas, Programme Analyst, UNDP Cambodia

December 2, 2020

Ms. Mao Meas

I have been working in the disability sector for more than 14 years, and with UNDP Cambodia for more than 6 years as a disability focal point. My role is to provide technical support to the Cambodian government to review, design, implement and monitor the progress of laws, policies and frameworks related to disability by ensuring these policy instruments and implementation align with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

I was introduced to the Marrakesh Treaty for the first time when UNDP’s Regional Advisor presented it at the National Reflection Workshop on the National Disability Strategic Plan 2014-2018, in 2018. My first reaction was: what is the Marrakesh Treaty and how could it benefit Cambodia? I needed to know the clear answers before I could inform the Disability Action Council, which is the nodal government body for all work related to disability.

As I learned more about the Marrakesh Treaty, I became convinced that it will benefit Cambodia and advance the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Marrakesh Treaty is the second international treaty that specifically addresses the rights of persons with disabilities, after the UNCRPD. The Marrakesh Treaty is also the first copyright treaty with human rights principles at its core. The Treaty aims to end what is often referred to as the global book famine, by removing legal barriers for producing and sharing copies of published works such as books, journals and textbooks in accessible formats such as braille and audio, both within and between countries.

Cambodia signed the Marrakesh Treaty when it opened for signature, on 28 June 2013. Cambodia was one of the only two ASEAN countries to sign the Treaty, demonstrating its strong commitment to advancing disability rights both at national and global levels. Cambodia has yet to ratify the Treaty, which is a necessary step before the country can officially join the Treaty and take advantage of its benefits.

The ratification would require certain changes in Cambodia’s copyright law, in order to comply with the requirements of the Marrakesh Treaty. For example, it would need to include a provision to permit the creation or distribution of accessible format works. The scope of certain provisions of the existing law would also need to be broadened to allow authorized entities (e.g. those providing services for persons with print disabilities on a non-profit basis, including government, libraries, and non-government entities such as the Krousar Thmey and the Association of Blind Cambodia), to import and export accessible format copies.

By enabling cross-border exchange of accessible format works, the Marrakesh Treaty can particularly benefit small countries like Cambodia that have limited existing availability of these books. A wide range of print-disabled people would benefit, including students wishing to learn English or other foreign languages, as well as those interested in foreign literature or the latest scientific journals, which may be available from libraries in other countries.

In addition to the above benefits, the Marrakesh Treaty can provide Cambodia with an additional legal instrument, apart from the UNCRPD, to advocate, protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. It can also help Cambodia to benefit from greater international collaboration and movements on disability rights.

In 2019, UNDP organized a legal training workshop led by a world-renowned intellectual property lawyer from the United States who had engaged in the development and negotiation of the Marrakesh Treaty. The training helped the Cambodian government and stakeholders to develop a better understanding of the Treaty as well as the role of the Disability Action Council, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the Ministry of Commerce – and how these institutions could work together towards the ratification. I facilitated the discussions among these ministries to plan ways forward.

It has only been just over three years since I first heard about the Marrakesh Treaty and since it became widely known in the disability sector in Cambodia.  And yet we already have multiple government entities fully onboard to proceed towards the ratification. I would say that this is exceptionally fast progress in the Cambodian context, as it normally takes years to reach this stage. UNDP in collaboration with the government will organize the national dissemination workshop on the Marrakesh Treaty to further expedite the progress towards ratification with the establishment of a multisectoral working group, which is a major milestone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and challenge of ensuring accessible information for persons with disabilities, which exists even in ordinary times. It is the right time for Cambodia to step forward to remove the barriers that remain.

The Marrakesh Treaty ratification and implementation can certainly help move the country in the right direction. It aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals pledge of leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first, as well as with the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities: “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World.”

I am excited to be a part of the national and global efforts to make this vision a reality.  

For more information about the Marrakesh Treaty:

UNDP Cambodia, WBUAP, EIFL, ABC (2017). Issue Brief for Cambodia on the Marrakesh Treaty. (Also available in Khmer, audio (English and Khmer), and braille.

UNDP Cambodia and WBUAP (2017). Cambodia edition: Legal reviews for the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty for persons with print disabilities. (Khmer version also available upon request)