National Workshop on Copyright Related to Persons with Disabilities and the Marrakesh Treaty

Opening Remarks by Ms. Alissar Chaker, Resident Representative, UNDP Cambodia

December 20, 2023

H.E LONG Ponnasirivath, Secretary of State, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts
H.E Em Chan Makara, Secretary of State, Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and Secretary General of the Disability Action Council  
Mr. Satta Sim, Director of the Department of Copyright and Related Rights, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to participate with you today in this National Workshop on Copyright Related to Persons with Disabilities and discuss Cambodia’s progress and way forward for ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty for persons with print disabilities.

The Marrakech Treaty has a far-reaching and clear human and social development dimension. It aims to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled, availing as result prospects and capabilities for them to actively participate in their societies’ progress. This ambition is well aligned with the Pentagonal Strategy’s commitment relating to (and I quote) “Cambodian people live in dignity and happiness and enjoy equal access, equal rights, and equal opportunities in social protection.” 

As a reminder, Cambodia was one of the only two ASEAN countries that signed the Treaty in 2013 demonstrating its strong commitment to advancing disability rights both at national and global levels but Cambodia has yet to ratify it, 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 to comply with the requirements of the Treaty. For example, it would need to permit the creation or distribution of accessible format works and allow authorized entities providing services for persons with print disabilities on a non-profit basis, including government, libraries, and non-government entities to import and export accessible format copies, among others.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The right to knowledge is a human right as it serves as a gateway to education, employment, health, and active engagement in social, economic, and political spheres. Knowledge constitutes a fundamental requisite for unlocking the full spectrum of human potential and fostering inclusive development, well-being, and above all dignity.

However, this fundamental human right is often restricted or even denied for persons with so-called print disabilities. For example, persons with print disabilities cannot effectively obtain information from printed materials. They may not be able to read what is printed due to blindness or vision impairment; they may not be able to understand what is printed due to learning or developmental disabilities such as dyslexia; or they may not be able to hold a book or turn pages because of physical disabilities such as Parkinson’s disease or paralysis. Therefore, persons with print disabilities require some other accessibility formats such as braille, audiobooks, and large prints to access knowledge from books and other printed materials.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.
In developing countries, it is estimated that less than 1% of published books are available in formats accessible to persons with print disabilities. This situation is commonly termed as the ‘book famine.’ Compared with sighted students, students who are blind, partially sighted, or otherwise print disabled have very limited access to accessible textbooks, if any. Consequently, they are at a disadvantage and suffer exclusion. They are left behind in educational and professional environments, trapped in vicious circles of unemployment, poverty, and marginalization. To end the book famine, the Marrakesh Treaty was adopted in 2013.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies, and Gentlemen.
For nearly ten years, UNDP has been unwavering in its commitment to support Cambodia’s journey towards ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty through developing national capacity and providing technical assistance to legal reforms. Our collective efforts have yielded significant results, marking substantial progress on multiple fronts, particularly in recent years. I would particularly note the development of a draft copyright legislation that aligns with the spirit and provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty.

This significant milestone was achieved thanks to the diligent efforts of a wide network of partners in the Royal Government, civil society, and development partners, some are participating with us today. I thank you all for your tireless work and commitment to the common goal of realizing a disability-inclusive society, where persons with print disabilities can access knowledge, information, and culture without barriers.

This milestone also reemphasizes the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which we celebrated on 3 December, reminding us that we must be “United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities.” The ratification and the subsequent national implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty will play a pivotal role in realizing an inclusive future in Cambodia. The Marrakesh Treaty also embraces the SDGs' guiding principles of “leaving no one behind” and “reaching the furthest behind first.”

As we navigate through this national consultation today, let us reflect on the transformative power of legal frameworks and partnerships that prioritize inclusiveness, social justice, and inclusion of marginalized populations.

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that print disability is not necessarily a life sentence of failure and marginalization. I recall Homer the great ancient Greek poet, Louis Braille the inventor of braille writing, Helen Keller the American author, activist, and lecturer, and other great men and women who surpassed their visual disability to change the world. So, let us seize the momentum, redouble our efforts, and strive for a Cambodia where the Marrakesh Treaty is not just a legal instrument but also a living reality for every person with a print disability.

I wish you all productive deliberations and a successful workshop.

Thank you/ Saum Orkun.