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Promoting Social Change in East Asia: The Movement to Create a Disability Rights Tribunal and the Promise of International Online, Distance Learning

32 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2011  

Michael L. Perlin

New York Law School

Date Written: January 19, 2011


The existence of regional human rights courts and commissions has been an essential element in the enforcement of international human rights in those regions of the world where such tribunals exist, especially in the context of mental disability law. In Asia and the Pacific region, however, there is no such body. The lack of such a court or commission has been a major impediment in the movement to enforce disability rights in Asia.

The absence of such a body has become even more problematical in the year since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has been ratified. Finally, there is now hard law clearly establishing the international human rights of persons with disabilities, but, without a regional enforcement body, we cannot be overly optimistic about the real life impact of this Convention on the rights of Asian and Pacific region persons with disabilities.

The creation of a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific (DR-TAP) would be a bold, innovative, progressive and important step on the path towards realization of those rights. It would also, not unimportantly, be ultimately a likely inspiration for a full regional human rights tribunal in this area of the world.

The research is clear. In all regions of the world, persons with mental disabilities especially those institutionalized because of such disabilities are uniformly deprived of their civil and human rights. The creation of a DR-TAP would be the first necessary step leading to amelioration of this deprivation.

If, however, such a tribunal were to be created, it is also clear that it would be an empty victory if there were not lawyers available to represent individuals who seek to litigate in that forum. New York Law School (NYLS) has created its online, distance learning mental disability law program in an effort to provide education in an area of the law that remains hidden in most law school curricula. NYLS offers twelve courses, as well as a Masters and an Advanced Certificate in mental disability law studies. The courses cover all aspects of civil, criminal, international and constitutional mental disability law, include skills components, and provide the most comprehensive instruction in this area offered at any law school in the U.S. (and most likely, the world). Its pedagogy includes streaming video, reading assignments, asynchronous message boards, weekly synchronous chat rooms, and two full day live seminars.

In the past, NYLS has offered sections of two of its courses (Survey of Mental Disability Law, and The Americans with Disabilities Act: Law, Policy and Practice) in Japan, to cohorts of lawyers, academics, advocates and mental health professionals. It is planning on offering a section of another course, Advocacy Skills in Cases Involving Persons with Mental Disabilities: The Role of Lawyers and Expert Witnesses, to law students and to practicing lawyers in Japan in this calendar year to prepare a cadre of lawyers to represent individuals before a Disability Rights Tribunal.

In this paper, the presenters (the creator of the online program in the U.S. and the creator of the idea for the DR-TAP in Japan) discuss their proposals and the “fit” between the two.

Keywords: distance learning, law school pedagogy, international human rights law, mental disability law, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific, right to counsel, anti-discrimination law, “Asian values”, cultural relativism

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., Promoting Social Change in East Asia: The Movement to Create a Disability Rights Tribunal and the Promise of International Online, Distance Learning (January 19, 2011). NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/11 #17. Available at SSRN:

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2183 (Phone)


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