Beyan Kota represents CAB at Diplomatic Conference

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JUNE 30, 2013

Compiled by: Sir. Beyan Kota




In Marrakesh, Morocco, on June 17, 2013 Diplomas from several countries representing 160 governments (including Liberia), from around the world and representatives of 60 other international organizations coming from different parts of the world convened at Palais des congres’e and concluded a historic international treaty to facilitate access to published works by persons with visual impairments or others with print disabilities. This event took us twelve(12) working days to finalize the international instrument and on June 28, 2013, the historic treaty was adopted and entered into force after it has been signed by more than 20 nations. Sixty other governments, including the government of the Royal Kingdom of Morocco signed and ratified the treaty on the same day.


The diplomatic conference to conclude the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works by persons with visual impairments or others with print disabilities as contained in its title is to reflect the goal and content of the treaty. It aims to improve access to books in alternative formats for beneficiary persons who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled.

In our discussions, debates and negotiations, we succeeded resolving thirty-seven contending issues to make the treaty effective. This treaty is about improving the economic and social status of the blind world-wide, and in addition emphasizes exceptions and limitations to published works by persons with visual impairment to enhance their education and improved the quality of life for the blind and print disabled people.


This new international instrument provides legal concrete actions to published works and ensures copy right exceptions and limitations to benefit a population of three hundred and forty million persons with visual impairment and others with print disabilities the world over.

To conclude the treaty, the Marrakesh spirit enabled the delegates to cultivate dialogue and demonstrated frank exchange of ideas and flexibility of non-discrimination and inclusion which guided us towards fairer and inclusive society, thus the finalization of an emancipating instrument otherwise refers to as the Marrakesh Treaty.


Our success is embedded in the fulfillment of an opportunity to improve the cultural lives of the blind and guarantee the development of their artistic innovation, creative and intellectual capacities. It addresses the problem of book famine experience by blind people and others with print disabilities.


By the successful conclusion of this treaty, we have now overcome the hurdles of book hunger and addressed the curiosity to know, the longing to know and yearning to learn. President Barrack Obama, of the United States of America, in recognition of this need, said, “Copy Right is not a barrier to the information, education and capacity that the blind need to live independently and participate in the cultural live of the community”.


Also in the words of Dr. Francis Gurry, Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said the Marrakesh treaty is successful and effective because it represents a clear well-articulated, manageable and specific treaty which addresses the problem of inclusion of blind and visually impaired globally and has now been finalized to transform the economy of power. Before then was the inclusion of movie & music artist which was address in 2012 and now the Marrakesh treaty in 2013.


Currently, only 5% of published works are available to blind people in developed countries and the situation is even worst in least developing nations. Maryann Diamond, Passed President, World Blind Union, expressing her delight to the conclusion to this treaty said “the world has achieved a treaty and yet still a better treaty”.  The challenge remains for contracting states and stakeholders to see to the domestication of the treaty for the more than three hundred million blind people most of whom are in least developing countries to yield the dividend. Government around the world should not just sign and ratify, but ensure the scrupulous enforcement of the Marrakesh Treaty.


The success of our work in Marrakesh is not only manifested in the number of delegates that attended the conference sign and  ratify the treaty but the visit of a world class musician Steven Wonder who grace the closing ceremony and made a brief remark in support of the tremendous achievement. My regret is that I had to leave Marrakesh that evening when the great Steven Wonder was returning to the palace to perform his musical talents in gratitude of those of us who made the Marrakesh Treaty a reality.


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Report Details


I have just returned to Liberia from attending a diplomatic conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where we concluded an international treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons with visually impairment or others with print disabilities. I was a delegate representing the government of Liberia. Thanks to the Intellectual Property Systems, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


On Monday, June 17, 2013 the delegates’ participants were registered and I was fortunate to meet with Maryann Diamond passed President of the Word Blind Union, who introduced to me several other individuals one of whom was Jim Frusterman from book share based in the USA. Mr. Frusterman had also traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco to attend this diplomatic conference. We greeted each other and I learned from Jim that his organization (book-share) has delivered about 75,000 books on record to private individuals online in Liberia.  Mr. Frusterman promised to send a form for us to fill in. This was CAB can subscribe to book-share. We only need to pay a minimum fee of US$10.00 annually.


In my open declaration on behalf of the government of Liberia, at the Mansour Elfahbi Palais des Congres’e, Boulevard, Mohamed the 6th in Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300 hundred delegates from around the world had gather to conclude an international treaty on access to published works by the visually impaired persons and or persons with print disabilities, I congratulated his honor Mustapha El Khelfi, Minister of Communication government of the Royal Kingdom of Morocco, on his election as President of the Marrakesh Diplomatic Conference, and extended similar felicitations to his corps of officers, deputy chairs, who were also elected to aid him in the management of this international conference. I also congratulated members of the main and credential committees on behalf of the government and people of Liberia, and registered thanks to Dr. Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), for successfully administering the affairs of WIPO.


Addressing the Diplomatic Conference on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 during the plenary, I informed the delegates that I was neither an official nor an employee of the government of Liberia. My preferment as a delegate of the government was credited on the remarkable leadership I have provided for the blind over the years in Liberia and the inspiration my leadership has given to the general public across the country, which has not only build for us strong organization for the blind but impacted the lives of the blind, the effect of which has demonstrated tremendous change in the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired in Liberia. We are a strong organized blindness movement a non-governmental and civic organization for the blind, the majority of whose membership is blind or visually impaired. CAB, as we are known nationally, has built for itself a repetition worthy of emulation.


The meeting in Marrakesh comes at a time, when the national Legislature of the Republic of Liberia has recently, exactly eight days ago, passed into law an act to establish policy on the use of the white cane to safe guard the rights of the blind to access public facilities in Liberia. This Law, amongst other things, grants right to the visually impaired in Liberia to access public transportation, busses, railroads trains, airplanes and other public convenes and extends to the right to the use of guides dogs and other services animals. What is more effective about the new law is the traffic safety measures for the blind which holds drivers of all vehicles and operators of motorbikes and bicycles liable in damages for injuries cause to any blind pedestrians  walking the streets of Liberia.


In Session 2 article 2 of the access to public facilities laws, the Liberian state is under obligation to develop strategies to make information and documentation accessible to the blind and visually impaired in formats such as Braille, large print, and tape services, and in pursuance to this, the state shall ensure the use of technological equipment to make written information and documentation accessible for the blind and visually impaired in Liberia.


In 2007, our organization (CAB) was also active in collaborating with other organizations of people with disabilities to prevail on the government of Liberia to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities and later on the government in July 2012, signed the Optional Protocol. In addition, our Association provided leadership guidance in the enactment of laws to establish Liberia’s state Commission on Disabilities in 2005.


In this regard, Liberia wishes therefore to see the conclusion of a treaty that is effective and responsive, and addresses access to published works by the visually impaired. Copyright exceptions and limitations without the consent of authors are to fulfill the dignity of the visually impaired, and to enable them to overcome the discrimination and ensure the right to engage in education and science and innovation and artistic work and full involvement in cultural life in the community. We are of the conviction that a treaty can be concluded that is effective to visually impaired and persons with print disabilities which shall strike the balance between authors and publishers of books who here in are referred to right holders and on the other hand beneficiaries persons who are herein referred to as print disabilities or persons with visual impairment.


To achieve a full inclusive treaty, we have resolved to negotiate a successful treaty that takes into account accessibility for the than three hundred and forty million blind, partially sighted, and visually impaired people around the world and not trade or barging. We must tap the balance in favor of visually impaired and persons with print disabilities.


Liberia supports the right to read campaign launched by Maryann Diamond and well-articulated doing this conference for the purpose of ensuring that blind people have unhindered access to books accessible formats we subscribe to the membership of the World Blind Union. It is our appeal to all delegates to see to the remover of the clauses in articles DNE, which require commercial availability for accessing information in the treaty. The remover of these two clauses in the treaty and the stripping of technological protection measures will surely render the treaty effective. So please join with us to make the treaty usable by creating access for all especially the visually impaired in developing countries.


In concluding, I cited some of the difficulties blind and visually persons are going through to access education particularly at the higher institutions of learning. Liberia has less than 300 blind students in primary, secondary and tertiary schools, many of those in the various universities spend hours transcribing books in Braille using slates and stylus and only very few can afford a Perkins Brailler.  It is therefore my appeal that the delegates consider the treaty as a matter of urgency, to ensure that blind people have access to books. This way the issue of book famine can be totally eradicated.