The restricted space for freedom of expression continues to mar the first-world standing of Singapore.
Singapore (10 Dec) - Think Centre (TC), Singapore's pioneering political association in commemoration of International Human Rights Day 2010, makes its call for Singapore to be remade into a first-class place where human rights defenders will acknowledge that human rights are being respected, promoted and protected.
Human rights and democracy are interlinked and interdependent pillars of any caring and sharing society. A human rights-based democratic culture and movement will cultivate and enable an environment for appreciation, promotion and protection of basic human rights prescribed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such a human development is critical to the fostering of a truly caring and sharing community in Singapore, but also form the bedrock for a People-Centred ASEAN.
Locally, free-market capitalism yielded economic benefits and human development for segments, but not in entirety, for Singapore society. The presence of the working poor and jobless poor, is indicative and alarming for a developed economy and aspiring first-world nation. The Singapore government should re-look at its rejection of the imposition of a minimum wage, a policy that could protect many of those who are vulnerable and susceptible to wage discrimination and low wage, otherwise we will forever be inching at snail's pace towards a caring and sharing society. Come 2011, the ILO will work towards adopting a convention on domestic workers - an advancement for migrant domestic workers and their advocates in the struggle for better working and living conditions. We call on the government to take a bold step and ratify the convention upon its fruition.
In other areas, the restricted space for freedom of expression continues to mar the first-world standing of Singapore. The disappointing judicial sentence on Alan Shadrake exemplified the challenges to traditional freedoms of speech and expression in this new digital age of social media. The case has also starkly highlighted the lack of compassion on the part of the judiciary which is especially compelling considering that Alan Shadrake is a 76 year old person who is sick and weak, with limited resources. The Alan Shadrake case should not have gone to the court and wasted precious public administration resources.
The inaugural visit by the U.N Special Rapporteur on Contemporay forms of racism, rcial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, had yielded productive meetings between civil society activists and private persons concerned with existent discrimination in Singapore. As per our submission to the Special Rapporteur, TC calls for immediate review and repeal of discriminatory policies such as the ethnic housing quota, tokenistic representation of the GRC system amongst others.
The historic submission of the Universal Periodic Review reports by 9 independent stakeholder groups, inclusive of Think Centre, generated further interest and cooperation amongst local civil society activists/human right defenders in Singapore. Reiterating its submissions, TC calls for the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty, corporal punishment in penitiary system, and anti-human rights legislations such as the Internal Security Act. In the case of death penalty, local activists continue to lobby on an official moratorium - especially as the majority of those prosecuted and executed such as drug trafficking offenders are from poor socio-economic backgrounds prone to exploitation by syndicates.
Regionally, the institutionalization of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was a positive development in human rights but it has failed to show real progress. AICHR has not engaged or consulted civil society and the peoples even though its mandate is on the promotion and protection of human rights. TC calls for more pro-active awareness-building efforts through greater stakeholder interfaces, media coverage and national consultation in human rights.
In conclusion, civil society activists and human rights defenders worldwide stand in solidarity to build network to work on similar issues in respective countries. Within ASEAN, TC calls for fellow civil society activists/human rights defenders to share experiences, promote best practices and make peoples' voices heard to all ASEAN governments who had committed to build a People-Centred ASEAN. Think Centre call upon the Singapore government to decisively demonstrate political will and moral courage to remake Singapore into a first-class country based on a healthy respect for human rights.
We at Think Centre wish all Governments, all peoples, fellow civil society activists and human rights defenders, a meaningful International Human Rights Day 2010, and to a better year of improved human rights ahead!
Kong Soon Tan