Singapore Working Group for ASEAN forum agrees on the need for a people’s centred approach

27 Aug

The forum and workshop organised by ThinkCentre, “The ASEAN Charter – What’s in it for you and me!” on 25 August at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation, Seminar Room, saw about 50 participants who were there to know more, debate, and discuss the proposed ASEAN charter that would be adopted by ASEAN in September, Singapore.

Chaired by Russell Heng, an activist with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) , the first presentation by Mr Ron Dudley of the Founder of the Disabled Peoples International, emphasized on the importance of promoting equality of opportunities and full participation for people with disabilities. He also urged ASEAN, including the Singapore government to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To date, only two ASEAN countries, Indonesia and Thailand have signed, though not ratified the convention.

Sinapan Samydorai, chair of the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN , gave a short history of ASEAN and the upcoming ASEAN charter that will be adopted. He explained that the current ASEAN and its charter lacked a people- centred mechanism in which the people living in ASEAN including the NGOs and CSOs are consulted. As a non legal body that has been in existence for 40 years, its shortcomings include having non-intervention, non- binding and non compliance features.

He also highlighted the abject poverty of people living in ASEAN in which over 40 million survive on less than US one dollar per day and 223 million on US 2 dollars per day. As ASEAN grows and move towards more economic growth, he stressed the increasing need for the human dignity of all people; social responsibility for the common good; and solidarity with the weak, poor and disabled.

Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage, Alvin Tan, gave a presentation of two projects – Mobile; and Boxing Day: The Tsunami Project; that the artistic company produced recently. These works explore contemporary intercultural Asian issues such as identity; narratives of individuals and communities; orientalism; and the exotic Asia paradigm. He emphasized that there is a need to include the ASEAN arts community in the charter and that intercultural arts can empower voices and the human rights agenda.

Jolovan Wham who is with TWC2 Migration Economics (HOME), spoke of the need to protect the rights of migrant workers. While he applauded the Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower’s efforts to address some of the migrant worker’s issues such as setting up helplines, they fall short of equality and protection. The working conditions of some of the the migrant workers are akin to slavery and are possible subject to abuse. He also highlighted the plight of illegal immigrant workers who are thrown in jail and charged for overstaying when they are merely the victims of human rights traffickers. His other suggestions include reducing culture shock courses for migrant workers to integrate or reintegrate their departure and destination countries.

Leong Sze Hian, who presented the business community perspective, contended that one way to understand the human rights situation in a country is by looking at its economic and social statistics. His figures highlighted the increasing wealth gap in Singapore and the dire poverty of the poor and aged. They include the startling figures of 1445 HDB or Housing Development Board flats (government housing) that were being repossessed – an average of 60 per month; the number of Singaporeans who earn less than 500 dollars a month – as many as 18,600 above the age of 55. For those above the age of 65, 49% of them work as cleaners, labourers and production operators.

The question and answer segment raised further questions on how the participants, including individuals and those who represents other NGOs in Singapore can further become part of the working group in Singapore (which is not officially recognized by the Singapore government) to help ensure that the people and civil society can be consulted and included in the dialogue with ASEAN.


2 Responses to “Singapore Working Group for ASEAN forum agrees on the need for a people’s centred approach”

  1. Jolovan Wham August 29, 2007 at 3:17 am #

    I am the speaker in this forum which commented on the migrant worker situation in Singapore. Please note that I am with Humanitarian organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) a migrant worker NGO and not TWC2. Thanks.


  2. joncharles August 29, 2007 at 4:45 am #

    I apologise for the error. I will make the necessary changes. Thanks for the notification.

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