Singapore Human Rights Working Group for ASEAN Charter Forum

25 Sep

The forum on the plausibility of forming a Singapore Human Rights Working Group at Allson Hotel in Singapore on 23 September drew a sizeable crowd of about 80.

The event, chaired by gay rights activist, Alex Au, started with his introduction on ASEAN, the upcoming ASEAN charter that will be signed by the various governments; and how the original members of ASEAN have all formed their own human rights commission and working group with the exception of Singapore.

Veteran politician, J B Jeyaretnam, talked about the lack of human rights in Singapore, touching on broad issues such as the curtailment of freedom of speech and assembly; the draconian Internal Security Act and the Criminal Code which is used by the current executive to detain people without trial.

He said, ” The first task is to secure these basic rights for our citizens accorded to the same rights as other people in other countries.” He also stressed that a court of human rights is essential.

Human Rights Lawyer, M Ravi, criticised the ASEAN charter for lacking in transparency and accountability, as it is drafted without allowing feedback and comments from the general public and civil society. As such, the ASEAN Charter needs to be people-centric in “substance and execution”. In addition, he also said the Singapore civil society needs to lobby the government to form a human rights commission.

Jolovan Wham, a social worker for Home, an NGO dedicated to migration workers advocacy, talked about the role that social work can contribute to human rights. He stressed that social work is not just “firefighting” but also communicating to the relevant government agencies on laws and regulations which affects the poor and disenfrenchised.

Arts researcher, Isrizal quoted extensively from Singapore’s deceased famous thespian, Kuo Pao Kun, on the need for “cultural space”. He believed that there is a need for the arts community to be more pro-active in promoting human rights.

Politician and political activist, Dr Chee Soon Juan, said a majority of Singaporeans cannot make the connection between human rights and their ordinary lives. He used the example of the annuity proposal to highlight how ordinary Singaporeans have no say on unpopular policies.

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