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SG Human Rights Forum on 18th November 2007 Quality Hotel

 SG Human Rights www.sghumanrights.org organised a public forum on 18th November 2007 in time to coincide with the ASEAN Summit at which leaders of the ASEAN states would sign a charter which includes an article agreeing to form a ASEAN Human rights Mechanism. The Forum had a dual purpose: 1. to raise awareness on human rights issues in Singapore and Burma and 2. to collect signatures to 2 petitions, 1 to the Burmese Military Junta and 2 to the Government of the Republic of Singapore. I was appointed to be the moderator for the event and as moderator i opened the event with an opening address. For the sake of those who were not present this is the excerpt of my speech at the forum.

 Introduction 

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this forum: ASEAN wants Human Rights now!

My name is Ti Lik and I am your moderator for today.

This is the first forum organized by SG Human Rights. On behalf of SG Human Rights, I would like to welcome all of you to this forum and thank you for your support for this cause.

 SG Human Rights 

There has been an imbalance of governmental influence in the direction and process of human rights development in civil society.

SG Human Rights is a volunteer human rights grouping seeking to further human rights activism in a more independent setting.

We also seek to broaden human rights awareness through active steps taken to introduce the concept of human rights to the wider population of Singaporeans instead restricting to discussions between politicians and leaders.

We also seek to further the rights of Singaporeans in terms of their fundamental liberties originally enshrined so to speak under the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.

That said. Those are objectives which we have outlined for ourselves in the near future. For today, our group held this forum to coincide with the ASEAN Summit held in Singapore, which Singapore is incidentally the Chair.

The significance of this summit is that ASEAN has come together to sign a charter which includes a provision to form an ASEAN Human rights Mechanism.

This is an important milestone and everything looks optimistic on the face of it. The phrase “human rights mechanism” is very wide – it could be human rights court, a human rights commission etc. It has not been set yet but this is not all.

Despite the fanfare around the summit and the charter, the leaked out draft ASEAN Charter, if accurate, seems to indicate that:

1.                  though in principle a human rights mechanism would be formed, there seems to be no deadline set for doing so.

2.                  there is no recourse set for any violation or a lack of follow up action.

It is open knowledge that Asian governments are far behind in the opening society through human rights awareness and education.

Attempts have been made in the past to sideline human rights as a Western concept / notion and through arguments on political and economic stability, Asian values, Confucianism and when all else fails – arguments like uniquely Singapore.

This brings us to expose the lip service paid to the notion of human rights, the hypocrisy of this administration.

During this ASEAN Summit, member states will sign a charter which provides for a Human rights mechanism.

Two months or so before this summit, we witnessed the brutal crackdown on the Burmese protestors by the military junta.

Western democracies and developed 1st world states have deliberately given Yangon a miss. Economic sanctions are imposed and businesses are not encouraged to invest there.

On the contrary, Singapore has been unreasonably sympathetic towards the junta.

1.                  The Burmese government has close links with ours. Singapore sells arms to the Junta. The weapons used on the Burmese monks in the crackdown probably originated from Singapore.

2.                  Singapore has made investments in Burma.

3.                  When the world seeks to condemn the brutal crackdown, Singapore’s leaders argue for a softer approach.

Both countries’ leaders seem to have a similar mindset. Of belief in themselves of having the sole right to govern and the sole right to rule.

So much so that in Burma the military has resorted to using real bullets on its own people they ought to have sworn to protect their people.

In Singapore, we do not have the right of assembly. Any group 5 or more is considered an illegal assembly may be dispersed by order of the police and prosecutions would follow if there was a failure to obey.

In Burma, there was no law making a group of 5 an unlawful assembly but the junta did ban, by decree, groups of 5 from gathering together a day or two prior to the crackdown when the protests have grown.

In this aspect, Singapore is far ahead of Burma.

Perhaps, this was the difference MM was thinking about when he remarked that the Burmese military leaders were not very bright.

 The Petitions 

We held this forum today for a dual purpose. To raise awareness to human rights issues and to obtain signatures for the petitions.

There are two petitions to be signed. One for the Burmese Junta and one to the Singapore government. Why Burma and Singapore? Well Burma is under military rule and it has scored badly on human rights with it crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

Singapore is not that bad. Despite violations, they have yet to use bullets on our own people. But we have to act.

 The Burmese Petition is placed at the table where participants can put their signatures. 

The Singapore Petition states:

We, the undersigned, hereby call on the Singapore Government to respect the rights of Singaporeans in concordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

In line with the expressed desire of ASEAN to provide for a regional human rights mechanism in its Charter due to be signed in November 2007, we urge the Government to:

1. Sign and ratify, first and foremost, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as other key UN Human Rights Conventions (Convention against Torture, Convention for Social and Cultural Rights, Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families);

2. Actively engage Singaporeans from all sections of society, on human rights issues through dialogues and other platforms (for example: a Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, media and feedback channels, online avenues etc) including non-English ones;

3. Establish an independent national human rights commission. Currently, four of the five founding ASEAN Member Countries – Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand – have established and are running their respective national human rights commission, leaving Singapore as the remaining founding Member Country which has yet to initiate the process;

4. Endorse, support and commit to the formation of an ASEAN Human Rights Commission by the next ASEAN summit in 2008;

 5. Allow for independent opinion and inquiry into local human rights issues and violations.

 Overtures 

On this occasion where ASEAN purports to sign a charter which agrees work towards progress in human rights, this is the perfect opportunity to take them to the task of practicing what they purport to preach.

We had prior to this forum written to the ASEAN Secretariat on 14th November 2007 to seek an audience to meet their representatives to hand over the Burmese Petition at their hotel in Shangri-La on the 20th November 2007.

We had also on the 1st of November 2007 put in an application for police permit for a protest from 12 noon to 2pm on 20th November 2007.

To date, we have not received a reply to any of the above. Come 20th November 2007, should we not receive any favourable reply, we will seek to send the Petitions into the hands of the Burmese and Singapore leaders, the ASEAN Secretariat via peaceful means.

 Conclusion 

We often hear our leaders claim that human rights are a western notion. This is wrong. Human rights are very pertinent to our country and our political situation. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly exist in our constitution but are obviously not respected by the ruling party for obvious reasons. To perpetrate their own rule.

On one hand, Burma’s military leaders rule by force illegally and not in accordance with any constitution.

On the other hand, we have hypocritical government which does not respect the constitution and pays lip service to human rights issues and awareness.

An extreme case of a despotic government is found in the example of Burma – acting by might and not by a constitution.

A worrying case of a despot like government is found in the example of Singapore – acting by political might and qualm less when it comes to abrogating the constitution.

Burma’s case is that bullets have been used and people in other countries are trying to register their vehement disdain at such actions.

Do we in Singapore wish to wait till that day comes then we regret we have not pushed for human rights and for the restoration of our fundamental liberties?

That would be a question that all of us need to answer for ourselves.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce my distinguished panel of speakers.

Our 1st speaker for the day is Mr. Ng E-Jay, 30 years old, Singaporean, grad student at NUS Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Science, M. Sc. in Mathematics. A recent civil activist and current affairs blogger. He is an avid commentator on current issues and he does so with a bright mind that I often find myself learning from him.

Our 2nd speaker for the day is Mr. M. Ravi – Human Rights lawyer and civil rights activist. Just returned to legal practice and obtained his practicing certificate.

Our final speaker for the day is a Human rights activist and Secretary General of Singapore Democratic Party – Dr. Chee Soon Juan

 

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November 19, 2007 - Posted by | Politics

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