Civil Society Joint Statement: Advancing Human Rights in Singapore

10 December 2011

International Human Rights Day

Singapore, Hong Lim Park

Civil Society Joint Statement:

Advancing Human Rights in Singapore

1.              Human Rights Day is commemorated globally to mark the occasion of the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. Today we members of civil society in Singapore, commemorate International Human Rights Day at the only official free speech area in Singapore – the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park. However we note that we are unable to exercise the full extent of our freedom due to the State’s limitations on speeches – even if it is speaking out against social ills such as racism and related discrimination.

2.       2011 is a momentous year. Globally, we witnessed the growing massive push for greater democracy and freedoms by people from various regions. The recent ‘Occupy’ movement calls for greater accountability, transparency, and more equitable distribution of wealth – against state repression in both political and economic spheres, against entrenched corporate interests that seeks greater profits at the cost of workers’ rights and welfare. Closer to home, we have seen how the movement calling for a free, fair and clean elections were met with disproportionate police brutality on the streets of Malaysia.

3.       Here in Singapore, the peoples’ voice are gathering for greater change towards a more democratic and accountable system. The May 2011, General Election, produced a parliament with more elected opposition members. The Presidential Elections also produced a Government-favoured President with the lowest vote share ever.

4.       And less known to people, Singapore’s human rights record was for the first time, examined in the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review. In 1965, Singapore joined the United Nations and is bound to respect, fulfil, promote and protect human rights in the UDHR.

5.       It was therefore most disappointing that our Government has rejected recommendations for greater civil liberties, to repeal the death penalty, abolish outdated emergency laws such as the Internal Security Act, as well as the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution and an independent elections commission.  Such is the state of our fundamental freedoms.

6.       Today, our struggle, the peoples’ struggle, is to reclaim our rights, our dignity and our fundamental freedoms. Without rights, we cannot claim to be a true democracy – one that is of the people, by the people, for the people. Looking ahead, we pledge to continue the promotion and protection of human rights for the people of Singapore. We will continue to monitor the Government’s implementation of human rights.

Challenges for 2012 and beyond

7.       To quote the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madame Navi Pillay, who said in 2008:

8.       “We must work for the full implementation of human rights on the ground in a way that affects and improves the lives of the men, women and children who are all entitled, regardless of their race, sex, religion, nationality, property or birth, to realization of each and every right set forth in the Universal Declaration

9.       As such we call on the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and especially our Singapore AICHR representative to ensure the evolution of AICHR from its current emphasis on promoting human rights, to actually protecting human rights. AICHR must evolve more investigative, evaluative, and enforcement powers as well as preventive mechanisms. The Commission must be able to protect human rights and be able to take up cases from disenfranchised individuals, organizations, or groups.

10.   This International Human Rights Day, we call upon the Singapore Government to:

●        Remove the mandatory death sentence and work towards the abolishment of the death penalty;

●        Institutionalize human rights education in schools and the community;

●        Establish a National Human Rights Institution;

●        Ensure the relevant Ministries, especially the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Manpower, and the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports, actively promote and respect the UDHR, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC);

●        Ensure all Members of Parliament read, understand and respect the UDHR, CEDAW and CRC;

●        Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) without reservations;

●        Respect the right of the people of Singapore to safeguard, develop and transmit our cultural heritage for future generations by embarking on a truly open, transparent and consultative process with Singaporeans to review the current pace of development and redevelopment affecting sites that hold historical, cultural and heritage value

Statement delivered by Singapore Unity Project*

*The Singapore Unity Project is a joint civil society initiative composed of active civil society groups and individuals that seeks to strengthen civil society collaboration and cooperation in Singapore.