Singapore: Civil Society Statement for Human Rights Day, December 2012 (Updated 11 Dec)

This post is a Statement (interpret that as you will).
The Statement below was delivered by members and friends of the Singapore Unity Project, organisers of the event to commemorate the International Day for Human Rights at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park in Singapore yesterday, 9 December 2012. Words in bold and blue are my personal emphases that I believe are important to highlight. This is the version that was read out yesterday at Hong Lim Park. There will be an updated and revised statement in the very near future.
Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on this day, 10 December. See the United Nations Human Rights Day 2012 site here.
The commemoration of this day is especially timely in light of the SMRT bus drivers’ “strike” of 26-27 November. Please read this for a good summary analysis.
Thank you!
9 December 2012
Speakers’ Corner, Singapore
Civil Society Human Rights Day Statement: Making Our Voices Count
This Human Rights Day, the theme is inclusion and the right to participate in public life. This includes the right to associate freely among equals to pursue collective ideals and goals, to assert influence on public opinion and public policy, and to harness the synergistic potential of different groups and individuals. This right is important as materialism predisposes human beings to selfish pursuits, and some goals can only be achieved collectively. The right of association and public assembly is crucial for marginalized and minority groups to remind complacent and powerful groups that their interests matter too. When people come together voluntarily, the results of their efforts often are greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Indeed, we can take inspiration from United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon who, in his visit to Singapore in March this year said, “these are times of promise…more people are getting involved and changing the world”. We can take heart that in order to build a safer and more secure world, we must stand strong on fundamental principles, particularly of democracy and human rights. But we cannot do this alone, and we cannot expect to achieve these goals by relying on institutions that have caused disappointment and failures of leadership in advocating, protecting, and ensuring the rights of people in Singapore, both citizens and non-citizens. Therefore in addition to national governments, civil society must increasingly be involved to the fullest extent of their abilities. This is crucial as we need to include the participation of groups such as women, young people, ethnic and social minorities, persons with disabilities, and groups and individuals with alternative views.

Therefore, in this spirit, we recall and acknowledge some of the contributions of our fellow human beings in the collective struggle for the realization of our human rights in 2012.

Heritage and development
We cannot deny the audacity of a small but growing and determined network of people from different walks of life galvanising to save Bukit Brown, a precious national heritage and nature area – a fact sadly unrecognised and unappreciated by our government. Groups and individuals, not having known one another before, gathered together and spontaneously organized themselves to gather signatures, ask for dialogue with government officials, and to learn and educate themselves more about the rich history of Bukit Brown. Unfortunately the government has only given a token acknowledgement of civil society’s efforts, responding by making plans to go ahead with construction of a transport corridor with little change.

  • We call on the government to recognise, respect and fulfill the social and cultural rights of all Singaporeans and to review its developmental mindset that over-values economic growth to the detriment of our society’s identity and disappearing heritage.

Amplifying the marginalized voice
The rights of streetwalkers in Singapore need to be addressed. Streetwalkers face stigma and discrimination, as our society deems sex workers as the scourge of the world. This mentality somehow justifies the human rights abuses against them. As a result, the voices of sex workers remain unheard. Petitions to the state to engage on this issue have been met with unsatisfactory responses.

Victims of sexual assault are often invisible in this society. There is a fear to report cases of rape due to a society that is trapped in a paradigm of victim blaming instead of convicting the rapist. More work needs to be done in order to educate Singaporeans on the concept of affirmative consent and to dispel the myth surrounding rape. There is also a need to address the structural barriers such as in regard to the process of rape trials.

  • We call for the government to recognise the need to engage in constructive dialogue and in particular, to work with civil society to embark on a rigorous sensitization programme for police officers, as well as to review the current approach on sex education in Singapore;
  • We call for the redefinition of rape in the law so as to include female rapists and same-sex rape.
Persons with disabilities
We welcome the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 30 November. This demonstrates the commitment by the government to better respect the rights of persons with disabilities. However we note that the Convention has yet to be ratified and we urge the government to not approach the ratification based on a welfare providence angle. Furthermore, the government should also acknowledge the civil-political and economic-social-cultural rights dimensions of the Convention. In the lead up to the treaty’s ratification, we encourage the government to engage persons with disabilities directly as part of their obligations to consult civil society.
  • We urge the government of Singapore that no reservations should be placed on any of the CRPD articles;
  • Give due regard to articles 10 and 15 of the CRPD, which recognises that no persons with disabilities – including persons with mental or intellectual disabilities – should be subjected to the death penalty.

Death penalty
We appreciate the Singapore government’s initiative to review the mandatory death penalty. The recent changes should be seen as an ongoing process on the path towards abolishment of the death penalty in its entirety and on the need to find alternative forms of humane punishments. It is our view that the death penalty is a “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” punishment.

  • We urge the government to continue the current stay on executions and establish an official moratorium to allow time and space for society to explore alternative sentencing options and to work ultimately towards the abolishment of the death penalty.

Persons of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI)
LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] persons continued to face institutionalized discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We cannot ignore the cascading effects of laws like 377A that criminalize sex between consensual men that continues to be used to justify discrimination and hate crimes. The Media Development Authority continue to classify LGBT persons together with paedophilia and other classifications to demonise LGBT persons. Neutral or positive portrayals are disallowed.

  • We call on the state to remember that we too are Singaporeans and are in dire need of protection against discriminatory state laws and actions by non-state actors.
  • We remind the government that all citizens are equal in front of the Constitution.

All workers – Singapore citizens, Residents and Migrant workers
Singapore citizens, residents and migrant workers contribute to economic progress but do not enjoy the full respect and protections of the internationally recognized International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Labour Standards (CLS) including their right to freedom of expression, associations and assembly, living wages, decent jobs and living conditions.

Migrant workers continue to endure poor work conditions with no bargaining power. Their treatment exposes the dark underbelly of Singapore’s success story. The frustrations of these itinerant workers have been boiling for some time and have recently bubbled over when 171 public transport workers refused to go to work for a day. Issues of sub-standard living conditions and inadequate pay that were the central focus of their work stoppage are merely symptoms of more serious issues within our state-dominated and corporatised public sector enterprises.

  • We call on the government to recognize that all workers must be free to express their friendship, provide support, care and share their solidarity with one another especially for workers whose dignity is being denied, abused, and exploited;
  • We urge the government to respect, promote and realize the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Detention without trial: Internal Security Act (ISA) and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act
The use of these unjust laws over more than half a century has caused untold misery to thousands of prisoners, their families and their friends. It has deprived Singapore of good leaders who would have contributed greatly to the well-being of the country and the region. Singapore as a first world nation must respect the rule of law and no one should be deprived of his or her freedom without a just and fair trial.

  • We call upon the Singapore government to repeal both the ISA and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act which, like the ISA, permits imprisonment without trial and has been in force since 1955.

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration
Although the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (or AHRD) has been formally adopted by the governments of the region, there are too many flaws in its formulation, wording, and intentions. The lack of transparency and consultation with regional, national, and local human rights groups is a serious challenge to the legitimacy of the AHRD.

  • We are in solidarity with the ASEAN Civil Societies to continue engagement with the ASEAN governments to ensure the harmonization of the national laws in line with internationally recognized human rights standards provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Let’s work together in solidarity to overcome discrimination!
Statement delivered by members and friends of the Singapore Unity Project

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