Formation of Singapore Working Group gathers steam

Posted by Interim Singapore Working Group and Think Centre under Public Forums on 1 October 2007

Most reconciled with the fact that the strategic mode of engaging stakeholders was one of constructive dialogue. After all, civil society did not exist in a vacuum and its advocacy work operated much within certain OB-markers.

Hot on the wake of Singapore's chair status of ASEAN, civil society in the island-state got on the bandwagon to form the Singapore Working Group for a human rights mechanism.

As the focal point for the interim Singapore Working Group, Think Centre held a public forum on Sat 29 Sept and engaged close to 50 members of the public and civil society to contribute ideas and suggestions on moving towards the Informal National Working Group.

The afternoon Forum was opened by moderator Alvin Tan, The Necessary Stage who welcomed everyone to this public meeting. Sinapan Samydorai, Think Centre (TC) gave short opening remarks and marked the start of the proceedings with a 1 min silence in support of Burma victims of the military crackdown.

Michael Cheng, Think Centre then gave an overview of the human rights mechanism in ASEAN as well as key local events leading up to this meeting.

Siew Kum Hoong, Nominated Member of Parliament, attending on behalf of Braema Mathi, asked to clarify the 3 different groups in existence, claiming Braema was seen as the "official" focal point.

M Ravi, a lawyer, added that the public forum held by him on Sat 22 Sept was in fact the first public consultation by his group. In his support, a young arts reasearcher cum activist by the name of Isrizal, commented that all groups be inclusive and not claim to be the "official" focal point or working group without public information or participation in their activities.

Jolovan Wham, HOME, next presented the aims and strategies of the proposed Singapore Working Group and shared on his organisational contribution to this framework.

Samydorai came on next to give the proposed model of the Informal Singapore Working Group that included a National Forum; a standing committee; co-chairs, co-secretaries; and experts on thematic human rights issues. The membership would include representatives from [track 3]CSO/NGOS/trade unions/lawyers associations; [Track 2] representatives from Think Tanks/parliamentarian human rights committee/Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials/others; academics and individual experts on human rights.

The timeframe: Interim to Pro-tem Singapore Working Group latest January 2008; Pro-tem to Singapore Working Group, hopefully, July 2008. Think Centre will continue to be the secretariat and provide the necessary assistance for the formation of the Singapore Working Group.

Alvin gave a preview next of the upcoming public consultation workshop on Oct 6, where peoples input was to be collated for submission to the 3rd ASEAN + Civil Society Conference. He also made the call for volunteers to help Think Centre coordinate the conference happening from 2-4 Nov in Singapore.

At the ensuing question and answer session, there was no lack of no-holds barred criticism and intense debate over the formation of the Singapore Working Group.

M Ravi raised the issue of mandate of Samydorai's status and pushed for reforming the latter's working group to be open to everyone regardless of political backgrounds.

In response, Alvin shared his experience of the failed TWC initiative over politicisation issues while Dr Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Democratic Party, urged all groups to be open-minded enough to welcome politicians as private and concerned individuals into the fraternity.

Researcher Lai Ah-Eng asked what was wrong with diversity of groups and different approaches of engaging the government and civil society. To her, there must be choices for citizens to subscribe to groups that they are more comfortable to work with.

In support, Bridget Lew, founder of HOME, shared her experience of engaging government departments to help migrant victims of abuses and working closely with local media on news stories to create awareness and educate Singaporeans on maid abuses.

In the ongoing debate on the need and efficacy of constructive dialogue versus direct confrontation with the state, members of the floor gave their views on why the government was cautious and selective to engage civil society players.

Most reconciled with the fact that the strategic mode of engaging stakeholders was one of constructive dialogue. After all, civil society did not exist in a vacuum and its advocacy work operated much within certain OB-markers.

There will be further consultation on the model structures and functions of the Singapore Working Group on October 6th. The Interim Singapore Working Group will receive recommendations on the model structures and functions of the Singapore Working Group from working committtes, interest groups and concern individuals.

In the same spirit of consultation and consensus, the afternoon closed with the organisers giving a preview of next weekend's public meeting to solicit Singaporeans' input on the ASEAN Charter.

Note: Members of the Interim Singapore Working Group supporting or present during the consultations included: Sinapan Samydorai [Chair], Alvin Tan, Jolovan Wham, Peter Chen, and the Co-Secretaries: Michael Cheng and Tan Kong Soon.

All are invited, email to
for registrations.


Theme: People-centred ASEAN for a "caring and sharing community"

Venue: Auditorium, 8th Floor,
Catholic Welfare Service Building
55 Waterloo Street

Time: 2.30 - 5.30pm

The assembly on Sat 29 Sept agreed that for the next meeting, participants will be divided into groups, depending on their interests and inclinations. And these groups are:
1. Civil Political rights
2. Economic rights
3. Social rights
4. Cultural rights

For example, the Civil Political rights group can include in their discussions issues pertaining to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly amongst others.

The Social rights group may want to cover women's rights, children's rights, the rights of disabled, labour rights, migrant workers rights, etc

The Cultural rights group may wish to look into censorship issues etc...

The output of the discussion will be presented at the Asean Civil Society Conference 3(ACSC-3) on 2 - 4 November in Singapore.

For history of ACSC (i.e.ACSC 1 & 2), go to:

All are invited, email to
for registrations.

For further information:

Sinapan Samydorai
Chair of the Interim Singapore Working Group


Sources and Relevant Links:

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Civil society kicks off ASEAN Charter involvement

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN ASEAN Civil Society Conference


Singapore Working Group for ASEAN The Draft ASEAN Charter: Is it people-centred? 26 August 2007

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Draft ASEAN Charter must be distributed to the people 25 August 2007

Forum Asia 40th Anniversary Highlights the Need to Set ASEAN on a New Path 09 August 2007

Forum Asia ASEAN: Need for Greater Civil Society Involvement 09 August 2007

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