Interim Singapore Working Group gets a new mandate

Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Public Forums on 18 October 2007

With genuine mandate and larger ranks now, the interim SWG is set to make a difference and be the voice of ordinary Singaporeans at home and in ASEAN.

18 October 2007 SWGA Meeting

The structure of the SWGA was reinforced again that key political parties members holding office would not be elected into the standing committee. Ordinary members of Political Parties were not excluded from the group. Political parties participation has been disputed even by other CSOs in the region.

06 October 2007 Interim SWG Meeting

The interim Singapore Working Group (SWG) led by Think Centre President Sinapan Samydorai, got a new and stronger mandate as local civil society built up its momentum towards the ASEAN human rights mechanism and signing of the ASEAN Charter.

At the October 6th,noon meeting with more than 20 concerned members of local civil society, Samydorai presented the proposed working group model of the interim Singapore Working Group (SWG). This model was based on existing best practices of current national working groups in the region.

The interim SWG reformed into an Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA)led by a standing committee and chaired by Sinapan Samydorai, President of the Think Centre.

Members of civil society agreed unanimously that politicians holding key party leadership posts should not be part of the Standing Committee.

Ghandi Anbalam suggested that civil society groups funded by the government should not be in the Standing Committee. Alvin responded participation and active involvement need not be restricted just because of funding by the government

Samydorai also brought up the point that as many groups in Singapore received at least partial funding from the government, it would be difficult for widespread grassroots support if they were excluded based on the criteria.

Felicia Low, arts educator, enquired if any individuals from civil society organisations could join the Standing Committee. Samydorai clarified that it should be interest groups electing their representatives amongst them to be in the Standing Committee.

For example, the arts community could nominate someone to represent them. Likewise, there would be one representative from other civil society sectors in the Standing Committee.

The Standing Committee would not have any candidate from leadership post of any political party. The Standing Committee must be seen to be non-partisan and not an arena for political parties.

The key objective of the SWGA is the promotion of public awareness of human rights with appropriate activities. The standing Committee members activities should not compromise Civil Society participation and engagement in the various ASEAN Inter-governmental process. The SWGA creates space for Civil Society participation and engagement with due respect given to Singapore laws.

The Standing Committee could work with the proposed "Experts Group" comprising individual academics, human rights experts, lawyers and other specialists.

The public including politicians will be invited to forums,consultation-workshops, and when necessary to Advisory Group Consultations to meet and dialogue with the Standing Committee.

Incumbents of the interim SWGA were Samydorai (Chairperson), Tan Kong Soon, Michael Cheng, Alvin Tan, Jolovan Wham, Peter Chen, and Hashim Lobe.

The SWGA is at an "interim stage" so it will take several months to reform and fully implement the decisions as it moves toward a "pro-tem stage" in the coming year.

At the 3rd Singapore public consultation workshop on the ASEAN CHARTER on the same afternoon, more than 40 participants, mostly civil society members outside the interim SWG, came up with the peoples' wish-list of human rights policy changes for the ASEAN Charter.

Consultation-Workshop: Human Rights Approach

The participants were provided with copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [ESCR], and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. The workshop groups were encourage to frame their discussion and recommendation based on the principles of human rights in the UDHR, ESCR and ICCPR.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR)adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in the year 1948 is the first comprehensive international instrument encompassing both sets of rights, i.e., civil and political rights and the economic, social and cultural rights.

16 December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The two Covenants provide for the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognised the right to self-determination; equality for men and women; the right to work and favourable conditions of work; the right to form and join trade unions; the right to an adequate standard of living including adequate food, clothing and housing; the right to health and healthcare; the protection of the family; and the right to social security.

The participants were grouped into 4 discussion workshops and synthesized the following:

1. Civil & Political rights - Most pressing changes wished for included a free and independent press; ratification of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); independence of the judiciary for better freedom of association/assembly

2. Economic rights - Most pressing changes wished for included collective bargaining rights for all workers including migrant and domestic workers (eg minimum wage); need for social security for all, especially in old age; develop a ASEAN Social Model with minimum working and living standards; ratification and implementation of Economic, Social, Cultural Rights, and respect for Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3. Social rights - Most pressing changes wished for included human rights education for Singaporeans & ASEAN peoples; ratification of key United Nations human rights conventions; collective activities from the grassroots to enhance capacity-building & build stronger voice at local & regional levels; non-partisan representation of interest groups such as minorities (eg disabled people) and consumer rights; acceptance of religious minorities.

4. Cultural rights - Most pressing changes wished for included the right to self-determination of cultural diversity; equality of cultures; access to culture; an inclusive society; protection of the rights of indigenous people (in ASEAN countries); greater freedom of expression and less stringent censorship; licensing; ratings systems. etc

Moving forward, the Standing Committee of the new SWGA could be meeting to finalize its terms of references, decide its calendar of events and produce a position paper for public release. Meanwhile, civil society representatives would be synthesizing a Singapore Civil Society statement after today's workshop for the upcoming ASEAN Civil Society Conference form 2-4 Nov 2007.

With genuine mandate and larger ranks now, the interim SWG is set to make a difference and be the voice of ordinary Singaporeans at home and in ASEAN.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Think Centre Celebrating International Human Rights Day 2007
15 December 2007

Think Centre - SWGA ACSC+3 and Singapore Working Group for ASEAN
3 November 2008


Think Centre and Interim Singapore Working Group Formation of Singapore Working Group gathers steam 01 October 2007

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Interim Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism 21 September 2007

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Civil society kicks off ASEAN Charter involvement (belatedly)05 September 2007

Think Centre Report of the RoundTable Discussion on Establishing the Singapore Working Group 2nd December 2006

Think Centre RoundTable Discussion on Establishing an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism 16 October 2006

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