The Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA)believes the spirit of a people-centred ASEAN can only be achieved and sustained by upholding human rights principles and ensuring social justice.
We, the 50 participants who took part in the consultation-workshop on the ASEAN Charter, a civil society national process, organised by the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA) on 6/10/2007, believe the spirit of a people-centred ASEAN can only be achieved and sustained by upholding human rights principles and ensuring social justice.
As the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1993 Vienna Declaration stipulate, human rights is a universal concept. The effective implementation of all rights, whether they are civil, political, economic, social or cultural --- is a condition for the development of the people and for legitimate systems of government. It is the responsibility of the government to guarantee the rights of its people.
The Singapore government seems to have set this priority and have largely succeeded in meeting the basic needs of its people [UDHR Article 23, 24, 25] such as adequate food, housing, health care and employment. But the people are expected to sacrifice some aspects of their fundamental civil and political rights as a trade-off to ensure "political stability" and attract investments that provide jobs.
Economic growth should strengthen the fundamental rights of the people and not weaken respect for human rights. Economic growth can no longer legitimize the curtailment of fundamental liberties even if the government argues that national security, social stability and public order are necessary for development.
The participants noted and appreciate that Singapore ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [CRC] and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] in 1995. Much more has to done to promote non-discrimination in employment and to overcome inequalities. The government is slowly opening up civil society space and is allowing more freedoms, but the pace has been too slow. It has, by its actions, engendered a population that is silent with fear and ignorance about their rights and desire to claim these rights.
The Singapore Working Group for ASEAN, in its deliberations recommends the following which is the collective aspiration of the groups which visualise Singapore as a member of a ‘caring and sharing' ASEAN family.
Ratification of the key UN human rights Conventions
While we applaud Singapore for being signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC), the basic human rights of the people will not be fully realised if the other key major conventions, specifically the Covenant on Civil and Political rights, Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, Convention against Torture, the Convention for the Elimination of Racial discrimination and the Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families are not ratified.
Ratify ILO Core Labour Standards
Singapore should ratify the core labour standards set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in particular the convention C87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and C111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention. Further, we urge the government to recognize domestic workers under the Employment Act.
Human Rights Education
We call upon the Singapore government to incorporate human rights education into the national educational curriculum.
We call upon Singapore to fulfil the aspirations of the people by enacting legislation to ensure decent work for all workers. Decent work provides adequate income and social protection.
Decent work is achieved without compromising the fundamental rights of workers. Singapore needs to enact legislation to ensure equal opportunity and non-discriminatory practices in the work place. This includes removing discrimination based on ethnicity, language, gender and religious beliefs.
A people-centred ASEAN must provide decent work by ensuring equality between women and men. Decent work means being free from exploitation and it is the key for wealth redistribution and poverty elimination.
Freedom of Expression and the Rights to Organise
We call upon Singapore to respect, promote and protect the right of the people to form organisations of their choice in conditions of freedom and equality. All workers irrespective of race, colour creed and gender, including migrant, domestic, temporary and informal workers should be given the basic right to organise in accordance with principles laid down in the UN Millennium Development Goals.
They should also be empowered with the rights to be consulted and to participate in decision making process involving their welfare and state of affairs.
The Singapore government should respect the rights of artists and the people to freedom of expression, and to respect their right to represent social/political interests or groups.
The Right to Bargain Collectively
We emphasise that the right to bargain collectively is a basic and fundamental right which should cover all workers irrespective of their nationality, race, colour, creed, gender and the status of their employment. We call on Singapore to extend these rights to all workers, particularly domestic workers. Non discrimination principles should be applicable to all. Labour is not a commodity and hence basic human rights should be extended to all workers.
Providing Social Protection and Social Security
We call upon Singapore to ensure the introduction of meaningful social protection and social security for all individuals in society. The right to social protection and social security is a basic human right and should be extended to all individuals covering every contingency on basic income, health care, sickness, old age and invalidity, unemployment and employment injury, maternity, family responsibilities and death. We are concerned that inadequate social protection is depriving old and aged people of any form of protection at a time when such protection is needed most.
Self-Determination of Cultural Identity:
The UN Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity
1 We urge the government to implement the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity, in light of the fact that Singapore has re-joined UNESCO in October 2007; Singapore should fulfill its obligations as part of the United Nations family.
1.1 In response to the chinese/Indian/Malay/Others (CIMO) grouping, each individual should be able to determine his/her own cultural identity and exercise such choices including, but not limited to, race/ethnic grouping. The choice of ethnicity, together with the individual's mother tongue should be decided by the individual, without arbitrary intervention by the state.
1.2 We urge the government to re-assess the cultural landscape to broaden the definition of ‘Others' as it includes many more identities besides the conventional mode of defining ‘Others' as Eurasian.
1.3 We urge the government not to exclude or discriminate against anyone because of their ethnic/cultural or religious identity, especially persons belonging to religious minority groups. We demand that all cultures and religions be accorded equal status.
Special Rights of Indigenous People(s)
We urge the Singapore government to recognise the customary rights of the Malays, who are the indigenous peoples of Singapore. This includes provisions to grant free education to the Malays. It is important that the option to exercise these rights is made available.
Access to Culture/Cultural Production We urge the government to take on a more active role in funding the arts as well incorporating more cultural content in the education curriculum. Individuals and groups have the right to access culture and such access should not be determined by the state. The state should recognise culture as a social good. Access to culture should be recognised as a social right.
We recommend to the Singapore government to:
• INITIATE the promotion and protection of human rights so that attempts to restrict fundamental freedoms will not be allowed to happen. Without genuine political commitment and respect for human rights from the government any declaration and convenant including the UDHR is just another paper.
• SET PRIORITIES to meet the needs of active citizens to participate and engage the government. For example, remove outdated policies, laws and restrictions on public speech, gatherings, and abolish the Internal Security Act [ISA]. If the ISA is to remain, it should be part of an emergency legislation approved by the parliament.
• ENABLE the people to enjoy their freedoms especially their right to participate in the political life of the nation. The government needs to allow its citizens to exercise their rights, and encourage them to exercise their rights. As human rights are indivisible and interdependent, no rights can be sacrificed in favor of certain rights. Economic progress can only be sustained if people have a say in decision-making. Real progress allows people to participate in their own development.
• ENSURE that the working population has a living wage and sufficient time for meaningful participation [if a person has low wage and does over-time he/she will have no time for his/her family, community or society]. The working people and their families should be protected by portable social security insurance.
• SET-UP a National Human Rights Institution [NHRI] to promote and protect human rights. The NHRI is a means to effectively promote and guarantee human rights. It should be an independent authority established by law to protect the human rights of the people of this country.
• TAKE more positive steps to ensure equal representation of women in politics at all levels and in the higher levels of the civil service as well as government-linked companies. Men should have equal right to paternity leave as women as parenting responsibilities should not just fall squarely on women alone.
On behalf of the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA) and Civil Society Participants,
Chairperson / Focal Point
Singapore Working Group for ASEAN
The SWGA initiated a gathering of Singaporeans and civil society activists on October 6th 2007 and after a series of discussions and consultations, produced the the above statement. The Statement is drafted by the "Writing Group" who are
representatives of the thematic Working Groups formed during the October 6th consultation-workshop on the ASEAN Charter based on key points raised by participants. The Writing Group draft was distributed for the group members to comment and amend. The comments and amendments were incorporated into the final statement.
Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/diversity.htm
Ratifications of the ILO Fundamental Conventions http://webfusion.ilo.org/public/db/standards/normes/appl/appl-ratif8conv.cfm?Lang=EN
Ratifications of the Fundamental human rights Conventions http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/docs/declAS.htm
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