Human Rights for you, for me, and for everyone

Posted by under Public Forums on 16 December 2009

Think Centre (TC) in collaboration with the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA), held an informal experience-sharing session on the weekend in commemoration of International Human Rights Day (10th Dec) 2009.

Human Rights for you, for me, and for everyone

Sat, 12th Dec Think Centre (TC) in collaboration with the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA), held an informal experience-sharing session on the weekend in commemoration of International Human Rights Day (10th Dec) 2009.

Nestled within the heartlands of Jalan Besar, the Post-Museum, an independent cultural and social space, was the venue for an afternoon crowd of socially concerned individuals who came in support of the event. There were like-minded NGO activists, tertiary students, members of arts community and friends supportive of the human rights awareness cause.

Kicking off the afternoon proceedings was independent filmmaker Mr. Martyn See. He spoke on freedom of expression as the right to express one's opinion without censorship, and emphasized the importance of fighting for civil liberties such as this.

Speaking from his personal experience, he made the observation that freedom of expression in Singapore is severely curbed by three tiers of regulatory censorship.

The first tier consists of the extensive laws gazetted by Parliament that rigorously limits individual freedoms. Such laws include the Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, and Films Act etc.

The second refer to the discretionary rules and regulations enacted by state agencies and organs. They include the Media Development Authority's ruling on use of dialects in media productions and the amended Films Act's restrictions on political films etc, all of which curtailed the spontaneity of creative expressions.

The third and most expansive censorship is actually the self-censorship amongst Singaporeans, when faced with the first two tiers. According to Mr. See, we must overcome self-censorship by exposing the perpetrators and share our experiences in order to become more courageous in the face of unjust laws.

The next speaker was Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Ms. Sylvia Lim, who brought the audience through an educational journey of criminal procedures and extent of police rights. Sharing her insights as a former law enforcer and now a law lecturer, Ms. Lim highlighted the ambiguous interpretations of the Penal Code, the powers of the police in arrest and the custody and rights of the individuals facing such situations.

While there are excesses in terms of discretionary powers of arrest and custody, there is also a lack of clear judicial guidelines and more importantly, a lack of public awareness, on the right to silence as well as state support for crime victims.

Speaking from the floor, human rights lawyer M. Ravi also shared his disappointment and frustration at the legal fraternity's lack of success in lobbying for clarity and equity on the Penal Code, as well as the balance of power between the Judiciary and the State.

Mr. Wong U-Wen, a hearing-impaired representative from the Challengeds' Alliance Network (CAN!) was the final speaker on the panel. Sharing via his interpreter, U-Wen used sign language to articulate the lack of parity in transport subsidies for persons with disabilities in a developed society like Singapore.

He shared a little bit of background on the issue, referring to the International Bill of Rights and the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. As a member of the United Nations, Singapore is far behind many countries on this issue and discrimination is rampant against people with disabilities.

The Disabled, Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities have lobbied the government on this issue for ten years without success. It is hard to understand the reluctance of the government, particularly when people with disabilities generally earn meagre income, and it is unfair to use a large proportion of this income on transport. He also noted with irony that students, national servicemen and the elderly receive transport concession.

Mr. Wong concluded by noting that the rights of women, children, labour, etc, are disempowered by the lack of fundamental political and civil liberties in Singapore. He reminded us that Singapore has still not signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the United Nations in 1966.

In the ensuing dialogue with the floor, comments and questions centred on the lack of empowerment of victims in criminal justice, a lack of police discretion on alleviating crime victims' duress, the need for stronger NGO lobby for rights of people with disabilities, compassion and sensitivity of Singaporeans towards those in need, and the importance of engagement between peoples, civil society and government agencies in human rights education.

In closing, TC President and SWGA Convenor Mr. Sinapan Samydorai updated the audience on the regional developments on the ASEAN Charter. In particular, he shared the Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) and the significance of the work of the Country Commissioners in light of civil society consultations.

He introduced briefly the profile of our Commissioner Richard Magnus and invited the audience to the upcoming consultation with the Commissioner (dates to be confirmed).

At the end, everyone took a group photo as part of our participation in the ‘Real Deal Global Day of Action' event. The photo was immediately uploaded and sent to the overseas NGO organizers.

We encourage all Singaporeans to stand with millions around the world in solidarity, to demand a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty in Copenhagen, to avert catastrophic climate change.

Note: Think Centre would like to thank Magdalen Chua, the curator of "These Things Must be Done to Get Along in Life", for kindly sharing the gallery space with us.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Singapore Rebel Singapore: Three tiers of censorship29 November 2009

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