Reply to Letter by Mr Graham Bennett, Director of Asia Program, Amnesty International.
Dear Mr Bennett,
Thank you for your letter dated 8 March. We had a capacity crowd of 150 people at our meeting - the largest number of people we had to date in our Politics 21 series. The points you raised in your letter were indeed touched on by some of our speakers. However, given the duration of three hours, only so much discussion on the various issues was possible.
However, I want to take this opportunity to point out that of the many issues you raised in your letter, one thing that was absent was the right to be free from fear. The presence of fear - real or imagined - has an interesting effect on Singaporeans and foreigners alike, even international civil society organisations. It prevents groups and individuals from exercising their civil liberties as provided for within the law. Instead many opt for self-censorship or act as gatekeepers by censoring others who explore the full potential of the law.
Nevertheless, an important concern that was raised at the forum was whether there should be some kind of initiative to bring the process one step forward. Several ideas were thrown up, one of which was the formation of a human rights study committee to consider the needs of Singaporeans. The Think Centre has offered to lead this initiative to set up a study committee.
Another equally important issue that was raised was the need to bring a comparative perspective into the discussion of human rights. The advantage of learning from other models, both Western and Asian, was underscored as significant for moving the process forward.
In this respect, the Think Centre, would like to host a study group meeting in Singapore to consider what are some of ways forward for a Singaporean human rights response. The meeting we envision would include a cross section of human rights organisations and resource persons both from outside and within the region to dialogue with interested Singaporeans.
We like to invite Amnesty International to Singapore to attend. Or even consider co-organising it us. We would also be engaging interested groups and individuals as we develop our study group meeting. The format, date, venue and duration can be discussed separately.
The record attendance at the forum and the larger interest outside of the forum suggest to us that there is sufficient appeal and interest now to move the process forward. The challenge would lie in managing the journey.