Working group on human rights planned

The Straits Times reported on the setting up of MARUAH.

Working group on human rights planned
The Straits Times – October 3, 2007
Yeo Ghim Lay

AN INTERIM committee to establish a Singapore working group on human rights has been set up, with former Nominated MP Braema Mathi at its helm.

The Singapore working group, when up and running, will be part of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, a coalition of national groups from ASEAN countries which has its secretariat in Manila.

Ms Mathi was chosen by representatives from civil society organisations to lead the interim committee at a meeting here last month.

The move follows a decision by ASEAN ministers in July to include a provision in the ASEAN charter for a human rights body – the form and workings of which have yet to be finalised.

Civil society organisations from member countries – many operating via their respective working groups – aim to provide input and help shape the kind of human rights body ASEAN finally sets up.

Ms Mathi said yesterday there was now an opportunity to discuss human rights issues in a bigger way in Singapore, given the ASEAN foreign ministers’ decision on a human rights body.

The charter, a mini constitution for ASEAN, is expected to be unveiled at next month’s ASEAN leaders’ summit in Singapore.

Said Ms Mathi: ‘It is good for Singapore, as one of the founding ASEAN members, to be involved in the process. We want to see what we can do locally to help the process of this mechanism.’

Besides Ms Mathi, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and Mr Leong Sze Hian, president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals (Singapore), are on the committee.

Ms Mathi declined to reveal the identities of other members, saying the committee is still in the early stages of its work, and is in the process of recruiting more people.

Called the Singapore Working Committee for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, its activities will include dialogues and forums to educate and raise awareness about human rights, international conventions, ASEAN’s charter and proposed human rights body, among other issues.

‘We have to work to build up confidence. When you talk about human rights, some people always say, ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ But there are already groups in Singapore that are working for children’s rights, women’s rights, migrant workers’ rights etc,’ said Ms Mathi.

Her committee will also work and hold discussions with civil society groups.

Among those she has spoken to is Think Centre president Sinapan Samydorai.

From 2003, he was the point man in Singapore for the Manila-based ASEAN group and headed the ‘interim Singapore Working Group’, which has held forums to promote awareness on human rights issues and the need for an ASEAN human rights mechanism.

But a meeting last month between representatives from civil society groups here and the Manila-based ASEAN group opted for Ms Mathi to coordinate the efforts and the work of an interim committee.

Mr Samydorai, who said he met Ms Mathi before her committee was formed, told The Straits Times his working group will listen to and welcome recommendations from Ms Mathi’s group and others.

On their part, both Ms Mathi and Mr Siew say they will remain open to engaging all relevant groups. They also stressed that the approach taken by the interim committee must be non-partisan.

Besides Mr Samydorai, lawyer and activist M. Ravi is understood to have his own group.

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