A touchstone of any nation’s progress is surely the equal treatment of its different racial and ethnic groups. Today, 21st March; International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is a day to remind ourselves of Singapore’s commitment to this goal.
The emphasis this year is on “The Role of Leaders in Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination” and it is a call to reflection and action by leaders in the government and civil society.
Our leaders have been proactive in managing race relations in Singapore and a lot of good has been done to develop mechanisms to prevent discrimination and to foster better inter-racial ties. The 2010 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance discussed the threats posed by racism and Singapore’s efforts at combating discrimination through laws, policies and institutions. We have for instance the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, a body whose main function is to ensure that the bills passed by Parliament do not discriminate against any racial or religious group.
MARUAH encourages our leaders to further deepen their commitment to eradicating the scourge of racism by taking steps to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This was also one of the recommendations of the 2011 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. As a human rights organisation, we will welcome such a ratification effort and reiterate that education on human rights and respect for each other is the best tool to build up a cohesive society free of discrimination and premised on the free will of the people.
It is also equally important that we do not operate on any form of laws that target or discriminate between races. The year-end incident in Little India did result in what we see as a discriminatory law. Much of it targets the foreign workers who dwell recreationally and socially in Little India. Race relations have come under scrutiny in the ensuing debate over the cause of the riot, the behaviour of other stakeholders and the residents in the area. MARUAH believes that political and community leaders play an important role in these situations to signal that cohesion is crucial in society and that we need to build ties with the foreigners in our midst as well as among us, across the four races.
On this day we ask all leaders to remember that eliminating racial discrimination means ensuring that everyone has the right and the space to work and play.
Now, more so than ever, with our continued engagement with people both from within and outside of our shores, our leaders need to put in processes to eliminate racial discrimination and so work towards ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.