International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

29 March 2015

Statement on International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is a chance for us to remember the terrible consequences of depriving our fellow human beings of their dignity and rights.

In the popular imagination, slavery is often tied to the transatlantic slave trade that is rooted in the colonial experience. It would be foolish, however, to think that slavery is relegated to the past and alien from the world today. As the subjugation of workers in Dubai attests, slavery is still used by an elite class of people to pursue their own ends.

The need to always be vigilant against any exploitation of people can be seen in the United Kingdom’s recent passing of a modern slavery bill to hold corporations accountable for inhumane labour practices. The bill will ensure “that perpetrators convicted of slavery or trafficking face the toughest asset confiscation regime.” The maximum sentence for the most serious offenders has also been increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. These clauses are an important bulwark against the expansion of the slave trade.

What about Singapore? We might not have slavery here, but we do see systemic injustice against migrant workers. Most recently, it was revealed that foreign workers do not receive adequate nutrition. It is not acceptable that such an important part of a worker’s life be left to the discretion of employers. The Ministry of Manpower should implement rules to ensure that migrant workers are given proper food.

The new liquor laws [Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act], set to take effect on 1st April 2015, further complicates our engagement with migrant workers. While the government has assured that the laws will be enforced fairly, the legal precedence for discrimination is incredibly troubling. By declaring Little India — a migrant worker hangout —  a liquor control zone, with additional regulations, we are set to segregate migrant workers from Singaporeans.

To stand against slavery and all the conditions that permit it to take root, we will have to make a concerted effort to improve the working conditions of our migrant workers.  Punitive measures alone will not do. Only then can we have a humane and multi-ethnic community that cherishes the contribution of everyone in society.

Condolence message for Mr Lee Kuan Yew

25 March 2015

MARUAH extend its deepest condolences to the family of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. His passing is a loss to his family, to Singaporeans and others, globally.

As the founding father of Singapore, Mr Lee implemented many policies that led to the rise of Singapore as a global economic competitor. His willingness to make difficult decisions during difficult times helped Singapore in its formative years.

No doubt, as we take stock of Singapore’s history this SG50 year, Mr Lee’s contribution will be especially valued in this dedicated effort.

As a human rights group, as we admire this extraordinary man, we also hope that, going forward, Singapore politicians will open up more space for civil liberties of Singaporeans.

MARUAH would like to express our appreciation of Mr Lee’s leadership and commitment to Singapore. Once again, we offer our sincere condolences to the Prime Minister and his family during this difficult time.

May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

23 March 2015

21 March was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for this year’s event is: “Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today.”

It is most apt, in light of our ongoing discourse about race. Most of us have heard of the race riots which occurred in the 1960s, and now used as cautionary tales against racial prejudice and chauvinism.

More recently, after an incident during Thaipusam, Indians and non-Indians signed a petition calling for the urumi mellam to be allowed during Thaipusam processions. A 2nd petition calling for Thaipusam to be gazetted as a public holiday gained traction, highlighting dormant ethnic grievances that have yet to be resolved.

Another aspect of our social history is the reductive Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) racial classification policy.

In our modern era, categories like “Chinese,” “Malay,” Indian” and “Others” might not serve us as well as a multicultural model of nation-building. CMIO racialism is as much a concern as racism, since the former can very well inform the latter during crises.

The influx of foreigners has stirred xenophobic sentiments in different quarters of our society. Workers from China and India for instance, are seen to be different from local Chinese and Indians. While this is understandable, and even a testament to a common Singaporean identity, there is the danger of race and class overlapping to segregate Singapore into different ethnic enclaves.

While we might not be able to instill multiculturalism overnight, we can take steps to ensure that racial and ethnic discrimination is never tolerated on any grounds.

We urge our government, in partnership with our citizens, to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) — towards an inclusive and multi-ethnic Singapore.

MARUAH statement on International Women’s Day

7 March 2015

8th March is International Women’s Day.

It is a special time to recognise the contributions of women in Singapore and to also assess if we are fair to them and have observed their rights well. Read the rest of this entry »

Statement on aftermath of the Little India Riot

8 December 2014

It is exactly one year today that the riot in Race Course Road took place.

Foreign workers were apprehended, charged and sentenced. The police were taken to task over their preparedness to deal with a riot. A Commission of Inquiry (COI) was set up and the findings released in the middle of 2014. New laws restricting sale of alcohol, drinking of alcohol, gathering places have come into effect. Employers and foreign workers are being encouraged to find new recreational areas at or near their worksites.

Much has changed since 8th Dec 2013. As a human rights group, MARUAH would like to highlight and reiterate some fundamental issues that we cannot forgo, from a rights-based approach and from a perspective of dignity. Read the rest of this entry »

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

2 December 2014


2 December 2014

International Day of Persons with Disabilities – 3 December 2014

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2014 will focus on the role of technology in three key areas:
(i) disaster risk reduction and emergency responses,
(ii) creating enabling working environments, and
(iii) disability-inclusive sustainable development goals.

The United Nations Enable website states that the main purpose of the day is to harness the power of technology to promote inclusion and accessibility to help realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society, and shape the future of sustainable development for all.

MARUAH, a human rights organisation, would like to draw attention to the area of creating enabling working environments, as it impacts more directly the lives of people with disabilities (PWDs) in Singapore.

As reported in the Business Times on 5 November 2014, Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Trade & Industry, Lee Yi Shyan, announced at the opening of the inaugural Singapore Universal Design Week, that the Building and Construction Authority will focus its efforts to ensure that building owners of existing commercial buildings in Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD) put in place features such as ramps, lifts, and accessible toilets to assist people with disabilities. This step is in addition to the Government’s S$30million fund for employers to make adjustments to workplaces, if needed, so that people with disabilities can access their jobs.

We applaud such a move which is in line with ‘creating enabling work environments’. This is a dedicated step towards improving accessibility for PWDs to workplaces in the CBD, expanding the pie of jobs available to them. Removal of physical barriers is inclusive, non-discriminatory and ensures that Singapore complies with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

We believe that more can, and should, be done to remove physical barriers, but we also need to tackle the mental barriers against hiring PWDs.

There is much that PWDs can bring to the table. Each person, be it with or without disabilities, has his or her own innate talents and abilities. While there may be certain physical disabilities that affect one’s ability to work, the power of technology available today can be harnessed to level the playing field for everyone.

When we talk about the labour crunch here in Singapore and the perceived need to hire foreigners to fill the talent gap, we also cannot overlook the pool of skilled workers who are PWDs.

So on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we need to commit ourselves to providing adaptive and assistive technology as a norm when searching, recruiting and hiring someone who is disabled. Assistive technology (AT) can and has helped PWDs overcome their disabilities to integrate into society. Contrary to common perception, AT is not just about complicated computer gadgets like speech synthesizers. It can be something as simple as a Braille typewriter.

Employers’ costs for providing AT can be kept low with the claims on adaptive equipment they can make through the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme. It is a win-win situation for everyone – employers enjoy tax benefits and lower recruitment costs, while PWDs can contribute to the workforce and earn a better living to support themselves.

We urge for greater inclusivity of persons with disabilities. We ask of the Government to remain resolute in ‘creating enabling working environments’ for PWDs, to encourage employers to make use of technology, to promote a workplace culture based on fair practices that allow persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect and to enjoy equal terms and conditions of employment. We ask of employers and society to be inclusive of people with disabilities. The benefits to everyone are manifold when we respect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ms Braema Mathi
MARUAH Singapore

MARUAH expresses concern about cancellation of approvals for Speakers’ Corner event

23 October 2014

MARUAH is deeply concerned about the cancellation of approvals granted for the “Return our CPF” protest scheduled at Speakers’ Corner on 25th October 2014.

When Speakers’ Corner was first established in 2000, it was specifically designated as the one protected area in Singapore where speakers could speak freely (with the usual restrictions on race, religion and national security) without having to apply for a permit under the Public Entertainments Act (and its successor the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act). The reforms of 2008 further promoted free speech and civil society development in Singapore and were welcomed by all.

While the events of 27th September remain under investigation, we feel that it is highly inappropriate to cancel the approvals given for the 25th October “Return our CPF” event. Why should an ongoing police investigation about a past event be a reason for prospectively depriving an applicant of the right to hold future events? This move undermines the presumption of innocence which underpins the rule of law, and will have a chilling effect on free speech and democratic development in Singapore.

Any potential disturbances to other park users can surely be dealt with using appropriate scheduling of events. We therefore call on the Police and NParks to reconsider their decision and allow the event to proceed as scheduled.

Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections, Part 3: electoral boundaries and CDCs

10 October 2014

MARUAH held a press conference on 9 Oct to highlight 2 research papers, as part of its ongoing project, Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections. This is the third in a series of media and public engagements that MARUAH has arranged, with the first two focusing on citizens’ confidence in the secrecy of the ballot and what it considers are areas for reform in the GRC system.

The first paper deals with the issue of electoral boundaries, mapping out the frequency of the changes made to electoral boundaries and the impact these changes have on the electorate.

MARUAH EBRC Position Paper
MARUAH EBRC Annex 1 pdf
MARUAH EBRC Annex 2 (Timeline of boundary changes)
MARUAH Electoral Boundary Delimitation Powerpoint Presentation

Some media coverage of the event : (TOC)

Group urges more transparency in drawing electoral boundaries (Today)

Independent committee should define electoral boundaries: MARUAH (Yahoo! News)


Position Paper to the Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons

22 September 2014

In June 2014, MARUAH submitted a position paper to the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons. We at MARUAH are pleased that the task of combating trafficking-in-persons in Singapore has gained momentum. A top-down mechanism in the form of an effectively enforced Anti-Trafficking Bill is a crucial step that cannot be foregone. We are also very happy that the Task-Force has held consultation with MP Christopher De Souza who is going to move a Bill in Parliament later this year. We would like to share our views, concerns and suggestions for the drafting of the Bill.

MARUAH’s Position Paper for Consideration to the Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons

International Day of Democracy 2014

15 September 2014

15 Sep is International Day of Democracy, as observed by the United Nations.

On this International Day of Democracy, it is prudent to take stock of the state of democracy in Singapore.

Since the last election, which was seen to be a watershed, there has been a proliferation of views from a wide range of people and groups. This is a heartening sign for the health of our democracy.

Many of these views are aired online. Needless to say, the internet is going to play a big part in shaping the issues to be contested in the next election.

Facebook, online news sites and blogs are all exceptional tools that have democratised information and people’s right to share their views.

MARUAH, a human rights organisation, is very encouraged by this level of democratisation, which has raised awareness on important social issues and highlighted the work done by many non-governmental organisations and concerned citizens.  Read the rest of this entry »