MARUAH statement on conduct at Bukit Batok By-Election

4 May 2016

We refer to recent reports on the comments made by the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the opposition party, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), during the campaign of the by-election in Bukit Batok.

Parts of the campaign are currently degenerating into a sloganeering on the character of Dr Chee Soon Juan, the SDP candidate. This looms ominously as the statements are made by ruling party members in the name of the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu and the Speaker of Parliament, Halimah Yacob.

As election campaign watchers, MARUAH, a human rights group, would like to put on record that this is a disappointing approach taken on by the ruling party. We cite our research in 2011 that showed how media and public figures had conducted themselves at the 2011 General Elections. At the 2013 by-election in Punggol East it did not deteriorate to the current extent, though the opposition candidates were many and the PAP candidate also made some distracting statements that had some of us scratching our heads. In the 2015 hustings, there was improvement by all political parties. The views on candidates were taken up by citizens and in many instances over social media. All revealing a healthier engagement by citizens even as one acknowledges there will be partisan comments. We say it is part of our growth into a democracy.

In this Bukit Batok by-election, however, there seems to be a targeted barrage on Dr Chee’s past behaviour. In politics there are many candidates who will be judged at the ballot box and later as MPs. We ask that this sloganeering be stopped, as it is not in good taste to ensuring that we develop fair, free and democratic election processes.

We also raise attention to Singapore’s Parliamentary Elections Act, Section 59 and Section 61(d) which asks of all – including campaign leaders and leaders of all political parties– to act in a manner that is fair to all election candidates. In addition in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Code on Free and Fair Elections, it is also clear that all parties need to ensure that the election is conducted in a fair and democratic manner.

In conclusion MARUAH asks again for an Independent Elections Commission, not one under the Prime Minister’s Office.


Submission to Constitutional Commission – Elected Presidency

22 March 2016

MARUAH has submitted its feedback to the constitutional commission to review specific aspects of the elected presidency.

Summary

  • The President’s most important function is to ensure the integrity of the public service.
  • There is no evidence that raising the size of companies that non-governmental candidates must have headed would improve the quality of Presidential candidates.
  • In view of rising inequality in Singapore, cementing a business and administrative elite into place via restrictive criteria for the Presidency and CPA would be perceived as undemocratic and elitist.
  • Introducing racial criteria for the Presidency runs against our principles of treating all Singaporeans equally “regardless of race, language or religion”. Furthermore, narrowing the pool of candidates on racial grounds would increase the chance of a weak President being elected for lack of eligible candidates. There is no need to raise this divisive approach towards minority candidates for President.
  • Narrowing the eligibility rules for the Presidency would weaken the Presidency and may weaken the ability of the President to serve as a check against wrongdoing by the Government
  • MARUAH does not support narrowing the eligibility rules for the President on either financial or racial grounds

Read the rest of this entry »


Special Rapporteur report – Good practices in the protection of human rights defenders

5 March 2016

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has submitted his report to the UN Human Rights Council, highlighting good practices in the protection of human rights defenders at the local, national, regional and international levels. He outlines protection initiatives in three interrelated areas: practices that strengthen the resources and capacities of defenders; measures that foster an enabling environment for the defence of their rights; and regional and international initiatives that support their protection at the local and
national levels.

The report can be found at the link below [look for A/HRC/31/55  & A/HRC/31/55/Add. 1]
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx 


Special Rapporteur report – Two closely interrelated rights: freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression

5 March 2016

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, submitted his report to the UN Human Rights Council, regarding the relationship between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression, highlighting the normative analogies and practical synergies between the 2 rights.

The report can be found at the link below [look for A/HRC/31/18]
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/Annual.aspx


Meeting with US State department on Civil Society in ASEAN

5 March 2016

On 10-12th February, 10 representatives met US State officials, think tank representations and NGOs to discuss Civil Society in ASEAN. This was part of the efforts of the US State Department and the National Democratic Institute. Us President Barack Obama was meeting ASEAN leaders in the Sunnyland meeting and was also keen to discuss the role of civil society in ASEAN.

MARUAH was represented by Ms Braema Mathi and here she is with member of the State Department and in a special session with Ambassador Susan Rice.
DSC00193

National Security Advisor Susan Rice with ASEAN human rights activist in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 11, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

National Security Advisor Susan Rice with ASEAN human rights activist in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 11, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


Increased international interest on Singapore UPR in 2016

4 February 2016

UPR 2016 & 2011
The International Commission of Jurists has compiled a list of countries that participated in Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The comparison between the 1st cycle in 2011, and the 2nd cycle in 2016, shows an increased in the number of countries taking an interest in the human rights situation in Singapore.


MARUAH’s forum letter on Singapore’s participation in UPR process

4 February 2016

MARUAH’s forum letter on Singapore’s participation in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, has been published online.

http://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-on-the-web/more-meaningful-engagement-needed-on-human-rights

On Jan 27, Singapore participated in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee led a delegation that comprised civil service officers (“UN praises Singapore’s social policies”; Jan 29).

Absent from the table were ministers and elected government leaders, who ought to take the lead to speak for human rights, explain the Government’s stance and address the issues raised.

Maruah hopes that our government leaders take the UPR process seriously enough to spare time for a discussion on human rights issues.

Singapore’s human rights record should be presented by a minister or deputy minister.

Issues raised during the UPR session included recognising migrant workers and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA) community as people with equal rights, abolishing the death penalty, reviewing the Internal Security Act and certain laws such as Section 377A, removing corporal punishment, and ratifying several international conventions.

Race and security also featured in some observations and questions, with countries asking for clear ratification on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

There were also calls made for a National Human Rights Institution and an independent elections commission to be set up.

These are issues that civil society, Singaporeans and the Government will continue to negotiate on.

However, Maruah finds the approach and stance taken by the Government to certain issues disappointing.

The use of exceptionalism to defend the existence of anachronisms like the death penalty and arbitrary detention without trial shows the Government’s lack of commitment to the core principles of human rights.

Human rights are indivisible, inalienable and interdependent.

Yes, we live in difficult times, where security of the person and a country are real.

All the more we need to have meaningful engagement on these issues between our population and the Government.

Braema Mathi (Ms)
President
Maruah