[Repost] Article by MARUAH Secretary Braema Mathi in Q1 2021 edition of “Directors Bulletin” published by the Singapore Institute of Directors

6 January 2021

This article first appeared in the Q1 2021 issue of the SID Directors Bulletin published by the Singapore Institute of Directors. Please click on the excerpt below for Braema’s full article.


[Repost] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Press Conference Opening Statement – The Toll of 2020!

10 December 2020

9 December 2020

2020 is a year none of us will ever forget. A terrible, devastating year that has scarred so many of us, in so many ways.

At least 67 million people infected, and 1.6 million dead, in a pandemic that is far from over.

A devastating impact on countries’ economies and on employment, income, education, health and food supply for hundreds of millions of people.

A massive setback to development, to efforts to alleviate poverty and to raise the status of women and girls.

2020 has taken its toll not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights, be they economic, social, cultural, civil or political. COVID-19 has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, exposing all our failures to invest in building fair and equitable societies. It has shown the weakness of systems that have failed to place a central focus on upholding human rights.

Recent weeks have seen extraordinary progress in vaccine development. This is testimony to the ingenuity and determination of humans in a time of crisis. But vaccines alone cannot resolve the pandemic, or heal the damage it has caused.

States need not only to distribute these vaccines equitably all over the world – they need to rebuild economies, repair the damage done by the pandemic, and address the gaps that it has exposed.

We face three very different possible futures:

  • We can emerge from this crisis in an even worse state than when it began – and be even less well prepared for the next shock to our societies.
  • We can struggle mightily to get back to normal – but normal is what brought us to where we are today.
  • Or we can recover better.

The medical vaccines that are being developed will hopefully eventually deliver us from COVID-19, albeit not for many months yet. But they will not prevent or cure the socio-economic ravages that have resulted from the pandemic, and aided its spread.

But there is a vaccine to hunger, poverty, inequality, and possibly – if it is taken seriously – to climate change, as well as to many of the other ills that face humanity.

It is a vaccine we developed in the wake of previous massive global shocks, including pandemics, financial crises and two World Wars.

The name of that vaccine is human rights. Its core ingredients are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 72nd anniversary we celebrate tomorrow, on Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration is made actionable through the obligations that almost all States have undertaken by ratifying one or both of the International Covenants spanning all five areas of human rights.

The Universal Declaration also gave birth to other important international treaties to better protect the rights of specific groups such as children, women, people with disabilities and migrant workers; and ones aiming to tackle forms of discrimination which lead to the greater inequalities, poverty and lack of development that have fed and fertilized the socio-economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shone a stark spotlight on our failure to uphold those rights to the best of our ability, not just because we couldn’t, but because we neglected to – or chose not to.

The failure of many countries to invest sufficiently in universal and primary healthcare, in accordance with the right to health, has been exposed as extremely short-sighted. These vital preventive measures are costly, but nothing like as costly as failing to invest in them has proved to be.

Many governments failed to act quickly or decisively enough to halt the spread of COVID-19. Others refused to take it seriously, or were not fully transparent about its spread.

Astoundingly, even to this day, some political leaders are still playing down its impact, disparaging the use of simple measures such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. A few political figures are even still talking casually of “herd immunity,” as if the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is a cost that can be easily borne for the sake of the greater good. Politicizing a pandemic in this way is beyond irresponsible – it is utterly reprehensible.

Worse still, rather than bringing us together, the response to the pandemic has in some places led to further division. Scientific evidence and processes have been discounted, and conspiracy theories and disinformation have been sown and allowed – or encouraged – to thrive.

These actions have plunged a knife into the heart of that most precious commodity, trust. Trust between nations, and trust within nations. Trust in government, trust in scientific facts, trust in vaccines, trust in the future. If we are to bring about a better world in the wake of this calamity, as our ancestors undoubtedly did in the wake of World War II, we have to rebuild that trust in each other.

It has been shocking, but sadly not at all surprising, to see the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalized and suffer discrimination – in particular people of African descent, those from ethnic, national or religious minorities, and indigenous peoples. This has been the case in some of the world’s richest countries, where the mortality rate of some racial and ethnic minorities has been up to three times that of the overall population.

When COVID-19 hit, members of discriminated groups and indigenous peoples were over-exposed to contagion because of their low-paid and precarious work in specific industries. Many of the people we suddenly started to recognize and refer to as essential – health care workers, cleaners, transport workers, shop employees – come from such minorities.

They were also under-protected because of limited access to health-care and social protections, such as sick leave and unemployment or furlough pay. They were less able to isolate themselves once infected – due to inadequate living conditions, limited access to sanitation, the inability to work from home. This meant the virus could spread much more easily within their communities, and from those communities back into wider society.

Over the past 11 months, the poor have become poorer, and those suffering systemic discrimination have fared worst of all.

Children in homes with limited or no Internet access or computer equipment have fallen behind in their education, or dropped out of it altogether, with girls especially badly affected. In terms of basic economic security, employment, education, housing and food, the pandemic is having a negative impact that is so vast and so wide-ranging it is almost impossible for us to grasp its enormity.

Had adequate social and economic protections been in place for a much higher proportion of the world’s population, in poor countries and in rich ones – had we applied the human rights vaccine – we would not be in such a bad state as we are today. COVID-19 has very clearly demonstrated that inequalities and discrimination not only harm the individuals who are directly affected, and unfairly impacted – they create shock waves that ripple across the whole of society.

This was shown most graphically when the coronavirus ripped its way through shockingly ill-prepared and underequipped institutions such as care homes for older people and people with disabilities, orphanages, migrant dormitories and prisons. A compelling case, if ever there was one, for better regulated institutions and increased alternatives to incarceration.

Those who were most critical to saving lives were themselves inexcusably put at risk, with shortages of masks and protective clothing as the pandemic surged through the wards. Health workers are only some 2-3 percent of national populations, yet they comprise around 14 percent of COVID cases reported to the WHO.

The impact on women has been particularly devastating. Because of the horrendous increase in domestic violence all across the world, and because a large proportion of women work in the informal sector and in health care. And because many were left with no choice but to withdraw from the labour market in order to care for children no longer able to go to school, and for older people and the sick. In some areas, women’s rights risk being set back decades, including through more limited access to sexual and reproductive rights.

If we are to recover better, women will need to play a much greater role in decision-making and priority-setting. It is no coincidence that in a world where so few countries have women leaders, several of the countries viewed as having handled the pandemic most effectively were in fact led by women.

Discrimination also lies at the heart of another of 2020’s defining features, when racial injustice and police brutality were brought sharply into focus by the killing of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed. In many countries, we saw a burgeoning realization of persistent racial injustice and systemic racism, raising unresolved histories of racist oppression, and demanding far-reaching structural changes.

In countries in conflict, COVID has added an additional layer to already multi-faceted human rights calamities. In Yemen, a perfect storm of five years of conflict and violations, disease, blockades, and shortage of humanitarian funding, set against an existing backdrop of poverty, poor governance and lack of development, is pushing the country remorselessly towards full-scale famine. There has been no shortage of warnings about what will happen in Yemen in the coming months, but a distracted world is doing little to prevent this very preventable disaster.

Rights to free expression, to assemble and to participate in public life have been battered during the pandemic. Not because of warranted restrictions on movement to constrain the spread of COVID, but by the actions of some governments taking advantage of the situation to shut down political dissent and criticism, including by arresting civil society actors and journalists. Some appear to have also been using COVID fears and restrictions as a way to tilt elections in favour of the ruling party.

The contribution of civil society to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital, and the curtailing of civil society’s contributions is one of the surest ways of undermining that recovery, by removing one of the key remedies.

The pandemic has left us exposed, vulnerable, and weakened. Yet, in its devastation, it has also provided clear insights on how we can turn disaster into an opportunity to reset our priorities and improve our prospects for a better future.

Even with stretched resources, the main ingredient that we need to build that future is political will. The will to put our money where it is most needed – not wanted, needed. The will to fight corruption, because in many countries, even very poor countries, there is more money available, but much is lost when it goes straight into the pockets of a few. We need to address inequality, including with tax reforms that could help fund major socio-economic improvements.

Similarly, richer countries need to help poorer countries survive this crisis and recover better. Repairing the frayed system of multilateralism will be essential to manage the recovery. The work must begin at home, but leaders in powerful countries need to once again recognize that, more than ever, our world can only meet global challenges through global cooperation.

Narrow nationalistic responses will simply undermine collective recovery. The first test of this will be our ability to ensure that new COVID vaccines and tools reach everyone who needs them. The pandemic has highlighted over and over again that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Will we seize this moment to devise ways to recover better? Will we properly apply the human rights vaccine that can help us build more resilient, prosperous and inclusive societies? Will we take the immediate necessary steps to combat the biggest existential threat of all, climate change?

Let’s hope so. Because if we do not, especially with regard to climate change, 2020 will simply be the first step on the road to further calamity.

We have been warned.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Ravina Shamdasani – + 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.orgorLiz Throssell– + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.orgor Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights


[Repost] Southeast Asian Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief – Newsletter | July – December 2020

10 December 2020

MPs call for ASEAN’s joint action on freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia

On 2 December, parliamentarians from Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand came together to discuss ways to increase collaboration to advance freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia. The parliamentarians are part of the Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB), a working group of parliamentarians committed to improving freedom of religion or belief in the region. 

Among the many issues, parliamentarians discussed the rise of religious intolerance, hate speech and violent extremism, the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, increased ethnoreligious nationalism, and the politicization of religion. Some challenges have worsened during the COVID-19, particularly scapegoating and hate speech against religious minorities, and increased restrictions on religious worship under the pretext of social distancing, SEAPFoRB members said. 

The SEAPFoRB virtual meeting 2020 was hosted by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) 

Read the statement here.

For the rest of the newsletter, please click here.


[Repost] UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020)

23 November 2020

We have extracted some interesting excerpts from UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020):


We are pleased to share with you a set of indicators developed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, M. Clément Voule, which were launched on the 7th month anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by WHO. These indicators aim to measure State’s compliance with international standards regarding civic space, peaceful assembly, and political participation during public health emergencies.  These indicators are available in the following formats: 

1)      10 printable assessment cards:  they can be used by field presences and civil society actors to measure the degree of conformity of measures taken by governments to tackle COVID19 and their impact on the civic space in general. They are available in English, French and Spanish and downloadable under toolbox section here.

2)      An online survey (in ENGLISHFRENCH and SPANISH). Field presences and civil society can carry out their assessment online and share their results with the Special Rapporteur preferably before 30 November 2020. The results of this survey will be fed into the preparation of a dedicated report on “protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations”, which the Special Rapporteur was tasked with by Resolution A/HRC/44/L.11 adopted at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. This report will be presented to the HRC in June 2022. 


In its Resolution 44/7, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult Member States and other relevant stakeholders in order to prepare and submit to its forty-seventh session an analytical study on the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change.  Accordingly, we would welcome your inputs to the study by e-mail to bschachter@ohchr.org and miyer@ohchr.org by no later than 31 December 2020. We would also welcome your kind assistance in circulating this call for inputs as widely as possible within your networks.  In formulating inputs, you are welcome to respond, as appropriate, to the attached questionnaire. For environmental considerations, electronic submissions are encouraged and we ask that responses not exceed five pages. Please submit contributions in MS Word or compatible format in either of the official working languages of the United Nations (French or English). Inputs received will be posted on our website.


[Repost] October news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

17 November 2020

Please click on the link below to download a copy of the latest news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GlO_e1_lH_WGs6dflV_hStmJfVsnTMod/view?usp=sharing


[Repost] Unpacking the AICHR Five-Year Work Plan: A Conversation with AICHR Members – Fri, 23 Oct 2pm

19 October 2020

Please click on poster above to access the livestream on YouTube on Fri, 23 Oct at 2pm (SG time).

Thank you.


[Repost from ANFREL] Hong Kong: Stop Intimidation and Threats Ahead of Legislative Council Elections

22 July 2020

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) is alarmed by the quickly deteriorating election environment in the run-up to the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections scheduled for 6 September 2020.

The new National Security Law that came into effect on 30 June has exacerbated a climate of fear in Hong Kong’s electoral democracy. The law’s ambiguities in criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with sentences going up to life imprisonment has given the authorities sweeping powers to clamp down on civil liberties and human rights[1].

Several pro-democracy groups advocating for greater autonomy and self-determination, such as the Hong Kong National Front, Studentlocalism and opposition party Demosistō[2], have since chosen to either disband or relocate abroad over fears of political imprisonment. Activist and former lawmaker Nathan Law has also fled Hong Kong[3] and subsequently withdrawn from the pro-democracy camp’s primaries. Other opposition members are facing an uncertain future ahead as the Beijing-imposed law has empowered authorities to disqualify candidates from running in the election[4].

The authorities have used the new legislation to threaten the organizers of the 11 and 12 July primaries designed to select pro-democracy candidates to the 6 September legislative elections. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang claimed the participation in the primaries may violate the National Security Law[5], while Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared that the coordinated effort by democrats to win a majority in the legislature to oppose government policy “may fall into the category of subverting the state power”, an offense under the new law[6].

On the day before the primaries, district councilors and a pro-democracy shop faced intimidation attempts to warn them not to use their premises as polling stations[7]. The Hong Kong police also raided the office of the primaries’ co-organizer Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), accusing the organization of “dishonest use of a computer”[8].

Despite overt intimidation, the two-day primaries saw a high voter turnout, with over 600,000 Hong Kongers casting ballots in the process. It is commendable that the people of Hong Kong are showing their resilience and determination to resist democratic regression.

The instillation of fear using the National Security Law did not stop after the primaries. Both Hong Kong Liaison Office[9] and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office[10] have issued strong-worded statements to accuse the primaries of violating the National Security Law. The Electoral Affairs Commission also claimed the primaries are not part of the electoral procedures and reminded the public to take heed of the National Security Law when organizing and participating in election-related activities[11].

The National Security Law is the latest development in a year-long crackdown on protesters, activists, and opposition forces in the territory. In November 2019, authorities conducted a two-week siege on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University[12], culminating in over 1,100 arrests in a single day[13]. On 18 April 2020, police arrested 15 prominent activists[14], including publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai and founder of the Democratic Party Martin Lee, in what was perceived as a hardening of the authorities’ position towards the pan-democracy camp.

ANFREL condemns the sustained intimidation and threats towards the city’s democracy advocates, citizens, and civil society by the authorities of Hong Kong and Beijing. Avenues for debate and constructive dialogue have been steadily restricted, ensuring that the environment prior to the Legislative Council elections can be considered neither free nor fair.

We call for an immediate repeal of the National Security Law, which violates the spirit of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law and stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers in their pursuit for democracy, attachment to fundamental freedoms, and demands for free and fair elections. We call on the government of China to honor its international commitments and stop encroaching on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights, and tradition of democratic governance.

[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/09/hong-kong-rights-under-attack-anniversary
[2] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3956221
[3] https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/02/breaking-democracy-activist-nathan-law-says-he-has-fled-hong-kong/
[4] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3091433/national-security-law-facing-disqualification-or-worse-hong
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/14/hong-kong-primaries-china-declares-pro-democracy-polls-illegal
[6] https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/13/democrats-plan-to-win-legislative-majority-to-oppose-govt-policy-may-be-illegal-under-security-law-says-hong-kongs-lam/
[7] https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/11/hong-kong-primaries-pro-democracy-shop-scraps-polling-station-plan-as-govt-warns-district-councillors/
[8] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/raid-07102020105020.html
[9] http://www.locpg.gov.cn/jsdt/2020-07/13/c_1210700891.htm
[10] https://www.hmo.gov.cn/xwzx/xwfb/xwfb_child/202007/t20200714_22007.html
[11] https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202007/14/P2020071400889.htm
[12] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/29/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-polytechnic.html
[13] https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Hong-Kong-protests/Hong-Kong-arrests-mount-to-1-100-as-campus-siege-continues
[14] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3080529/least-12-hong-kong-opposition-veterans-arrested-police-over

Download the full statement here: Hong Kong: Stop Intimidation and Threats Ahead of Legislative Council Elections


Join us for Pink Dot 12!

24 June 2020

Sharing an email in support of our friends at Pink Dot

Hi friends, 

Hope everyone is keeping well in these final days of Phase 1. Pink Dot 12 is just over a week away! I wanted to drop a quick reminder that there are 3 ways you can participate this year:

1) Light up

This June, turn your homes pink to show a visible sign of solidarity and support for your LGBTQ+ neighbours, who may not be able to light up their own homes. Unfortunately our pink lights are out of stock but you can still order them on Shopee (estimated 1 week delivery) or get creative! Wrapping fairy lights in pink plastic bags does the trick very nicely!

2) Sign up

This year, our formation is going digital! Be part of our first ever digital Pink Dot formation by checking-in online at loveliveshere.pinkdot.sg and leaving a personal message of support.

3) Show up

Join our special livestream event to celebrate Pink Dot 12 with an exciting line-up of performances and video premieres. Head to pinkdot.sg to tune in and chat with fellow viewers at 8pm on the 27th of June. Our digital formation will be unveiled at the end of the program.
You can also get in the mood by posting one of our Instagram filters created by some very talented community contributors. Please help spread the word through your networks and we look forward to you joining us for our livestream on the 27th! :)


Happy pride month everyone!


APHR: “Singapore election: neither free nor fair, new report says” – 18 June 2020

19 June 2020

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) released a report “In Singapore, an Already Unfair Vote Undermined by COVID-19” on Thursday, 18 June 2020.

This report documents structural flaws that potentially prevent elections from being free and fair in Singapore. On page 22 of the report, APHR also makes certain recommendations to safeguard Singaporeans’ right to a free and fair election. These include:

  • Give significantly longer notice for election dates and more campaigning time to ensure an equal electoral competition and for voters to make their opinions;
  • Replacing the GRC system with one that ensures better respect for the principle of “one person, one vote”;
  • Immediately amend or repeal all laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly in Singapore; and
  • Delay the general election unless additional measures are taken to: ensure all eligible voters are able to vote, including the sick and those abroad; and ensure that opposition parties are able to campaign on an equal footing with PAP.

For more information on APHR’s findings and recommendations, please visit https://aseanmp.org/2020/06/18/singapore-report-statement/ and https://aseanmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/APHR_Briefer_SingaporeElections_2020-06-16-1.pdf.


Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Annual Democracy Report 2019

22 January 2020

The V-Dem Democracy Report 2019 is online! Get it here – https://www.v-dem.net/media/filer_public/99/de/99dedd73-f8bc-484c-8b91-44ba601b6e6b/v-dem_democracy_report_2019.pdf

Main findings: 

The trend of autocratization continues, and almost one-third of the world’s population lives in countries undergoing autocratization – a substantial decline of democracy.

24 countries are now severely affected by what is established as a “third wave of autocratization”. These countries include Brazil, India, the United States, as well as several Eastern European countries.

A majority of countries in the world remains democratic. 

The first ever model forecasting autocratization identifies the top-10 most at-risk countries: Philippines, Fiji, Mali, Hungary, Guatemala, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Tanzania. This is an invitation for action by the policy and practitioner communities.