MARUAH Statement on 2018 Global Slavery Index

30 June 2019

MARUAH states that the Singapore government needs to take more active action to address the issue of modern slavery in Singapore. A study by the Walk Free Foundation found that there is an estimated 19,000 people (or 3.4% of the population) in Singapore who are entrapped in slave-like conditions, placing Singapore in 97th place out of 167 countries in the 2018 Global Slavery Index (GSI). The definition of modern slavery used in the report includes practices like forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking.

MARUAH severely condemns the phenomenon of modern slavery, which is a crime of outrageous abuses in human rights. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Today, slavery takes on various forms – sometimes quite different from the typical practices of being caged and abused – yet they retain many aspects of these practices. Victims continue to work in abysmal conditions – in isolation without contact with their loved ones, no rest days, and in some cases, being starved, beaten, and denied full salary. The conditions under which some of them work are inhumane and torturous, with little to no freedom and rights.

Unbeknownst to many, Singapore is a hotspot for human trafficking activities, with migrant workers being the most vulnerable to such illegal activities. The 2019 US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report places Singapore in Tier 2, out of three categories. The report stated that foreign work permit holders, who make up more than a quarter of the total labour force in Singapore, are especially vulnerable to trafficking through debt bondage and threats. Based on standards provided by the International Labour Office and the European Commission, any individual who has encountered deceptive recruitment, exploitation and coercion is considered to have been trafficked.

There has been an increasing body of work on migrant workers in Singapore, including a research study jointly done by the SMU and a non-profit organization, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). The study found that many migrant workers incur large amounts of debt to recruitment agents in their home countries in order to secure a job in Singapore, only to realise that they have been deceived of the actual working conditions and salary when they reach Singapore. Often, these migrant workers end up receiving a much lower salary than promised and have to work long hours with no off days. However, these workers lack bargaining power and often accept such poor conditions due to the deep fear (or explicit threats) of deportation, which would mean they lose their income, have debts they cannot clear, families to feed and children in school.

Foreign domestic workers were also found to be vulnerable to forced labour and human rights abuses by another study conducted by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and Liberty Shared as their work takes place in the private realm away from public scrutiny. The supply chains need stricter regulations and governance to address the loopholes that still exist, such as the situation that many migrant workers are reluctant to testify in court or make claims against their employers due to the fear of deportation. A 2015 study by the Singapore Management University (SMU) found that nearly two thirds of migrant workers with injuries or salary claims, brought to the notice of the Ministry of Manpower, had been threatened with deportation.

Besides migrant workers, another group that can fall prey to modern slavery conditions, is the low-income population. In 2018, Member of Parliament (MP) Zainal Sapari identified a situation which he termed “slavery of the poor” in one of his parliamentary speeches. He argued that low-income workers, especially those working in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors, are prone to being taken advantage of by employers because of the limited job options they have and lack of knowledge of their rights. He also noted that many of these workers will never have the means to retire, which he argues to be a form of slavery in itself as they are entrapped in such circumstances for life. The recent Minimum Income Standards study conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, did show that some elderly in Singapore would never have the means to retire, as similar view that MP Mr Zainal too shared,  due to inadequate sustainable work incomes, savings and public assistance transfers. MARUAH appreciates Mr Zainal’s efforts in raising this issue in Parliament and for fighting for the rights of low-income workers in Singapore.

According to the 2018 GSI, Singapore scored a grade of CCC[1] in the Government Response Rating, with countries that fall under this rating described as having a “limited response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services”. Singapore was also specifically mentioned in the report repeatedly as one of the countries that is taking relatively little action when compared to the scale of the problem and amount of resources available. Being labelled as having a weak response relative to GDP sends a wrong signal to the international community that we, in Singapore, show little regard for human rights issues, especially the severe violations that occur within modern slavery.

MARUAH is disappointed with Singapore’s poor rating in the 2018 GSI. MARUAH urges the Singapore government to recognize the fact that modern slavery is taking place in the country. As a high-income economy with high levels of resources, the government is obliged to do more to protect the rights of the groups that are susceptible to modern slavery, including migrant workers and the low-income (elderly) population in Singapore.

MARUAH Singapore

For more information, the full report of the 2018 Global Slavery Index can be accessed here: https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/


[1] The Government Response Rating is based on a score out of a maximum of 100; the best rating being AAA and the worst, D. Singapore scored 32.8/100, which puts it under the rating CCC. The full description of the rating CCC is: The government has a limited response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, and has policies that provide some protection for those vulnerable to modern slavery. There may be evidence of a National Action Plan and/or national coordination body. There may be evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or deport victims and/or facilitate slavery. Services may be largely provided by IOs/NGOs with international funding, with limited government funding or in-kind support. For more information on the ratings, please refer to https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/methodology/government-response/


MARUAH Statement on World Refugee Day (20 June 2019)

25 June 2019

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are more than 70 million displaced persons in the world today, including 25.9 million refugees who are escaping war and persecution. These numbers come at an unprecedented level and represent the desperation of those who have been forced to flee violence at home. On World Refugee Day, MARUAH would like to express solidarity with all the refugees worldwide who are on their arduous and precarious journeys to safety.

Close to home, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has created more than 700,000 refugees since 2017, leading to a refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. ASEAN’s lackluster response to the refugee crisis has been met with international criticism, especially after reports of thousands of refugees being stranded at sea. However, since then, a few countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have provided temporary shelter to the refugees. The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) has also provided relief materials to displaced persons in the Rakhine State, and is currently preparing to aid in repatriation of the refugees. Currently, only two ASEAN states (Cambodia and the Philippines) are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which recognizes the obligations of States to protect the rights of refugees.

In a world of increasing violence and climate-related disasters, addressing the refugee crisis is a global responsibility and an obligation under international law. Refugees are amongst the most vulnerable groups of people in the world and we ought to protect them, not turn our backs against them. As part of the international community, MARUAH believes that Singapore has a responsibility in responding to this humanitarian crisis. MARUAH would also like to sincerely thank all the countries that have warmly received these refugees and given them an opportunity to a better future.

MARUAH Singapore


Joint Statement on ASEAN – ERAT Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

20 June 2019

A Whitewash

ASEAN Civil Societies and Rohingya Organisations Issue A Joint Statement on ASEAN – ERAT Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

In response to the recent leaked report from ASEAN’s Emergency Response and Action Team (ERAT), a ‘preliminary needs assessment’ which drastically overestimated the ease and equity with which Rohingya can return to Burma, we (Civil Societies from ASEAN and Rohingya Organisations) call upon leaders and representatives from ASEAN nations to insist upon re-evaluation, re-planning, and work towards implementation of a just and safe plan for the Rohingya.

The report at times reads more as if it is designed to please the Government of Myanmar than a product from members of a reputable institution. There is no mention of the well documented genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces that drove 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017. There is no mention of rape, murder, torture, killing of children and the burning of homes. There is no mention of the hundreds of villages burnt as documented in satellite images by HRW and the UN, as well as from first person accounts.  Instead, the report consists of a summary of the technical details of the return process with some minor technical recommendations. Myanmar appears to want to create a new narrative that the conflict was inter-ethnic, that they are ready to accept returnees, conditions are conducive to do so, and that the only obstacle for return is Bangladesh. It seems as if the report was done to help ASEAN member countries to ignore the hurt, pain, harm, loss of lives, loss of dignity caused to the Rohinyga people. This is an erasure of facts. Those agreeing with the report, including ASEAN member countries, will be complicit in this lie. This report will become the cornerstone of the Government of Myanmar’s stance. We say that ASEAN’s credibility is on the line unless they reject the report and distance themselves from it.

These are the facts: approximately 87,000 Rohingya fled after 9th October 2016; a further 740,000 fled after 25th August 2017; a total of 827,000 refugees landed in Bangladesh; and today there are approximately 1.2 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Yet this report cites 500,000. We ask where this figure come from and what is the source

The report also makes the false premise that the conflict was inter-ethnic. Most blatantly, there isno mention of Tatmadaw’s disproportionate ‘clearance operations’ or allegations and findings of genocide. While the Border Guard Police (BGP) were responsible for violence in 2017, the report claims that villagers feel safer with high BGP security presence. The report says contrary to common perceptions, ‘The local community actually felt safe with the presence of Border Guard Police (BGP).’ Still in Maungdaw Township and other villages Rohingya and Rakhines work and socialize together, contradicting the assessment team’s simplistic, government informed views that the perceived threats are between communities rather than between security forces and civilians. There is an omission of the fact that the inclusion of border guard police in transit camp management structure heightened fear and risks of abuses against a vulnerable population. Recent events such as security forces firing upon civilians in central and northern Rakhine, clearly, show that security forces pose a greater threat to communities more so than just a just “inconvenient” security.

At the same time, there has been an intense ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw throughout Rakhine with over 100 clashes since January 2019 and over 30,000 people displaced. This means that any repatriation is unfeasible, but the assessment team chose to omit the fear the Rohingyas are feeling, in the report.

The report also fails to address policies and laws which violate the Rohingya’s fundamental human rights and jeopardize the viability of their return. The report does not address the lack of freedom of movement – people have to possess the right ID card. This card is related to the collection of Biometric Data which is not collected from any other ethnic group in the country. Rohingyas are justifiably suspicious of this, even if the assessment team does not recognise this in the report. For instance, there is the risk this data can be abused by the Government of Myanmar in the future to identify Rohingya who have moved and so transport them back to live only in Rakhine. There is no reference to the fact that the Citizenship Law must be changed based on the report from the Kofi Annan led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Relocation is condoned and there is no mention of the area or land, apriority issue for Rohingya. In addition, the report does not raise access to humanitarian aid, media and international community as these are concern of the Rohingyas.

It is not clear where Relocation Sites will be but according to the plans, they will result in very large villages that will have a problem accessing services and livelihoods especially as most returnees will be paddy farmers. This would mean serious barriers to accessing services and livelihoods. This problem is compounded by the fact that returnees will be resettled in areas away from their original village and cannot access other fields.

When combined, these issues suggest an internment for the Rohingya rather than ‘transit’ camps. We have seen this play out and it continues to this day in central Rakhine State. The underlying unaddressed omission is the fact that it is extremely unlikely that a large number of people will be returning from Bangladesh without significant changes in the situation in Rakhine State.This report deals only with the technical details for an assessment, ignoring the people, their fears, a review of the ‘transit plans’, the administrative processes and accessibility for the Rohingyas. In other words, this report has failed to include crucial facts, ignored the human rights and humanitarian rights of the Rohingyas. It is a propaganda to make the Government of Myanmar look better, that it has plans and setting the stage for any failure of the plans as the fault of the Rohingya and the government of Bangladesh, that is currently carrying this problem for the people

We say:

1.     for the credibility of ASEAN this report should be rejected and not endorsed. If a future comprehensive assessment is agreed upon in it must be in collaboration with UN experts who have the requisite expertise and neutrality.

2.     leaders of ASEAN nations must insist that these issues are raised and addressed by the AHA Centre in order to ensure that the Rohingya can be returned to Burma in a way which is humane and just.

3.     leaders of ASEAN nations must also insist that the Rohingya still living in Burma including 128,000 in IDP camps must have their rights, including citizenship and freedom of movement, restored and protected before plans to relocate the refugee population can begin.

4.     the safety, rights, and dignity of the returned are essential to the viability and longevity of the endeavour of returning Rohingya. Moving forward without these aspects as considerations is unethical, wasteful, and will ultimately leave all stakeholders addressing the same problems down the line as history will repeat itself if not addressed well, now.

If Myanmar ejects addressing these calls, they prove only that they have no interest in solving the problems which their security forces have created, often at the expense of other ASEAN and South Asian nations. It is our sincerest hope that all parties will take the time to come together and re-evaluate moving forward to resolve these issues in a way which considers the safety, rights and dignity of those most affected while taking the time to listen to them directly.

This statement is undersigned by:

1.     ALTSEAN-Burma

2.     Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)

3.     Arakan Rohingya Development Association-Australia (ARDA-Australia)

4.     Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)

5.     Burmese Muslim Association (BMA)

6.     British Rohingya Community UK

7.     Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)

8.     Burmese Rohingya Association Japan

9.     Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)

10. Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organisations (CBRO)

11. Central Queensland Rohingya Community

12. Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA)

13. European Rohingya Council (ERC)

14. Global Peace Mission Malaysia

15. Initiative for Human Rights in Asia

16. Komite Nesional Untuk Solidaritas Rohingya (KNSR)

17. MARUAH (Singapore)

18. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (MERHROM)

19. Rohingya Advocacy Network in Japan (RANJ)

20. Rohingya Intellectuals Community Association Australia (RICAA)

21. Rohingya Society in Malaysia (RSM)

22. Rohingya Women Welfare Society (RWWS)

23. Wadah Pencerdasan Umat Malaysia

Media Contact

Kyaw Win

Executive Director

Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)

E: kyawwin78@gmail.com

T: +44(0) 740 345 2378

Razia Sultana

Founder

Rohingya Women Welfare Soceity (RWWS)

E: rsmimi15@gmail.com

T: +880 1818 4666078

Tun Khin

President

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)

E: tunkhin80@gmail.com

T: +44 7376 823227


MARUAH Statement on Hong Kong protests – 13 June 2019

13 June 2019

MARUAH, a Singapore-based human rights organisation, is deeply disappointed at the turn of events in Hong Kong. 

The police actions taken against the protesters on June 12th 2019 were violent, showed a lack of compassion and would add to increasing the tensions between the protesters, the people in Hong Kong and the government of Hong Kong. 

We note that, by comparison, the protests of thousands of people were overwhelmingly peaceful, the recent police actions were overwhelmingly violent.

MARUAH makes three main points here, basing much of what we say here on the plentiful supply of reliable videos, news broadcasts and print stories, from the global force of recognised and well-accepted mainstream media.

Firstly, the protesters’ level of organisation and care for the protesters, the people in Hong Kong, the property, is a focus that is well-placed. Their intentions were clear – no destruction, no harm to people, just withdraw the Extradition Bill. They also came prepared for their own protection – face masks, goggles, helmets, umbrellas – from the police force.

We state that, it would be a better approach for the government of Hong Kong, as a democratically-functioning system, to appreciate the steadfast passion, maturity and sophistication of thousands of people that has been taking place over many days. It is an exception as compared to other protest forms in other countries in various situations. To label the protest as being a “riot” is to focus on some deal-breakers in the protest and to also ignore, any aggravating circumstances, perhaps, even caused by police officers or unseen forces, that triggered a response from some of the protesters. .

Secondly, the police force acted violently against the protesters, using rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper sprays and swinging their batons randomly whilst also pushing back, severely, on the protesters.

We state, that, as the stand-off between the protesters – the people who oppose the Extradition Bill – and the police force would continue, it is important to ensure the security of the protesters and the officers and to keep aggravation of each other to a minimum, a commitment from both sides to ensure that the protests continue to be peaceful.

Thirdly, by the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997, the way of life in Hong Kong would change from the current “one country, two systems” principle, in 50 years’ time, in 2047. This is a quarter of a century away. Therefore, it is disconcerting to get an Extradition Bill through, at this present moment.

We urge that the Office of the Chief Executive uses the time period over the next decades to put in place more constructive communications and legal frameworks, in an evolutionary pathway towards the watershed year of 2047, and to work with the people of Hong Kong on preserving its democracy, culture and identity, to its best; as China is changing dramatically as its economy rises.

We hope the Chief Executive, Ms Carrie Lam, would consider taking on an adequate and favorable response on the Extradition Bill, respecting the wishes of the people, to avert any hurt, harm and damage on the streets. 

-End-

Note: 
— This statement is issued by MARUAH Secretariat. For further comment, please contact the Secretariat at maruahsg@gmail.com
— Any and all quotes taken from this statement to be ascribed to Spokesperson MARUAH Singapore.   

About MARUAH Singapore

MARUAH is a human-rights NGO based in Singapore.

“Maruah” means “dignity” in Malay, Singapore’s national language. Human rights is fundamentally about maintaining, restoring and reclaiming one’s dignity, and MARUAH strives to achieve this by working on national and regional human rights issues.

MARUAH is also the Singapore focal point of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as an entity associated with ASEAN.

More information on MARUAH at www.maruah.org


MARUAH Statement on the Minimum Income Standards Report

3 June 2019

MARUAH calls on the government to do more for older people in Singapore, including those who are aged 55 years and above. There have been studies and reports on how older people in Singapore are just not coping well, financially, and in some instances, in self-management.
This latest study, using the Minimum Income Standards (MIS), was released by a team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The study highlighted the disparity between the financial needs and the financial resources of older persons in Singapore. MARUAH congratulates the team for their work and expresses its appreciation for conducting this study, raising, more starkly, the minimum household budgets required to meet the basic needs of the older population in Singapore.

This basic standard of living is applicable to people from various backgrounds as the researchers ensured that the study participants came from diverse backgrounds. A basic standard of living goes beyond just food, shelter and clothing, stated the researchers, as participants also valued quality of life. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him(her)self”. As such, it is good to note that the study also took into account opportunities and access to education, employment and social participation, which contribute to the well-being of a person. In using the MIS approach (as has also been used by other countries such as the UK, France and Japan), the team then weighted the budgets needed for older persons to maintain the agreed basic standards of living. Going by the profile of individuals, the study showed that the appropriate amount a person needs for a basic standard of living, are as follows:

· for single elderly households: $1379 per month
· for coupled elderly households: $2351 per month
· for single persons aged 55-64: $1721 per month.

The researchers also compared work incomes to the budgets and their study revealed that the median monthly work incomes for the three most common occupations among older persons ranged from 0.9 to 1.2 times of the budget. This means that even if older persons are employed, the wages they earn may be insufficient for them to achieve the study’s recommended household budgets required for a basic standard of living. The government does have a range of income measures aimed at older persons, which helps to supplement their income. These schemes include:

· Progressive Wage Model (PWM): imposes a minimum wage for workers from three low-paying sectors, including cleaning, landscape and security.
· Central Provident Fund (CPF): those who meet the Basic Retirement Sum requirement at age 55 will receive monthly annuity payouts upon retirement.
· Cash payments (for eligible persons only): ComCare Long Term Assistance, Silver Support Scheme and GST Voucher

But even as MARUAH acknowledges the importance of these government’s schemes, we state that more needs to be done in terms of adequacy, governance, sustainability and implementation of the schemes, based on this study’s findings on what an older person needs. For instance, only 55% of people have sufficient savings to meet the Basic Retirement Sum to receive the monthly payouts after retirement. The rest of the people do not receive any annuity, after retirement. Even for those who qualify, the payouts received each month is a mere 57% of the study’s recommended household budget. As for the cash payments, less than 1% of older persons are eligible for ComCare while the Silver Support Scheme and GST Voucher cover only up to half of all retirees. Even if one qualifies for all three cash payment schemes, the total amount received would just be over 50% of the study’s recommended household budget. Clearly, there are gaps in these public schemes as mapped out in this study, which shows that the government schemes need to be revised by increasing the level of financial assistance and by implementing them more effectively.

Lastly, MARUAH supports the recommendations made in the study. We highlight the study’s recommendations of:

· not just relying on the family as the “first line of support”
· addressing the unequal wages given to older persons for the work they do and to reducing discriminatory wage practices against older persons
· having financial schemes such as public pension payments and other provisions to cover expensive healthcare costs for older persons

By adopting a bottom-up approach and engaging with Singaporeans on the ground, this study has shown a more accurate picture of people’s needs and their lived realities. We urge the Singapore government to seriously consider adopting the benchmarks set in this study in future policies and to consider implementing the recommendations put forward to ensure an adequate standard of living for all older persons in Singapore.

Please read the full media release at https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/news-documents/press-release_lkyspp_household-budgets-for-older-people-in-singapore.pdf?sfvrsn=c3887a0a_0

Ms Braema Mathi
President
MARUAH Singapore

——————————————————————-

This statement is issued by MARUAH Secretariat. For further comment, please contact Ms Mathi at braema@gmail.com or the Secretariat at maruahsg@gmail.com

The full report is available at https://whatsenoughsg.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/what-older-people-need-in-singapore-a-household-budgets-study.pdf. Do also visit the report’s accompanying website at https://whatsenoughsg.wordpress.com/.

About MARUAH Singapore

MARUAH is a human-rights NGO based in Singapore.

“Maruah” means “dignity” in Malay, Singapore’s national language. Human rights is fundamentally about maintaining, restoring and reclaiming one’s dignity, and MARUAH strives to achieve this by working on national and regional human rights issues.

MARUAH is also the Singapore focal point of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as an entity associated with ASEAN.

More information on MARUAH at www.maruah.org