Statement on death row cases and the harassment of lawyers

26 October 2020

We, the undersigned, call for a comprehensive review of the death penalty and death row inmates’ rights in Singapore, made more urgent by the following points that have surfaced in relation to recent death penalty cases.

An overly high threshold for review applications 

On 19 October 2020, the Court of Appeal set aside 32-year-old Malaysian Gobi Avedian’s death sentence, reinstating the original sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane given to him by the High Court in 2017. 

The Court of Appeal reviewed Gobi Avedian’s case after the application filed by his counsel cleared the threshold as set out in Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). However, we are nevertheless concerned that the threshold to review cases that have already been through the appeals process is extremely high, and would preclude the possibility of many other death row cases being reviewed, even if there are still outstanding questions and doubts.

For example, under s394J of the CPC, a case can only be reviewed if there is material that could not have been adduced earlier. Furthermore, in the latest Court of Appeal judgment for Gobi Avedian, it was made clear that it is not enough for there to be a “real possibility” that the court’s earlier decision was wrong — there has to be a “powerful probability”. 

It is very alarming, in the context of the death penalty, that it is insufficient for there to be a real possibility that the court was wrong. Our position is that this is a matter of life and death, so any possibility that a mistake has been made should be closely scrutinised and reviewed.

Given that the death penalty is an irreversible punishment, it is important that every opportunity is given to the inmate to seek legal counsel and bring up matters before the court, regardless of what stage their case is at. Inmates might also be represented by different lawyers at different stages of their case, who might have advised them differently. They should not be prevented from submitting material for a review simply because their counsel had failed to present it to the court at an earlier stage.

A need for automatic review of death row cases following changes in law

Gobi Avedian’s death sentence was able to be set aside because of, among other things, developments in case law from a Court of Appeal ruling in 2019. It is unknown how many other death row inmates’ cases could be impacted by such developments.

In Gobi’s case, he was fortunate to have had a lawyer take another look at his case at a very late stage, and identify how developments in the law have made his case worth reviewing. This is very unusual: after their initial appeals have been exhausted, it is difficult for death row inmates to find lawyers to represent them or review their case.

If there are changes or developments in the law, it should not be left to a death row inmate’s fortune in finding legal counsel before their case is reviewed.

The need for accountability for breaches in lawyer-client privilege

In dismissing Syed Suhail’s criminal motion, the Court of Appeal said that M Ravi had failed to show any evidence that there had been any prejudice against his client even after it was revealed that the prison had forwarded letters that Syed had written to his then-defence counsel and his uncle, to the prosecution. 

We are deeply concerned that the Singapore Prison Service breached lawyer-client privilege in such a way. Even though inmates are under the prison’s custody, it is highly unethical to copy and forward their privileged and personal communications on to a third party, much less the prosecution. Prisoners also have an expectation of privacy, and this right should be respected.

Although the deputy prosecutor had declared to the court that he had not read the letters, there has been no independent investigation into the matter. 

We hope that there will be a clear accounting to the public of how something like this could have happened, and why the Attorney-General’s Chambers did not recognise that this was a breach right away, instead waiting two years to bring this matter to light. 

Threats against lawyers representing death row inmates at a late stage

In dismissing a criminal motion filed by death row inmate Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, the Court of Appeal warned against invoking the review process too “lightly”, adding that defence counsels could be sanctioned for abusing the court process if they do so. The Attorney-General’s Chambers is also applying for a cost order against Syed’s lawyer, who is also M Ravi.

Following Gobi Avedian’s acquittal from his capital charge, the AGC has also taken issue with M Ravi expressing his opinions on the prosecution’s conduct in his client’s case, demanding that he apologise and retract his comments. They have since lodged a complaint against him to the Law Society. 

We strongly condemn harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates, particularly M Ravi, who has taken on multiple death row inmates at a late stage. Death row inmates already face great barriers in looking for lawyers who will review their case and advise them at a late stage. Imposing the threat of penalties, or actual penalties, against lawyers who are merely doing their best to lobby for their clients raises those barriers further by deterring lawyers from wanting to take on late-stage capital cases. 

We are relieved that a man has been saved, but are alarmed by how close we have come to a wrongful execution. We note that Gobi Avedian had already exhausted his legal appeal as well as the clemency process, and was at risk of imminent execution. If not for M Ravi’s intervention at a late stage, Gobi could have been executed without anyone realising that a miscarriage of justice had occurred. 

In the case of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi as well, his team of pro bono lawyers fought for him to be acquitted of a capital drug trafficking charge, which he was convicted of by the Court of Appeal in 2015. Ilechukwu is now able to return home to Nigeria after living on death row in Singapore for years, only because his lawyers didn’t give up even at a late stage. 

This highlights a serious problem with capital punishment. It is a harsh and irreversible punishment, and a life, once taken, cannot be returned. One innocent life taken by the state is one too many — this is why the death penalty should be abolished as soon as possible.

Our recommendations:

  • Repeal Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code that sets a high threshold for cases to be reviewed
  • When there are changes to laws or case law that will affect death row inmates, their cases should be automatically reviewed
  • Launch an independent investigation to look into how often the prison might have forwarded inmate correspondence, including privileged communication, to the AGC
  • Put an end to the harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates
  • An immediate moratorium of the death penalty, with a view to abolish capital punishment
Signatories

Transformative Justice Collective
Community Action Network
Function 8
Post-Museum
No Readgrets Book Club
Crit Talk
Penawar
Beyond the Hijab
SG Climate Rally
We Who Witness
MARUAH
The Bi+ Collective
soft/WALL/studs
Tow Ying Xiang
Rachel Lim


MARUAH’s Statement of Deep Concern on Actions Taken Against New Naratif’s Dr Thum Ping Tjin

12 October 2020

MARUAH expresses its concerns over the statement issued by the Elections Department (ELD) of the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office alleging that New Naratif (NN) had breached the Parliamentary Elections Act during the course of the General Elections 2020, the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, the takedown order given by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to Facebook, and Facebook’s censorship of New Naratif through compliance on IMDA’s takedown order.

According to the press release of 18 September, the ELD alleges that NN’s boosting of five Facebook posts during the recent General Election, “amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under S83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.” The ELD further stated that NN did not have written authority to conduct election activity, that ELD’s previous press release of 3 July on NN’s activities was carried by various news outlets and yet despite this publicity and even after Facebook took down NN’s boosted post, NN continued to boost other Facebook posts. ELD also quoted, in its statement (Ref: https://www.eld.gov.sg/press/2020/Press_Release_-_Police_reports_filed_against_New_Naratif_for_breach_of_Parliamentary_Elections_Act.pdf), the definition of election activity under the Parliamentary Elections Act, which includes “any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election”.

MARUAH still remains unclear over what constitutes internet election advertisements as qualified by ELD in its press statement. We note that there are studies, codes, and in some instances, legislation that frame criteria in this regard. The onus is on ELD to state how the advertisements breached the criteria that it observes, as well as justify how these criteria are also interpreted and thus applicable to satirical content, which was the nature of one of NN’s boosted posts.

MARUAH asks if a discussion with NN to seek clarifications from NN would not have sufficed? We wonder why ELD preferred to make a police report. We also ask how many other police reports ELD has filed on other breaches as were also reported to ELD, in the course of GE 2020? Is this then the process of governance that ELD uses, that is, to make police reports? Is there a better approach as we build up trust in election climates, which inevitably will get more complex as new social media forms develop and are used more often and offer many more possibilities to users and readers? Would not a system of transparently sharing the criteria on ‘promoting’, ‘prejudicing’, ‘procuring’ help all parties to become more self-evaluative?

We are also deeply concerned over the ethical principles with which Facebook is governing its platform. Facebook has been criticised severely for allowing its communication platform to be used by political parties to influence voters. We ask if Facebook operates with greater consistency, now, on material that is deemed to be prejudicial in elections, and what its principles are. MARUAH will also be raising these concerns to Facebook. Under such circumstances, what then would be the ELD’s and IMDA’s expectations of such operators like Facebook when we do see inconsistencies in its application in leaving up or taking down news items. More importantly, how does ELD also ensure consistency in making its judgements so that IMDA can be consistent in asking Facebook to take down news items — in this case, posts from other news organisations which were boosted during the election period?

Lastly, we are troubled at the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, in its response to the police report made on NN. Besides an interrogation for more than four hours, there was also a confiscation of personal items such as the mobile phone and laptop and entering the home of Dr Thum Ping Tjin to remove his belongings for investigations. The evidence is entirely digital and available online, and New Naratif has not denied that the boosted posts in question belonged to them. There is thus no need for the seizure of Dr Thum’s belongings. Such unnecessary seizures have happened previously to Ms Teo Soh Lung and Mr Terry Xu. We ask if investigations have to be carried out in this intimidating and intrusive manner without a thought for the individual’s civil rights.

ELD and the Ministry of Home Affairs demonstrate a high-handedness in handling the allegations. It is akin to affirming that an allegation made as a police report, leads automatically to an interrogation and seizures of materials. If the criteria are clearly spelt out, an allegation made in the form of a police report, can then be assessed on such defined terms, and where deemed fit, further action is taken. MARUAH believes that the first step is to publicise the codes that can ascertain ‘prejudicial’ content in elections. It is also equally important to situate any assessment in an environment of multimedia technology, with many media organisations delivering news and a more critical and aware public. It is important that ELD finds a balance in this governance, without crippling a journalism that offers critical perspectives and satire as an expression. It would be naïve to think of the Singapore audience as being innocently and easily influenced by the media.

MARUAH states that such continued actions including these by ELD will only instill deeper fear into people. If restrictions continue in this way, people will still be driven to take risks in expressing themselves as there is just too little legitimate space given for expression. MARUAH states that it is always preferable for a country like Singapore to host a discussion and build up better understanding through dialogue so that people’s right to express themselves is not reduced to silence. 
——————————————————————————————————————

Should you require clarification, please email MARUAH Secretariat at maruahsg@gmail.com

Thank you.

MARUAH Secretariat
maruahsg@gmail.com


MARUAH’s Statement: Abolish the Death Penalty

1 October 2020

1 October 2020

MARUAH is relieved that an interim stay of execution had been granted to Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, and he was spared from being hanged to death on Friday, 18th September 2020. We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has ordered a subsequent hearing fixed on 6th October 2020 to hear further arguments on his case. MARUAH appreciates the appeal and the work of the pro bono team of lawyers and volunteers led by lawyer M Ravi which has led to this stay order, till the verdict at the hearing. Syed Suhail was sentenced to death on 2016 for drug trafficking.

Syed Suhail’s case has also brought to light that his personal correspondence including letters to his lawyer, had been sent by the Singapore Prison Service to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). There has been no statement from the AGC. But Ministry of Home Affairs had stated that, in 2018, there was “no legal prohibition’ to sharing correspondences. Numerous troubling questions have surfaced on what had happened in the past and the current legal prohibition that is available. Pertinently, MARUAH is concerned over the past practices as even if there was no legal provision, there is an inherent ethical code that correspondence on cases ought not be shared without approval of the inmate or the lawyer. We note that in a recent case in April this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the prison service cannot pass to AGC the prisoners’ correspondences to lawyers or family members, without their consent or a court order. This chain of shared correspondences, inadvertently, raises questions related to the integrity of prosecutorial processes and prejudice. In the light of what Syed Suhail’s case is highlighting, MARUAH asks that an independent inquiry be held to ascertain breaches that have taken place in the past and to assess impact on the outcome against defendants in the court cases.

Singapore reviewed the Death Penalty in 2012 to review the charges that carried a mandatory death sentence for a person guilty of drug trafficking offence. It offered certificates of substantive assistance for drug traffickers who give assistance that enable broader investigations into the case for prosecution. The certificate offers an eligibility to be reprieved from capital punishment. MARUAH notes that Syed Suhail has not been given such a certificate. We ask what are the conditions that the accused persons have to fulfil in the process of offering assistance so that the prosecution will offer such certificates. There is a lack of transparency on the scoping of ‘assistance’, risking clarity on the certification.

MARUAH believes that death penalty is inconsistent with prevailing customary international law. Involved in a research with National University of Singapore, MARUAH has to accept that most Singaporeans still see the death penalty as a deterrent, keeping Singapore safe. To validate this belief, MARUAH asks that data on all forms of drug-related offences and number of executions be made public so that we can assess the co-relation between the death penalty and keeping Singapore drug-free. We agree that Singapore needs more debates and education on the death penalty so that citizens understand that this is an inhuman punishment as the death penalty constitutes a violation to the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Singapore and Singaporeans can do better and work on alternative punishments, such as longer prison terms, instead of executions. MARUAH reiterates its call along with many committed stakeholders, that Singapore ought to look at the practices in many countries,[1] and so Abolish the Death Penalty.

MARUAH


[1] As of 2017, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty and 142 were abolitionist in law or practice, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Capital punishment is meted out for drug-related crimes in 15 countries, but according to rights group Amnesty International only four countries recorded executions for drug offences in recent years – Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China.


[Joint Statement] China and Hong Kong: Repeal the National Security Law, respect rights and freedoms in Hong Kong

22 July 2020

MARUAH’s Notice to Political Parties for Singapore’s Future

8 July 2020

Congratulations on this lead up to Polling Day on July 10th. Wishing each candidate and all political parties the absolute best.

As Singapore citizens we will be making our way to the polling station if we can, practice ‘stay safe’ habits and vote for the political parties and the candidates that we think will best represent our interest and with whom we can work to build up our country as a peaceful, prosperous and equal society to live in, where we can enjoy happiness, have fair and equal access to justice for all persons and practice non-discrimination as our moral code.

So, as a human rights organization, MARUAH is reminding all political parties and candidates that they need to fulfil State obligations to promote, protect and fulfil a citizen’s rights. We also reassure that an individual’s right does not mean it is to the exclusion of community-mindedness or a mutualism, as this is already a given in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 29). We also state as Singapore becomes more diverse and we live in an interconnected world that the core values of human rights – indivisible, inalienable, interdependent and universal – are not compromised as legislation, policies and programmes are prepared and set for the future. These core principles are also part of the Sustainable Development Goals in its 2030 vision, in its frameworks and in international agreements. As such we make the following calls on what we would like to have over the next five years, till the next General Elections. We ask:

  • that we achieve a higher level of accountability through a Transparency Act that we hope will be enacted before the next General Elections
  • that the Freedom of Information Act be enacted so that data, public documents, and historical materials can be shared with the public and where needed, can be held as archives
  • that the Freedom of Expression be legislated as the digitized world is the norm and we already have the counterbalancing force via legislation – Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) – and the authoritative powers as given to each Minister 
  • that an Anti-Discrimination Act be enacted as soon as possible
  • that all political parties and especially those with representatives in Parliament take on a participatory approach with civil society freely and not selectively, setting the ground rules for fair-minded conversation aimed at the betterment of people, protecting their rights and developing a stronger democracy
  • that the budget for Defence be reduced from its current proportion of the national budget and that there is an increased focus on peace  building, reparative and remedial work  in the region and internationally through our diplomacy, making it Singapore’s mainstay reputation
  • that we ratify international peace treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951)
  • that we also ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990)
  • that we make determined plans to ratify the core human rights instruments of the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  • that we become signatories to the Core International Labour Organisation’s Agreements that are still pending
  • that we build up, to achieve an excellent track record, on the Paris Agreement (2016) and so become a leading force in the region as a Climate Change promoter and advocate, to protect and preserve the environment
  • that we continue to be a key leader in ASEAN in bridge-building but support the human rights agenda of ASEAN in that they need to be fulfilled
  • that we develop an economic climate that builds up on a national developmentist approach of self-sufficiency, a greater reliance on regional supply chains for goods, raw materials and human resources and process Singapore’s shift from just market-driven capitalism to sustainability and self-sufficiency in the creation of new industries and job opportunties
  • that policies be centred on ensuring that all basic needs of an individual are met adequately and well, so that no one is left behind or be placed, divided into various recipient clusters to receive social protection of social insurance, social assistance and universal transfers, which ought to be well-planned and implemented on a sustainable scale leading to empowerment, confidence and independent living of individuals and communities
  • that land prices are not pegged to market prices for public housing and for small scale enterprises so that costs are not beyond a middle-income individual with an unbroken career path
  • that we set the National Minimum Wage that takes into account the living costs in Singapore 
  • that health care pricing be reviewed with inputs from experts and by studying the schemes held by other countries so that people in Singapore can access healthcare with affordable healthcare insurance schemes
  • that we measure success by determined factors of well-being, happiness of the people and of having participatory and democratic processes
  • that as citizens there will be greater monitoring of politicians and political parties due to digitisation of information as well as rising awareness in politics

Majulah Singapura!

MARUAH Secretariat


Chairman’s Statement of the 36th ASEAN Summit

30 June 2020

Repost – https://asean.org/chairmans-statement-36th-asean-summit-26-june-2020-cohesive-responsive-asean/

1. We, the Heads of State/Government of ASEAN Member States, gathered for the 36th ASEAN Summit on 26 June 2020. Under the theme of Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN in 2020, we underscored the need to enhance ASEAN’s unity, cooperation and solidarity, economic integration, ASEAN awareness and identity, and emphasized the importance of promoting ASEAN pro-activeness and capacity in seizing opportunities as well as in addressing the challenges brought about by rapid changes in the regional and global landscape.

Download the full statement here.


Statement on Recommendations to Improve the Status and Well Being of Migrant Workers in Singapore

6 May 2020

Dear all,

Last week, you were invited to a Labour Day webinar which was held to discuss Migrant Workers and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the webinar, a statement of recommendations from the discussions has been produced. Please click on link below to view this statement.

Statement on Recommendations to Improve the Status and Well Being of Migrant Workers in Singapore 6 May 2020

Prior to sharing this document with you, we have sent it to PM Lee and Ministers in the task force.

This document is being shared with you in your various capacities of interest on Covid-19 and Migrant Workers.

We hope that this document will bring more attention to the challenges of  migrant workers and how we as Singaporeans and as a nation can do our part in mitigating the impact on their community.

MARUAH

 


ABOLISH DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL RESPECT RIGHT TO FAIR TRIAL

28 October 2019

Joint Media Statement – 27/10/2019

On the occasion of October 27, the anniversary of Operation Lallang in 1987, when about 106 persons were arrested and detained under a draconian Detention Without Trial law, we the 16 undersigned organisations and groups call on Malaysia to abolish all existing Detention Without Trial laws, including the Prevention of Crimes Act 1949 (POCA), Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015(POTA) and Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985.

In the 1987 Operation Lallang, about 106 persons, including human rights defenders, women activist, politicians, worker rights activist, religious groups and others were arrested and detained without trial under the Detention Without Trial law, the Internal Security Act 1960.

The Detention without Trial law, then and now, does not allow its victims to challenge the alleged reasons for which they have been detained and/or restricted in court – no judicial review.

The police arrest and the Minister orders the Detention/Restrictions, whereby now in place of the Minister, for POCA and POTA, this power is given to the Prevention of Crime Board  and Prevention of Terrorism Board respectively.

Detention Orders could be made indefinitely, two years at a time. Likewise Restriction Orders.

Restriction Orders could including being restricted to a particular village/town/district, not being able to leave place of residence after certain time and not being able to access the internet. If there is a breach of any of the restrictions, it is a crime punishable by law.

Some DWT laws repealed but Detention Without Trial came back stronger

Malaysia, under the previous Barisan Nasional government, repealed the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) and the Emergency (Public Order And Prevention. Of Crime) Ordinance 1969, but thereafter brought in Detention Without Trial by amendment into POCA, and enacted a new DWT law being the POTA.

POCA, which was previously a law restricted to triad gangster groups that commit violent crimes, have now had its scope broadened. It now can be used against any persons who is suspected of committing any crime in the Pernal Code. POCA’s First Schedule, item 2 today reads as follows, ‘2. Persons who belong to or consort with any group, body, gang or association of two or more persons who associate for purposes which include the commission of offences under the Penal Code.’ 

POCA can also be used against those suspected in terrorism activities, human trafficking, smuggling of persons and even drug trafficking, amongst others.

Torture of DWT victims

Under these Detention Without Trial laws, even though there is really no necessity for any confessions or evidence gathering, as there will be no trial anyway, and there is no way to challenge in court the reasons for detention, reports of torture has been alleged by victims, usually human rights or political activists who are brave to do so, as many an ordinary detainee is just too fearful of further repercussions or retaliation to speak up.

Irene Xavier, social activist, arrested on 31 Oct 1987 – “I shall always remember how on the ninth day of my detention, I was beaten with a stick. It was the most humiliating experience in my life. I was forced to stand there while an inspector of the Special Branch beat me with a stick – to remind me that they were not going to treat women more leniently. I was truly in a state of shock.”

Chow Chee Keong, social activist, arrested on 28 Oct 1987 – An interrogator tried to burn his genitals with a burning rolled-up piece of newspaper. They pulled his hair, stepped hard on his fingers and toes with their booted feet and whacked his back with rolled-up bundles of newspapers.

Abdul Rahman Hamzah, a former Sarawak State Assemblyman and political secretary to the former Sarawak Chief Minister, arrested on 20 Sept 1988 – They threw ashtrays at him and beat and poked at him with a broom. He had to do endless strenuous exercises like duck-walking, leap-frogging, crawling on all fours and “swimming” on the floor. All these were aimed at destroying his self-esteem and reducing him to a helpless wreck. If he stopped from exhaustion, they kicked him. They put a large tin over his head and hit it hard with a stick. The sound within was deafening and he suffered cuts and bruises all over his head and face. He was also given the notorious “wet treatment”. They pushed his face into a filthy squat-type toilet and flushed it repeatedly.

The incidence of torture of Detention Without Trial victims may be difficult to prove, but the fact that it exist is probable, taking also the consideration of the number of death in police custody and/or death in detention centers.

The Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) after inquiring into the case of Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur, who died in police custody, found that police officers had intentionally used violence resulting in the death. They recommended action be taken again these officers for murder.

Recently, it was reported that 10 prison warders have been arrested and remanded in connection with the death of a prisoner, who was found dead in his cell, with blunt force trauma wounds to his head and body.(Malay Mail, 23/10/2019).

Detention Without Trial But No Fair Trial Thereafter makes justifications used for Detention lame

The fact that one is detained without trial, does not mean they cannot be charged and tried in court. As an example, section 19G of POCA states, ‘The detention of any person under this Part shall be without prejudice to the taking of any criminal proceeding against that person, whether during or after the period of his detention.’

The fact that we do not hear of such trials and convictions, during or thereafter their detention without trial makes one question the validity of reasons used for their detentions without trial.

Violation of Human Rights – The Right to Fair Trial

Those detained under DWT laws are denied their right to a fair trial.

Article 10 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, ‘Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.’

Article 11(1) states, ‘Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.’

Article 9 states ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.’

Victims of DWT laws are subjected to arbitrary administrative detention, and even arbitrary administrative restrictions.

THEREFORE, we

–          Call for the Immediate repeal of all Detention Without Trial Laws, and urge that all persons be accorded the right to a fair trial;

–          Call for the immediate and unconditional release of all victims of Detention Without Trial; and

–          Call for Malaysia to respect human rights.

Charles Hector

For and on behalf of the 16 groups listed below

ALIRAN

EMPOWER Malaysia

Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Research Center

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility

MARUAH, Singapore

Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), Pakistan

Odhikar, Bangladesh

Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor & KL (PRIHATIN)

Radanar Ayar Association, Myanmar

Sahabat Rakyat 人民之友 மக்கள் தோழர்கள்

SUARAM

Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy

WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)

Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)

Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity  (PACTI)


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