Worldrights’ Response to Ambassador Chan Heng Chee
Washington Times LETTER TO EDITOR: Singapore and human rights --
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Ambassador Chan makes numerous erroneous statements in her Washington Times Letter to the Editor of Nov. 12.
1) She claims that Singapore's constitution and laws are different from those of the U.S. But Article 14 of Singapore’s constitution grants Singaporeans rights identical to rights enumerated under the First Amendment. Arguably, “law and order, stability and prosperity” have thrived in the US because of those freedoms, not in spite of them.
2) She claims that NGOs seek to impose their values on Singapore. NGOs are calling on Singapore to uphold their international obligations freely undertaken as a member of the U.N., as an endorser of the Commonwealth Principles on the Three Branches of Government, and as a country that ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Charter. Singapore claims to be above customary international law, but it’s not.
3) She claims that political dissidents took part in an illegal assembly without a permit. Singapore authorities refused to issue permits for this or any other protest by political opponents. However, other types of protests, held even in the same location and on the following day, are permitted without arrests, this despite a statement by the Minister of Home Affairs that he would not grant any protest permits.
4) She claims that the International Bar Association (IBA) chose Singapore to hold its conference because its president said that it had "an outstanding judiciary." President Pombo was publicly challenged on his statement, which eventually led, in part, to IBA’s stinging report.
5) She claims that the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report (WEFGC) assessment vindicates Singapore’s judiciary. But the World Bank’s Governance Indicators gave Singapore a ranking of approximately 60% on “voice and accountability”. Freedom House ranks Singapore as only “partially free”, similar to Afghanistan and Sudan. Reporters Without Borders puts Singapore 141st out of 167 countries. Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia’s (ARDA) ranked it second to last on democracy and human rights, one above Myanmar.
6) She claims that Dr. Chee chose to go to jail rather than pay fines. Dr. Chee has been made bankrupt by the government, with nearly a million dollars in fines. As a matter of principle, he refuses to pay for standing up for human rights in Singapore. The IBA claims that “[i]t certainly appears that Dr Chee has been made a target by the Singapore Government…”
7) She claims that Dr. Chee defamed Singapore ministers in the course of a political campaign. But NGO consensus is that Singapore uses defamation suits to silence its fiercest critics. The government has never lost a single defamation suit. The IBA calls on Singapore to 1) stop initiating defamation claims for criticisms made in the course of political debate, 2) abolish defamation as a criminal offense, and 3) pass legislative limits on civil defamation on cases initiated by government officials.