5 civil society groups heading to Geneva to share rights views

(From left): Mr Damien Chng and Ms Priscilla Chia, both directors of anti-death penalty group We Believe In Second Chances; and Ms Jean Chong, founder of LGBT group Sayoni, are among those heading to Geneva.
(From left): Mr Damien Chng and Ms Priscilla Chia, both directors of anti-death penalty group We Believe In Second Chances; and Ms Jean Chong, founder of LGBT group Sayoni, are among those heading to Geneva.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Five civil society groups will head to Geneva in Switzerland next week to address and make recommendations to representatives of United Nations member states on human rights issues in Singapore.

In particular, they will focus on the rights of migrant workers, gender equality, income inequality, the death penalty and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Their participation next Wednesday comes ahead of a meeting on Jan 27 when Singapore officials will discuss with the UN member states' representatives the country's human rights situation as set out in its national report.

This meeting for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is Singapore's second. Each UN member state undergoes the UPR every 4 1/2 years.

The five groups that will take part in the UPR pre-session meetings are: migrant worker advocates Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home); anti- death penalty group We Believe In Second Chances; human rights group Maruah; and LGBT groups Oogachaga and Sayoni. Previously in 2011, only two activist groups went to Geneva: Maruah and Think Centre.

Meanwhile, 10 civil society organisations in Singapore banded together to issue a statement yesterday on Singapore's progress in human rights.

Calling themselves the Alliance of Like-Minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore, they said that while Singapore had made changes following the 2011 UPR recommendations, human rights "seemed to be doled out only in a discretionary and non-accountable way".

The alliance is particularly concerned by the Government's "overly broad citation of national security" when responding to questions on the human rights impact of its policies, such as turning away refugees and the Internal Security Act.

The members of the alliance include women's rights group Aware, human rights group Think Centre, sex workers' rights group Project X, We Believe in Second Chances, Sayoni and Home.

They, as well as other civil society groups here, have also submitted their reports to the UN, and given their views to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies political scientist Alan Chong said some of these non-governmental organisations (NGOs) view their participation as a way to shape Singapore's human rights standards in line with international norms, and "a way to hurry or pressure government policies towards certain directions".

Maruah president Braema Mathi, who will go to Geneva, said she found her 2011 experience useful, and credits the UPR for prompting Singapore to ratify the UN conventions on disabilities in 2013 and human trafficking this year.

"It is a good system for getting more countries to become more accountable on how they are maintaining and enhancing human rights in their own country," she said.

Mr Damien Chng, director of anti-death penalty group We Believe In Second Chances, said: "Our working together shows there is solidarity among the NGOs in Singapore. We all agree that human rights is universal. It is not just wanting justice for those in the criminal system, but also about wanting women's and migrant workers' rights."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline '5 civil society groups heading to Geneva to share rights views'. Print Edition | Subscribe