This week in 1965: A look back at the events that shaped Singapore 50 years ago

Commission looks into protecting minorities

Multiracial society 'dire necessity' for Singapore's survival, says law minister

A 10-man commission was formed in December 1965 to look into safeguarding the constitutional rights of minority groups.

The commission would be headed by Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin, with the Speaker of Parliament, Mr A.P. Rajah, serving as deputy chairman.

Among other things, it was tasked to consider how the rights of racial, linguistic and religious minorities could be adequately safeguarded in the Constitution.

Announcing the commission in Parliament, the Minister for Law and National Development, Mr E.W. Barker, said the Government had given careful consideration to safeguards for minority groups.

"One of the cornerstones of the policy of the Government is a multiracial Singapore," he added in a statement.

"Whilst a multiracial secular society is an ideal espoused by many, it is a dire necessity for our survival in the midst of turmoil, and the pressures of big-power conflict in an

area where new nationalisms are seeking to assert themselves in the place of the old European empires in Asia," he said.

"In such a setting, a nation based on one race, one language and one religion when its peoples are multiracial is one doomed for destruction," he said.

Besides Mr Wee and Mr Rajah, the commission consisted of eight other legal experts, including Mr M.J. Namazie and Mr S.H.D. Elias.

They were chosen as they would know what was practical and feasible of constitutional guarantee.

The commission's tasks included considering the provisions that could be set in place to ensure that no legislation, by its practical application, is considered likely to be discriminatory against members of any racial, linguistic or religious group.

It was also supposed to consider the remedies for any citizen or group of citizens who claim to have been discriminated against by any act or decision by the Government, and the machinery for the redress of any complaints.

The commission submitted its report in 1966 and recommended setting up an advisory body - a council of state which would advise the Government on the impact of its laws on minority groups.

This was set up in 1970 as the Presidential Council, which was renamed as the Presidential Council for Minority Rights in 1973.

The council is currently headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

News of the minority rights commission followed news about the introduction of a Bill on the Administration of Muslim Law Act.

This allowed for the setting up of a council to advise the president on Islam.

The council was the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), or the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Commission looks into protecting minorities'. Print Edition | Subscribe