Singapore needs independent human rights commission  

I followed with interest the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, where other countries made recommendations to Singapore in the field of human rights ("UN praises Singapore's social policies"; Jan 29).

Many countries have strongly suggested that Singapore initiate a national human rights commission - a body set up specifically to investigate, promote and protect human rights. As a Singapore citizen, I find this idea appealing.

Such a move would institutionalise the state's commitment to human rights and aid in the promotion and protection of citizens' human rights.

While the Government currently has an inter-ministerial committee that oversees human rights in Singapore, this measure is not sufficient because it is not entirely independent from the state.

In contrast, a national human rights commission would be a public body with some degree of independence, improving its ability to truly hold the state accountable.

Human rights have long been described as a Western concept, and Singapore's status as a vulnerable city-state that is both small and resource-poor has been used to justify our aversion to this supposed dogma.

Yet, this notion of human rights as a Western construct is no longer accurate. Many countries that have recommended that Singapore establish a human rights commission are not Western nations. They include Timor Leste, Indonesia and Malaysia, countries from South-east Asia which have already established their own independent human rights commissions.

As Singapore strives for First World status, we should not remain behind our neighbours in issues of human rights.

It is not enough for the Government to pay lip service to the protection of human rights, yet refuse to allow their policies and institutions to be subject to external and independent scrutiny.

Furthermore, while SG50 and the Government's subsequent increased commitment to listening to its people were commendable, public involvement should not be limited to mere discussions on the Government's terms.

Human rights are important because they keep the Government's power over its people in check. In order to fully commit to human rights on a national level, the Government must allow civil society to play an active role in promoting and protecting human rights in Singapore.

Establishing our own national human rights commission is an important first step in that direction.

Alison Kuah (Ms)