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Think Centre International Human Rights Day 2013

Think Centre calls for the protection and promotion of human rights for every individual in Singapore as we commemorate International Human Rights Day 2013.

The United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the common standard for all peoples and nations.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Human Rights (HR) Office and also the 20th anniversary of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) instituted then was a milestone for international human rights protection. But the people of Singapore continue to face increasing discrimination, rising inequality, lack of human rights education, and ineffective protection and promotion of human rights.

The VDPA called for the setting up of National Human Rights Institutions to protect and promote human rights. These national HR institutions were meant to encourage the proliferation of Human Rights Education with the aim of empowering individuals in defending their rights and those around them. They should also advocate for the global distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). TC continues to call for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution in Singapore and the incorporation of Human Rights Education in the curricula of schools and universities. TC, on its part, will continue its distribution of the UDHR at every opportunity; whether in its engagements with the public, institutions or governments.

Civil And Political Rights: Freedom Of Expression

Remove Internet Censorship: Advancement in technology, growths of the Internet and social media users have created unprecedented opportunities and spaces for free speech and opinions in Singapore. With time, the government has also heightened censorship measures to restrict and control the Internet and social media by requiring websites that produce local news with average monthly visitors of at least 50,000, to be individually licensed. In addition, these websites have to put up a $50,000 bond and be obligated to comply with any take down notice by the authority within a 24-hour period.

TC urges the government to adhere to the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that any restrictive measures be 1) provided by law that is clear and accessible to everyone, 2) pursued to protect the rights/ reputations of others, national security, public order, public health or morals of others, 3) proven necessary and the least restrictive means required to achieve the purported aim. Any decisions to block or censor any online content must be undertaken by an independent judicial body or other independent multi-stakeholder mechanism, instead off the discretionary powers of the government, administrative or semi-government bodies.

TC also urge the government to address the use of existing criminal laws, laws on national security and the introduction of new laws and policies that are vaguely worded and overly broad to restrict free speech online. We support the UN Special Rapporteur’s call to decriminalize defamation and disallow freedom of expression to be restricted on grounds of protecting national security and countering terrorism unless there is attempt at inciting imminent violence, or connected to the likelihood of such violence occurring.

Remove the ISA and other excessive restrictions: The removal of ISA and other excessive restrictions to facilitate access to justice for all and allow them to claim their rights in the creation of a vibrant civil society that is free from fear and unjust consequences.

Abolish Death Penalty And Corporal Punishment

It is TC view since 2000 that the Death Penalty is a “cruel, inhuman, degrading” punishment and is opposed to the death penalty being meted for drugs, murder, and other crimes. Although the recent changes in legislations has given discretion's for other forms of punishment, including life imprisonment with corporal punishment. Many who are currently charged under the misuse of drugs act will continue to have to prove themselves under the specific requirements within the changed legislations in order to be spared from the cruel sentence of death.

Corporal punishment is always combined with a prison sentence. Many of those who are caned are migrant workers who overstay and are unaware of the harsh reality of the punishment involved. Caning is mandatory for more then 40 crimes and optional for another 40 crimes, and even juveniles suffer caning.A maximum of 24 strokes can be ordered and the strokes are all inflicted on the same occasion with no allowance for installments.TC opposes canings a“cruel, inhuman, degrading” punishment and calls to abolish corporal punishment.

It must be reminded that both judicial caning and capital punishment are instruments that were introduced in the colonial period as a means to control the largely migrant population.The continued retention of these punishments signifies the lack of trust in the peoples' capacity to develop as well as the lack of respect for human rights.

Singapore should align its criminal justice system with international human rights standards in limiting the use of the death penalty. The courts should be given full discretion on sentencing options. Together, these would contribute to the progressive global momentum toward the restrictive application and the eventual abolition of the death penalty. Article 3 of the UDHR clearly states that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. The use of the death penalty will impact both Singaporeans and migrant workers alike. We urge the Singapore government and our fellow citizens to take a longer-term perspective on the impact such treatments would have on our society’s attitudes and views on human dignity. We call on the Singapore government to promote values such as compassion, leniency, and second chances. These would go a long way towards building a more caring and sharing community.

It is time for Singapore to join the global movement for the abolishment of the death penalty and corporal punishment, by ratifying the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its second optional protocol aimed at the abolition of the death penalty. Give due regard to articles 10 and 15 of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which recognizes that no persons with disabilities including persons with mental or intellectual disabilities - should be subjected to the death penalty.We also call for Singapore to ratify the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to make good on its commitment to preventing torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the United Nations.

Economic Social And Cultural Rights: Social Justice For All Workers And Their Families

Workers and their families in Singapore suffer from low wages without guaranteed minimum wages, lack of decent working and living conditions, as well as the threat of being rendered jobless. The government refuses to set a poverty line or implement adequate social protection for the most vulnerable section of our workers. Many of our elders are forced to make a living under tough working conditions such as long hours at low hourly rates.

Occupational safety is a serious problem in construction sites and shipyards. Non-payment of salary is another big issue for both local and migrant workers. Women workers face discrimination in terms of gender, and pregnant women continue to receive unfair treatment by employers. Most workers continue to face tough challenges that prevent them from enjoying a dignified working and family life.

All workers, including migrants, increasingly suffer from the indignity of being treated as commodities without human rights and social rights. We call for Singapore to ensure everyone has the right to decent jobs, respect for human rights, and social rights of all workers and their families. All workers are human beings and must not be treated as cheap labour to be exploited. The Government needs to invest much more in the protection of the rights of all the workers and their families rather than to continue to defend the maximum profit of businesses that perpetuate and exacerbate the increasing income gap for the working poor.

TC calls for the legislation of anti-discrimination laws and the implementation of a minimum wage to better protect ordinary workers and bridge the divide between the rich and the poor. The government needs to harmonise its labour laws with International Labour Standards to meet the challenges of providing a fair deal to all workers and their families. Despite the increasing efforts of the civil society and workers themselves to ensure decent working and living conditions, human rights of workers continue to be violated.

Renew Efforts to protect and promote human rights for all without discrimination:

Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms will enable the enjoyment of social progress and social justice for all workers and their families. Singapore should be open to the inclusion of the "Political Framework Agreement" together with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) being negotiated with EU to enable better protection of the rights of workers and their families. The "Political Framework Agreement" together with the FTA will better protect the implementation of the International Labour Organizations (ILO) Core Labour Standards (CLS), other International Labour Standards, and human rights standards, which will help workers and their families to enjoy better social rights and freedoms.

Let’s work together in solidarity to overcome discrimination!

ENDS

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