Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Public Forum: Human rights – the Asean Charter and beyond

I have been pretty busy the past 2 weeks. Firstly, I was in the US on business last week, and so I missed Parliament. It was 20 hours there and back in economy, for 72 hours or so of work -- very tiring.

Secondly, I am involved with a group called MARUAH (Singapore Working Committee for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism), or MARUAH for short. MARUAH is Malay for "Dignity", and we are the Singapore focal point for the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, a regional group based in Manila. MARUAH is presently led by Braema Mathi, a former NMP and civil society activist. A short summary on our creation can be found here.

As the name (or rather, the sub-tag) might suggest, our mission statement is to inform and facilitate, from a Singaporean perspective, the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body. The ASEAN Charter provides for the creation of such an entity, but is silent on the details including its terms of reference. That presents both a challenge, and an opportunity. We hope to play a useful part in that process.

The Straits Times ran an article on our group on 3 October 2007. The website should be going up soon. In the meantime, our first public event will be a forum this coming Saturday 24 November 2007. I am slated to be one of three speakers. All are welcome, including media. The details are below.


Singapore Working Committee for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

Human Rights – the ASEAN Charter and beyond
A public consultation organised by Maruah

Date: Saturday, 24 November 2007
Time: 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
Venue: Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, 96 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187967

On 20th November 2007, the heads of state and heads of government of Asean countries are scheduled to sign the Asean Charter, which would hereafter be the constitution of the regional grouping. Notably, the Charter includes a reference to setting up a human rights body.

What provisions does the Charter contain? How will it affect us? Will it advance human rights in Singapore and our neighbours? What new avenues does it open for the particular issues that you are interested in? What else needs to be done to benefit from this new start?


Braema Mathi - The road to here: How ASEAN got to signing the ASEAN Charter.

Braema Mathi is the coordinator for MARUAH and a well-known civil society activist in her own right

Siew Kum Hong - A brief introduction to MARUAH: Aims and Strategies and a brief outline of the ASEAN Charter and what it contains with regard to human rights

Siew Kum Hong is a lawyer by profession and a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Peter Low - A bird's eye view of other regions/groupings' human rights mechanisms. Would they be appropriate models for ASEAN?

Peter Low is a lawyer with his own practice. He was formerly President of the Law Society.


Following the presentations will be a time for Q & As.

MARUAH recognises that most people approach the question of human rights from the perspective of the particular issues they are involved in, be they women's issues, migrant workers, the disabled, parolees, etc. Participants are welcome to raise these issues during the dialogue so that a more inclusive conception of 'human rights' can be developed.

The development of human rights protection in ASEAN is expected to be a long process, and this public consultation exercise by MARUAH is intended to be the first of many.