Thursday, July 10, 2008

Singapore: Prosperity versus Individual Rights?

The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute issued a report yesterday about Singapore's failure to meet international standards for political and human rights and it also highlighted its concerns about the independence of the country's judiciary. From IBA:
As one of the world’s most successful economies, Singapore should be a leader in human rights and the rule of law, and should now have the confidence and maturity to recognise that this would be complementary, not contradictory, to its future prosperity,’ said Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA). ‘The IBAHRI has identified a number of areas in which Singapore falls far short of international standards. In particular, democratic debate and media comment are extremely restricted and government officials have initiated numerous successful defamation suits against both political and media critics.’

The IBAHRI report examines Singapore’s record on a range of human rights issues identified by the IBAHRI as a priority. This includes freedom of expression (for example, the use of defamation legislation to hinder opposition activities, and restrictions on freedom of the press and the internet), the independence of the judiciary (there have been allegations of executive influence), and freedom of assembly.
The full report titled, "Prosperity versus individual rights? Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Singapore" can be downloaded here (PDF).

Singapore meanwhile has not been too happy with the report. The government has issued its rebuttal. From Minstry of Law:
5. The IBAHRI Report did acknowledge that "Singapore has a good international reputation for the integrity of their judgments when adjudicating commercial cases", but it alleged that for cases that involve "the interests of PAP members or their associates", there were "concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence". Instead of substantiating this grave allegation with evidence, the Report argued that "regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient". This is a feeble justification.

6. The cases brought by PAP members usually relate to scurrilous and completely untrue allegations of corruption made against them. Providing clean and efficient governance is a longstanding cornerstone of the PAP Government's policy. Thus defamatory allegations cannot be allowed to rest. The accuser has to prove his allegations. The decisions of the Courts in these cases are matters of public record, and can be analysed. Anyone questioning these verdicts should try to do so by examining these decisions properly, rather than making vague unsubstantiated allegations. What the western media continually criticise is that Singapore does not adopt Western, i.e. American, defamation laws that give the media freedom to report libellous untruths without liability to pay damages. It is also absurd to suggest that honourable and upright judges in commercial cases become compliant and dishonourable when dealing with defamation cases involving government ministers.

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