The IBA also has a Human Rights Institute, of which Nelson Mandela is the honorary president. Just yesterday, the IBA HRI released a report on Singapore, expressing concern about human rights and the independence of the judiciary in Singapore.
This report was 72 pages long, divided into eight parts, and concluding with 18 recommendations for the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore government.
Sometimes you just cannot help but admire our Law Ministry. They must have employed some highly-skilled speed readers and writers. On the very same day that the report was released, the Law Ministry has already responded.
On second thought, perhaps the speed of the Law Ministry's response is not surprising. After all, if you look at the contents page of the IBA HRI report, you'll see that Section E goes like this:
ST July 10, 2008
Govt rebuts law group's attack on S'pore judiciary
International law body's criticisms unsubstantiated, Law Ministry says
By Lydia Lim
A REPORT issued by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute has drawn a sharp rebuttal from the Singapore Government.
The 72-page report, decrying Singapore's perceived limits on freedoms and alleging executive interference in the judiciary, was issued yesterday, just eight months after the IBA held its annual conference here last October.
Responding to media queries, the Ministry of Law said the aspersions cast on the Singapore judiciary are unsubstantiated and contradict what IBA president Fernando Pombo said here then.
In his opening speech at the conference, Mr Pombo noted that 'this country has an outstanding legal profession, an outstanding judiciary, and outstanding academical world in relation to the law'.
In its report, the IBA Human Rights Institute, a sub-section of the association, acknowledged Singapore's good international reputation for the integrity of its court judgments in commercial cases.
But it said that for cases involving politicians, there were 'concerns about an actual lack or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence'.
The ministry pounced on this in the report, noting that it had failed to provide evidence.
It slammed as 'feeble justification' the report's argument that 'regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient'.
The ministry noted that the defamation suits brought by People's Action Party members usually related to scurrilous and untrue allegations against them.
The decisions of the courts in these cases were matters of public record, it noted, adding that 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'.
'Every society must find and decide the appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities for themselves,' it added.
E. Current human rights issuesIn other words, there's nothing new. We've seen and heard it all before. We know that these sorts of problems and issues exist in our nation - and the rest of the world knows it too.
1. Freedom of expression (Singapore's obligations under international law)
2. The use of defamation laws to stifle political opposition and expression
Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam
Tang Liang Hong
Chee Soon Juan
Restrictions on the freedom of the press
Far Eastern Economic Review
International Herald Tribune
Government control over the media in Singapore
Asian Wall Street Journal
Restrictions on the Internet
The Independence of the Judiciary
Judge Michael Khoo
The trend of the courts in defamation cases
The courts in the Jeyaretnam appeal
Rights of assembly
Falun Gong - Mrs Ng Chye Huay and Mrs Cheng Liujin
There's nothing in the above list which hasn't, at one time or another, been raised in some way by, say, Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; the US Department of State; Reporters without Borders; or even the World Bank.
And so the Law Ministry should be able to respond quite quickly. In essence, the response is just about the same as has been given dozens or hundreds of times in the past -
"You are wrong, we are right, we know best, you don't, Singapore is a special case; we're different from everyone else on the planet; and so we should always get to do things the way we please.It's always the same stuff. Just a matter of cutting and pasting and shifting the words and sentences around, to achieve the desired degree of politeness or hostility, in each particular case. A quick response is really no problem at all.
Do you disagree? Are you trying to make trouble? We'll either sue you; ban you; fine you; revoke your PR status or your newspaper licence; lock you away on Sentosa Island; zap you with the riot squad; get our police officers to physically encircle you with their arms so as to restrain your movement; or call in the army should you win in a freak election."