Jul 10, 2008

The International Bar Association And Its Report on Singapore

The International Bar Association is an organisation that brings together lawyers, bar associations and law societies from around the world. Globally, it has a membership of 30,000 individual lawyers and more than 195 bar associations and law societies.

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.

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.

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:
E. Current human rights issues

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
The Economist

Government control over the media in Singapore
Asian Wall Street Journal

Restrictions on the Internet
Chen Jiahao

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
In 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.

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.

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."
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.


Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

What do you think would be the legal basis for calling in the Army i.e. coup de' tat when there is a freak election result?

Declare emergency?

Or would it be highly irregular + illegal?

Would like to know what you think.



Anonymous said...

Maybe they knew when the report was going to be published and had already prepared a response in advance? It would not have been too hard to guess what was going to be in the report anyway!

The Editor said...

The Government was able to reply so fast because they merely recycled old cliches about how the Westerners are out to impose their ideology onto us, instead of actually engaging with what was written in the report.

The Straits Times was also quick to slant the report towards that of the Government "rebutting" the report and devoting most of the article to the Government's response. From the ST article you would think that the IBAHRI report consisted solely of wild allegations unsupported by any evidence or cases (which is clearly not true if you read the actual report).

Anonymous said...

Well Mr Wang, I've never read law however the more politically savvy readers or non readers of your blog would probably know the judiciary system is like of a kangaroo court; its an open secret.

Anonymous said...

IBAHRI have doubts on the Singapore judiciary handling of political cases whilst giving glowing comments for commercial cases. In the first place,
should a judiciary be selective on its impartiality and independance?
There should not be room for doubts and I think IBAHRI have been rather accomodating in its assessment of the Singapore judiciary. They should factor in the part on political cases and state clearly that it will affect the overall assessment and bring the score down.
It is like a person's integrity, can I claim that I have integrity when I am handling certain people fairly, BUT I did not do the same when I am dealing with people I am not fond of. So it does not quite make sense to me what the Ministry of Law is griping.
To achieve the highest standard in law, there should never be any doubts on impartiality and independance. Would appreciate Mr. Wang's view. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

How would they deal with the IBA then? Ban Singaporean practitioners from participating in their activities? Order the Singapore Law Association to cut ties with them? Or attempt to corral a caucus of members within the IBA in order to vote to abolish its Human Rights Institute?

Anonymous said...

I have mentioned before that the Singapore gahmen adopts a "To hell with what you feel or think" attitude, whether it is about the subservient media, the sky high minister salaries, persecution of worthy political opponents, wide income gap, policy induced inflation, FTs treated better than locals etc, etc.
What really matters is despite all this, still can have 50% election walkovers and 66% voter mandate with only 2 miserable "wall flower" opposition MPs. Really the political brilliance of LKY and the envy other gahmens, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Those in the Leegime have dug themselves into a bunker. Their heads are stuck in the sands.They are still celebrating on past glories.That is why Singapore has a bleak future.

Onlooker said...

Hmmmmm interesting.
I remembered that someone (very old) once mention that the IBA is a honorable association and that when they left they have a very good impression of Singapore judiciary system (he even have the letter awwww).
But when they(IBAHRI) recommend (mind you, they did not insist implementing it straight away) something that is currently being implemented and made into laws (legislated) in other first (and even third) world country suddenly our leaders have strong Asian values (Confuci us like junta, Nkorea, etc).How convenient.
And yes, I remember the acidflask incident,His site still have an apology statement.
And I shudder to think that free speech is deem a nuisance to those Prima donnas who think they have perfect reputations.
Words get around, no matter how much the servants hide dirty laundries the white clothings is already dirty.
They are in denial mode.So instead of taking stock of themselves, they sling muds at the supervisors/ observers in an attempt to make themselves look good.

Overseas Singaporean said...

Hi Concerned, I'm not Mr. Wang or lawyer but I'll try to answer:

There is absolutely NO LEGAL BASIS whatsoever for calling in the army due to a "freak election result" (WTF is a freak result anyway - MM never clarified). The army is a state institution whos function is to SERVE THE NATION AND ITS PEOPLE. It is not to serve the interests of a political party just because the party is not happy with an election result due the people's choice

After years of mis-using the power of the police to serve the Party and his interests instead of the nation's, The Man is now saying he might want to do the same with the army, one day...

Anonymous said...

It's really a real slap in the face for our wise Old Man !

IMHO, I think he should retire graciously to save himself from more embarassment instead of making a fool of himself to keep insisting that his style of politics suits us well.

It's damn ridiculous for him to even suggest that the army would take over should there be a freak election result.

It only reinforces the common perception that he is such a power-crazy man who will not hesitate to resort to any unscrupulous way to remain in power.

There is really nothing great about such a leader by any standards.

kuku said...

Mr Wang: "... and the rest of the world knows it too."

really? do people even know where is singapore???some people i meet seem to think that we r in China

Anonymous said...

Notice this, when a well-respected organization slam Singapore coffers, the coffers are astonishingly quick to refute using their nonsense and rubbish, but when citizen's call for help, the coffers are so slow to brush it off. If only coffer's due diligence to help the citizen and listen to citizen's plight is as fast as responsing to government's embarrassment.

That's why we need to get rid of this government. What army ? Army also cannot tahan such rising cost and selfish regime.

Anonymous said...

Please don't underestimate the ability and willpower of the current garment to stay in power.

Just look at the whos-who of top layer of Singapore. I am talking about the respected people and people with power (& money).

These would include leaders of professions, prominent businessmen, civil servants etc etc.

The majority of them are closely allied, ARE PAP members or are co-opted by PAP.

LKY/PAP controls garment, economy and police force/army + LKY's favourite Gurkha.

Just pointing our some facts.

In any case, this is precisely why LKY thinks that PAP losing the general election is such a freak result. PAP and its kawan-kawan has a stranglehold on Singapore.

Which is also why he keeps thinking that PAP=Singapore, therefore if PAP goes down, Singapore goes down with it.

Robert L said...

The draft report had been given to Singapore a few months ago. So there's no need to imagine that Sg govt's response was fast.

Instead, we should underline the fact that the report came out as it did meant that the Sg govt's replies to the draft did not impress the international body.

That speaks volumes.

Anonymous said...

How can we tell the world that MM's views are his personal views and do not reflect the views of the majority? Can we find out if we're the majority? If we are, then the govt he leads has also lost our confidence! Let's have an online petition repudiating the govt stand and condemning the attack on the IBAHRI and calling on the govt to resign and call for fresh elections!

Anonymous said...

Could Lee's comment on calling in the Army in the case of a freak election be considered sedition, or even treason? It's somewhat akin to threatening to overthrow Singapore's democratically-elected government, no?

Anonymous said...

to anon kuku(Forgotten Tolearn)
China is overrated just look at the suicide rates there now that their stock market and real estate plunge into the pits!!!
Warning Fake Talent alert.
Sad lah. see Lau Lee say one thing good about IBA then the official pap smears say another.Very contradicting results. How to differentiate between the cancer and inflated ego.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

Here is an except of report on Zimbabwe's judiciary:

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial and the judiciary rigorously enforces this right. However, under Mugabe, the judiciary's reputation for independence from the executive branch has been compromised as the executive has refashioned the courts to conform with its dictates. Nevertheless, the High Court ruled in favor in several of the MDC's elections petitions alleging violence and intimidation that obstructed the election process.

Strange isn't it that a tainted court like Zimbabwe can still when called for ruled in favour of the opposition but in Singapore's case?

Anonymous said...

You dunno they have a knowledge base ever ready to response with standard replies? I am already surprised to see they waited a day to see it. The lists must have got accummulated so long that the searching time had expanded...start counting..1..2..3...4..5...99989812...ah..I found it sir, here it is..okay..good..send it out. They do that again, we sue them..understand! See, that's efficiency at work. Learn something yet?

Anonymous said...

kuku said...
Mr Wang: "... and the rest of the world knows it too."

really? do people even know where is singapore???some people i meet seem to think that we r in China


Since Singapore is so unknown to the world, Judge Belinda should award $1 damage to LKY in the recent defamation suit against Dr Chee.

No international recognition, how to ask for high personal integrity compensation then, right?

Anonymous said...

Can someone enlightened me: what is a freak election result? When are election results "normal" (as expected, presumably?) and, therefore, not freak?

Anonymous said...

The freak election result is when this country elects a strong enough bunch of non-PAP people who have the ability to dig really deep and find all the skeletons in the closets.

So when that happens, the kilat gurkhas will be called in to chop any fella who try to claim the PM-ship understand?

BTW it was rumoured that the gurkhas themselves are already damm unhappy with this government... maybe they had to bear the burden of the Home Team and WKS' uselessness? So maybe then, they can come and join the masses of similarly dissatisfied Singaporeans.

BUT trust me, when this regime collapses, you will see a lot of former PAP sycophants suddenly turning coat and starting to play accusers to their former Masters...i can foresee a proper insurrection like that.

until then i think i better keep all my money out of this country...

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, it seem that the propaganda is 'human right' is sth of the 'ang mo', not suitable for us.....

Reading the report from IBR, a good part of it is about a system that ensure ANY man (esp opposition) is given a fair trial.

What so 'ang mo' about it? Isn't our pledge says that our nation is suppose to be on 'justice and equality',.....

Anonymous said...

The divide between "ang mohs" and Singaporeans or "foreign talents" and Singaporeans is a false debate often resorted to by the ruling party when it suits its purposes -usually as a red herring to avoid debate on uncomfortable issues. Even LKY has, if somewhat belatedly, agreed with many Singaporeans and netizens that there is a "core" (for him, it is 65%) of Singaporeans without which we might as well all close shop and migrate to Mars. Singaporeans have always welcome foreign talents - we were all foreign talents in the first instance. The issue is not foreign talents or ang mohs but the feeling (and realization) that those in power are downplaying and penalizing the citizens of the country who have contributed in so many ways to the prosperity of Singapore, through national service, unstinting labour through hard times and (if one dare put it) belief in the ruling party despite its various problems. So, please let those in authority not seize upon the convenient rhetoric of a citizen-foreign talent divide to step away from the real issues about living conditions, social discourses and the just benefits that citizens should possess. It is advisable not to fall prey to the insidiously inviting rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous July 12, 2008 8:53pm, wrote; quote:"But trust me, when this regime collapses, you will see a lot of former PAP sycophants suddenly turning coat and starting to play accusers to their former Master....i can foresee a proper insurrection like that."

"until then i think i better keep all my money out of this country....", unquote.

May I say the PAP Sycophants, you talked about, will not turn coats and become accusers to their former Master. Many, if not all of these sycophants have already done what you are contemplating. That is they should have their fortunes parked oversea.

And maybe their Masters have their fortunes safely tucked away before the sycophants did.

Can other readers please offer more opinions?


Anonymous said...

Sir,with all due respect, i feel that your thinking is hazy and that you are extremely disillusioned. Your attitude towards this report just shows that you have no concern for your own rights.As a citizen of singapore, you have the right to access a just and uncorrupted law system.Yet you are slamming a report that is encouraging changes,changes for the better. You are denying yourself and many other singaporeans a slim but possible chance to obtaining a fair law system.Moreover, i know reports like these are not are first for us, but by ignoring them and making rebuttals full of lies to cover up our insecurities and faults, public opinion of singapore is going to just change for the worse.