How civil society and politicians can work together for a better society

Many people, especially those living in autocratic systems, have little knowledge of what civil society does and what useful roles NGOs play. Below is an account of Human Rights First, a US-based NGO, which had worked diligently to get the introduction of a law by the US Government banning torture.

Civil society in Singapore should aspire to do the same and be the conscience of our nation.

Human Rights First celebrates torture ban victory

For the last three years, Human Rights First has documented abuses in US detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and in secret detention facilities in other parts of the world. We have made this work a priority because it is so fundamental – to who we are as a nation and to America’s reputation around the world.

In the spring we met with Senator John McCain urging him to take a lead in banning all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the U.S. military and its intelligence agencies.

Working closely with Senator McCain’s staff, we encouraged more than two dozen retired generals and admirals to publicly support the McCain amendment. We also mobilized more than 30 retired intelligence officers and national security experts to publicly support Senator McCain’s ban on abusive interrogations. And we reached out to Americans across the country, generating tens of thousands of letters, e-mails, faxes, and phone calls to the White House and members of Congress.

This month we prevailed, as Senator McCain’s amendment first won overwhelming Senate support – a vote of 90-9 – and the support of House members on a vote of 308-122. Yielding to this bipartisan mandate, President Bush finally endorsed the McCain amendment, and it has just become law.

The adoption of the McCain amendment is a significant victory for human rights. But our work is not done. We must continue our vigilant efforts to make sure that the Administration applies this prohibition against torture and cruel treatment in practice.

And we must aggressively challenge another new congressional initiative that severely restricts the role of the courts in reviewing the cases of detainees as Guantanamo.

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