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Ms Chee Siok Chin called on Members of the European Parliament (MEP) not to ignore the the abuses of human rights in Singapore even as it continued to trade with the city-state.
Ms Chee made this point at the 2008 ALDE-CALD Meeting held in Brussels, Belgium last week.
ALDE is the Allaince for Liberals and Democrats in Europe and CALD is the Council for Asian Liberals and Democrats. ALDE and CALD alternate their annual meetings between Asia and Europe. The meeting was held in Jakarta, Indonesia last year.
Following that conference, a delegation of ALDE and CALD stopped by in Singapore to speak at a public forum organised by the SDP. The PAP Government banned the forum, however, and threatened to arrest the European Parliamentarians. (Contrast this with the Institute of Policy Studies who recently invited Malaysian bloggers and MPs to speak at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.)
Dr Chee Soon Juan, chairman of CALD, was scheduled to give an opening speech and a welcome address to the participants. However, his application to travel was again rejected by the Government.
Ms Chee attended the meeting in his place and gave a brief opening address (see below). The SDP Central Executive Committee member pointed out that commercial interests and business relations between the European Union and Singapore seemed to overshadow the abuses of human rights by the Singapore Government.
As a result, the political situation in Singapore was brought up several times during the conference. Parliamentarians from Asia and Europe noted especially of Dr Chee’s prohibition from travelling even to preside over meetings.
Mr James Moran, Director-General for External Relations, whose portfolio includes the appointment of European Commissioners (ambassadors) around the world, spoke at one of the discussions.
Responding to the incident in Singapore last year, Mr Moran said that he “regretted” the incident and said that the European Commission had sent a letter of protest to the Singapore Government.
He said that the Commission is working hard to make sure that such embarrassing incidents will not happen again. He also assured Ms Chee that the EU’s trade with Singapore will not be done at the expense of the rights of Singaporeans.
Dr Paul Lim, the ex-deputy director of the European Institute for Asian Studies, also spoke about how little the general public knows about the nature of EU-ASEAN relations and the cooperation between them.
Dr Lim was accused by the Singapore Government of being a Marxist conspirator in the 1987 arrests and has been living in Brussels for 20 years.
Ms Chee’s opening address
Dr Chee Soon Juan would have dearly liked to be here to catch up with old friends and also meet new ones. Unfortunately, the chairman of CALD has not been allowed to leave Singapore for two years now. He is virtually under city arrest.
The last time he attended an ALDE-CALD event was when it was held in Singapore almost exactly year ago where MPs from ALDE and CALD were to speak about democracy in Asia and Europe at a public forum. Unfortunately, the event was banned by the Singapore Government at the last minute and the foreign parliamentarians were threatened with arrests.
Dr Chee had written a message for this opening, but advanced technology has failed us and I am unable to obtain a copy of his message to read it out to you.
But I know that Dr Chee would very much have liked to be here in the company of liberals and democrats. As the Chair of CALD, I know he is determined to work with CALD, ALDE and LI (Liberal International) to advance democracy and justice all over the world. As he is prohibited from travelling, Dr Chee is especially grateful to the CALD Secretariat to help him fulfill his duties as Chair.
The recent elections in Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia have had a significant impact on CALD, especially when three of our member parties were involved in the elections and have been directly affected by the results. However, these events have proven that democracy is well and alive in some of the Asian countries. Although democracy may not always bring about the results that politicians desire, the voices of the people were heard and their choices respected.
Those of us in Singapore, Burma, Cambodia and by and by the Philippines are hopeful that democracy, good governance and the rule of law will materialise in our countries. We are struggling to make this happen. It can be achieved with the support of and solidarity action from regional and international communities. This is where I want to thank ALDE and LI for having stood solidly with us through our struggles.
Dr Chee would want to meet all of you again and I know that he hopes that Singapore will be the venue of choice in the next joint conference. Despite bankruptcy, lawsuits, arrests and imprisonments, he is determined to continue working with all of you to perhaps one day free the world of dictators.