SDP proposes session on Singapore to IBA

March 15, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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14 March 2007

Mark Ellis
Executive Director
International Bar Association

Dear Mr Ellis,

Thank you for your reply. (see below)

It seems that the IBA cannot be persuaded to change its mind about holding its annual conference in Singapore. As much as I disagree with the decision I recognise that it is your prerogative to choose where you want to stage your conferences.

I am encouraged that you “intend to provide the opportunity, in Singapore rather than remotely, for robust discussions among our large and influential membership and all other delegates and media, on the rule of law as well as on many other aspects of international and cross-border legal practice.”

However, it is unclear whether a session will be specifically put aside to discuss the situation in Singapore. To avoid any misunderstanding, may I propose that:

One, given the seriousness of the abuse of human rights in Singapore, the program on the Rule of Law Day include a session solely dedicated to discussing the situation in the city-state. I note that in your 2006 Annual Conference in Chicago, you had a session entitled Guantanamo Bay – where rights end? where you specifically addressed “interrogation techniques; detention conditions; restrictions on access to lawyers and families; and the exclusion of the detainees from regular judicial and legal processes” of Guantanamo prisoners detained by the US Government. The session also considered “the impact of US Court rulings and the imperatives of national security.” Could a similar session be done on Singapore at the conference in October?

Two, victims of the Singapore Government’s persecution be invited to speak so that your participants can hear first-hand the goings-on that have been occurring in Singapore.

Three, this particular session be open to the Singaporean public as discussions of this nature hardly ever takes place here. This will be a precious public education service for Singaporeans.

Four, more than just a discussion on the problems of the rule of law in Singapore may I also suggest that be some time put aside to consider concrete proposals to improve the rule of law situation here.

I hope you will address these four proposals in your next letter.

I also hope that at some point in the lead up to the conference, the IBA will make clear its position vis-à-vis Singapore. Given the preponderance of human rights violations in this country, an unequivocal statement calling on the Singapore Government to respect the rule of law and stop its persecution of dissidents would not be out of place. In this regard, I am reminded of what Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

I believe that numerous NGOs and friends of the IBA from the international community have urged you to take a stronger stance on this matter. To this end, I repeat my invitation to you to send a fact-finding mission to Singapore to verify all that I have written in my letters. This will certainly help the IBA acquire a comprehensive and in-depth picture of the human rights situation of the country in which it stages its prestigious annual conference. The Internet also contains in ready abundance information that will aid in your research on the matters I have raised.

Lastly, you had requested that your letters to me be displayed more prominently on the SDP website. You are right. In fact, I will do better than that. I will create a section that will display my letters and your replies with equal prominence (see www.singaporedemocrat.org). May we ask that the favour be reciprocated?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

IBA’s reply to SDP II

9 March 2007

Dear Dr Chee Soon Juan

On behalf of the IBA Officers, I am writing in response to your letter dated 28, February.

Thank you for your letter. We have read carefully your remarks and appreciate the heartfelt manner in which they were written. We intend to provide the opportunity, in Singapore rather than remotely, for robust discussions among our large and influential membership and all other delegates and media, on the rule of law as well as on many other aspects of international and cross-border legal practice. This will give attendees the opportunity to meet with and absorb the range of Singaporean, and all other views. We believe it would not be right to presume that such delegates would be swayed as one body by any single view they might encounter. The opportunity is for them to network, discuss and debate, and we know from experience the merits of this approach.

Although we understand your urging of us to take a different approach, we ask that you recognize our position. We would also like to request that you publish our earlier detailed letter on your website in the way that you published your own. I am sure we all agree on the proposition that it is good for people to have the opportunity to hear both sides of a debate.

Sincerely

Mark Ellis

Executive Director
International Bar Association