By Irene Ngoo
THE Singapore Government, responding to human rights allegations by an international association of lawyers, on Wednesday dismissed them as without substance and feeble.
In its 72-page report released late on Tuesday, the London-based International Bar Association's (IBA) Human Rights Institute said Singapore has failed to meet international standards and expressed concerns about the independence of its judiciary.
The association, which represents 30,000 lawyers globally, noted that while Singapore courts had a good reputation when adjudicating commercial cases that did not involve members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), 'there are concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and independence', when it came to cases involving 'the interests of PAP members or their associates'.
The Singapore government said the association did not justify its 'grave allegation' of bias with evidence, and slammed its statement as 'a feeble justification'.
The Ministry of Law, in a statement issued on Wednesday evening, said: 'The cases brought by PAP members usually relate to scurrilous and completely untrue allegations of corruption made against them,' said a statement from the Ministry of Law.
'Providing clean and efficient governance is a longstanding cornerstone of the PAP Government's policy. Thus defamatory allegations cannot be allowed to rest. The accuser has to prove his allegations.'
'The decisions of the Courts in these cases are matters of public record, and can be analysed. Anyone questioning these verdicts should try to do so by examining these decisions properly, rather than making vague unsubstantiated allegations.'
It added: '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.'
The IBA 's report, which comes several months after it held its annual convention in Singapore last year, listed 18 recommendations which it said the government should implement urgently.
These include ratifying the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, easing restrictions on the media and ensuring that its courts are free from government influence.
The Singapore government statement said human rights groups were prescribing for Singapore the 'Western norms of liberal democracy as the only way to bring stability and prosperity'.
'No NGO has greater interest and understanding of Singapore's history and internal balance than Singapore's leaders,' said the Law Ministry.
Dismissing the human rights allegations in the report as having 'no substance', the statement said Singapore subscribes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
'Human rights are interpreted and implemented according to the specific histories, cultures and circumstances of each country,' it added. 'Every society must find and decide the appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities for themselves.'
It pointed out that human rights groups in IBA have closed ranks with other Western human rights NGOs to prescribe for Singapore and all new countries, especially China, Western norms of liberal democracy as the only way to bring stability and prosperity.
'They believe that free market policies cannot succeed without Western liberal democracy, and it is their mission to make other societies adopt the Western model,' it noted.
Whatever the shortcomings of the Singapore government, the statement stressed that the overriding objective has been 'to get Singaporeans better educated, to understand and be exposed to the globalised world we are now in.'
'So we adjust our laws and systems to maximise the benefits from global forces to make Singapore a thriving cosmopolitan city, where Singaporeans and foreigners live and work in a peaceful, safe and open environment,' it said
'We listen carefully to all advice and then decide the right balance for ourselves. So far we have not done badly.'
[In other words, before the IBA or other human rights organisations decide that Singapore has a poor record, they should get 4 male witnesses. Witnesses who are subsequently sued for libel/slander and lose are not counted.]