Sunday, August 20, 2006

World Bank/IMF in cahoots with PAP govt to silence NGOs and activists

This is mostly for my own record and also for those who may not know what the fuss is all about. The two press releases below are from a regional human rights organisation called Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development or FORUM-ASIA for short.

Open letter to the Government of Singapore on civil society participation in World Bank – International Monetary Fund (WB-IMF) meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006

3 March 2006

Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister
Republic of Singapore

Ms. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the (UN) Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders
Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom opinion and expression of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank
Mr. Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo, Managing Director, IMF

Dear Mr. Lee Hsien Loong;

As a network of the national, regional and international civil society organisations, we the undersigned express our grave concerns about the impending restrictions and threats reportedly being made that will hamper meaningful civil society participation at the upcoming WB-IMF meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006. These threats and restrictions will jeopardize civil society engagement with various inter-governmental bodies on strategic issues such as trade, aid, debt, sustainable development, human rights, peace and human security.

We understand that your government, as well as WB-IMF, are making some arrangements for actions by foreign NGOs, during the above meetings. In our experience such regulated processes tend to be selective, exclusive and provide very limited opportunities for the expression of civil society voices, particularly of marginalised groups who are directly affected by the deliberations and decisions of these meetings. Thus, we would like to highlight the importance of spontaneous and unrestricted civil society actions before, during and after the WB-IMF meeting.

We are also concerned by reports that only selected foreign organisations may be “allowed” to stage peaceful protests – waiving the rules that normally apply in Singapore – and that like-minded Singaporean organisations will not be allowed to do so. We emphasise that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, particularly the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests are universal rights that should be enjoyed by all people, including Singaporean people and organisations.

We consider statements such as the one reportedly made by Mr Wong Kan Seng, Singapore Home Affairs Minister, that certain civil society actions may “attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment”, as veiled threats towards civil society.

The World Bank – IMF meeting in September is not a meeting that concerns only Singapore. Its deliberations and decisions will affect millions of people in hundreds of countries. Hence it will bring thousands of activists from all parts of the world to Singapore, and the eyes of the world will be on this country.

This will be an excellent opportunity for Singapore to display its respect and commitment to uphold universally-recognised human rights standards, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Restrictions on peaceful civil society actions of any kind and threats of using cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments such as caning will only erode Singapore’s credibility in the eyes of global civil society.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Sincerely yours,

1. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
2. Sinapan Samydorai, President, THINK CENTRE
3. Debbie Stothard, Coordinator, ALTSEAN-Burma
4. Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, Coordinator, Committee for Asian Women
5. Al Alegre, Executive Director, Foundation for Media Alternatives
6. Aileen Bacalso, Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Disappearance
7. Fred Lubang, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International
8. Lidy Nacpil, International Coordinator, Jubilee South
9. Jenina Joy Chavez, Senior Associate, Focus on the Global South
10. Irene Xavier, Coordinator, TIE Asia
11. Hye-Woo Na, Coordinator, Leaders and Organizers of Community Organization in Asia
12. Zinithiya Ganespanchan, Coordinator, Women’s Network for Peace and Freedom
13. Wilfred Dcosta, General Secretary, Indian Social Action Forum
14. Khalid Hayat, Balochistan Rural Development & Research Society
15. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, AIN O SALISH KENDRA
16. Anis Hidayah, Migrant Care, Perhimpunan Indonesia
17. Agnes Khoo, Executive Director, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives
18. Mohiuddin Ahmad, Regional Committee, Jubilee South/Asia-Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)
19. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, NGO Forum on ADB
20. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, Freedom from Debt Coalition
21. Steve Hellinger, President, The Development GAP
22. Bernadette T. Aquino, World Council of Churches Women and Globalization Program
23. Danielle Mahones, Executive Director, Center for Third World Organizing
24. Deus M. Kibamba, Gender Networking Programme
25. Andrew Mushi, Tanzania Association of Non Governmental Organisations
26. Mouafo Florent Noel, Centre for Promotion of Social and Economic Alternatives
27. Novita M. Tantri, Yayasan NADI
28. Rosemarie R. Trajano, Executive Director, Kanlungan Center Foundation
29. Nikki Reisch, Africa Program Manager, Bank Information Center
30. Dr. Mala Bhandari, Social and Development Research & Action Group NOIDA, India
31. Virgilio da Silva Guterres, President, Timor-Lorosa’e Journalists’ Association (TLJA
32. John Mihevc, Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition, Canada
33. Chris Wangkay, Coordinator for Debt Campaign, INFID (International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development)
34. Dongwon Jo, Media Culture Action, Seoul, S.Korea
35. Zi Teng, Hong Kong
Government of Singapore restricts civil society participation in the IMF-WB Annual Meetings in September

Bangkok, 2 August 2006

FORUM-ASIA expresses its grave concern about the decision of the Singaporean authorities to ban outdoor peaceful demonstrations and impose a permit process for indoor events where foreign participants are involved, for the upcoming annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). This is despite requests by civil society organisations around the world to allow such activities through an open letter dated 3 March 2006 to the Singaporean government.

In a news release on 28 July 2006 by the Public Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force, it was categorically stated that outdoor demonstrations and processions would not be allowed. Foreign civil society organisations that are not formally accredited by the IMF and WB have to apply for police permits, even for indoor events.

As mentioned in the 3 March joint letter from civil society organisations, the meeting has implications for millions of peoples in hundreds of countries and hence, this course of action limits the opportunities for these affected peoples and human rights defenders taking up their cause through peaceful means, as stipulated in Articles 1, 5 and 6 in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This was adopted by all states including Singapore during the 53rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1998 and other UN human rights instruments.

We note the reported comment by Singapore Police Force’s Chief-of-Staff Soh Wai Wah that the Singapore Police Force do “learn” from the Hong Kong experience of “public order threats.” We hope this means that Singapore Police Force will not repeat the disproportionate use of force, mass arbitrary detention, inhumane and degrading treatment during detention and baseless prosecution of 14 activists against whom the charges were finally dropped by courts in Hong Kong.

FORUM-ASIA urges the government of Singapore to rethink its restrictive orders.

We also call on the IMF and WB, as organisers of the meeting, to intervene with the Singaporean authorities to promote and facilitate civil society participation. They can do this by going beyond the civil society accreditation process and ensuring that peaceful spontaneous events in relation to the meetings can happen without prior permissions and restrictions, including those based on nationality. Otherwise, their pledges to promote and facilitate civil society participation will remain empty rhetoric.

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