Call on the Malaysian and Singapore governments to work together to further human rights cooperation in ASEAN

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, in Kuala Lumpur on the 19th of May 2013

The last two years have seen significant changes to the political landscape in Malaysia and Singapore. At least a hundred thousand Malaysians gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the third Bersih gathering on the 28th of April, 2012 and for the Himpunan Rakyat on the 12th of January, 2013. A few thousand Singaporeans gathered at Hong Lim Park in the heart of the city for a recent Labor Day protest.

These demonstrations of citizen participation in the democratic process should be welcomed. They are part and parcel of the exercising of human rights including the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.

These rights are also part and parcel of the Asean Human Rights Declaration which was signed by all 10 members countries of ASEAN in November, 2012, at the 21st ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.[1] Importantly, this declaration affirms all the civil and political rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While this declaration is not legally binding, the spirit of the document is in the direction of improving the human rights record and legislation in all 10 ASEAN countries. I appeal to the governments of Malaysian and Singapore, as founding members of ASEAN, to play a key leadership role in in advocating for and protecting human rights in their own countries and also within the context of ASEAN. This is consistent with Article 39 of the Asean declaration which states that:

“ASEAN Member States share a common interest in and commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms which shall be achieved through, inter alia, cooperation with one another as well as with relevant national, regional and international institutions/organisations, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter.”

In the context of political events which have happened in both countries – the recent general elections in Malaysia and the recent arrest of 21 Malaysians in Singapore for protesting the results of the 13th general elections in Malaysia – I appeal to both governments not to forget the ASEAN declaration but instead work together to further the cause of human rights in both countries and also within ASEAN.

In a demonstration of keeping with the spirit of the ASEAN declaration, I appeal to the Malaysian government to drop the charge against the recently elected Selangor state assembly representative for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi, and not to charge others involved in the organization of the peaceful rally held in the Kelana Jaya stadium on the 8th of May, 2013. At the same time, I also appeal to the Singapore government not to revoke the employment passes of any of the 21 Malaysians involved in the peaceful gathering in Merlion Park in Singapore.