Today: Keep our doors open to ideas (June 6)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Keep our door open to ideas

Dismissal of sincere views not helpful to engagement between a govt
and citizens

Friday • June 6, 2008

Letter from Siew Kum Hong

Member, Pro-Tem Committee

Maruah Singapore

I REFER to the report, "Politics, law and human rights `fanatics': AG
Walter Woon" (May 30).

The Attorney-General, Professor Walter Woon, reportedly said that
human rights has become a "religion among some people" for whom "it's
all hypocrisy and fanaticism", that we should not confuse public
law with politics, and that some people assume that their definition of
human rights is the decision of the rest of humanity.

As a group that seeks to work on issues related to the establishment
of the Association of South-east Nations (Asean) human rights body
from a Singapore perspective, Maruah finds the AG's reported
statements regrettable. Such a dismissal of sincerely-held views, even
those expressed immoderately, is not helpful to engagement between a
government and its citizens.

History tells us that ardent campaigners who were highly controversial
in their day must be thanked for much of today's social progress.

While controversial causes are not necessarily right, our progress as
a society depends on us keeping the door open to ideas, and not
peremptorily dismissing ideas and their proponents with pejorative

Maruah also believes that no single group of persons — including
officials — has the right to conclusively define human rights for the
rest of society.

The definition of human rights evolves as society changes. This
evolution is stunted if dissentients are cast as troublemakers
pursuing their own causes under the guise of human rights.

Rather than criticising dissentients, we should see them as making a
positive contribution to our understanding and conceptualisation of
what human rights means to Singaporeans.

Finally, it is not helpful to view public law in complete isolation
from politics.

After all, politics must be conducted within the framework of the law,
and political decisions must be lawful.

Similarly, the law does not exist in a vacuum divorced from the
politics of the day.