The past few weeks have seen the sensational public demolition of one of Singapore’s most prominent human rights’ activists, Dr Chee Soon Juan. Singaporeans have also witnessed the arrest of an idiosyncratic ex-Worker’s Party member, Mr Gopalan Nair.
Lost amidst the storm of dust raised by the media’s caricatures of these colourful characters is the cause they are fighting for. There is an implicit linking of the term “human rights” with the drama of the players on the field of battle: if their standard bearers fall, so falls the flag of human rights, guilty by association.
One of the most important principles of democracy is that we are free to disagree with someone else’s point of view, but we should be ready to defend his right to put that view forward.
Many Singaporeans seem to have lost sight of that principle, ready to let Gopalan Nair be punished for his pugnacious blog entries, and satisfied to see the confrontational Dr Chee Soon Juan defamed repeatedly as a mental patient for practising a brand of politics that does not fit into the political mainstream.
We at TOC believe in playing the ball, not the man. We are committed to keeping our focus on matters of principle, and will fight for these individuals’ right to speech even though we might disagree with what they say.
We also believe that human rights discourse is broader than the issue of civil and political rights. We believe it is important to start a dialogue of understanding the full spectrum of human rights, be they gender rights, socio-economic rights, labour rights or civil and political rights. Through this, we can better understand the position of the individual situated in relation to his many roles in society, and hopefully draw conclusions that empower ordinary individuals.
In that spirit, TOC is dedicating this week’s articles to highlighting human rights issues from a full range of perspectives, and also to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year.
Below is a video of Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech at the United Nations in 1948 where the Declaration was presented.
We hope you enjoy our focus.
Choo Zheng Xi
On behalf of TOC