Tng Wen Quan / Davin Choo
This year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) celebrates its 60th anniversary. With the support of organizing partners Maruah and The Online Citizen, and the backing of 19 organizations, a group of young people have formed the U60 committee. Their aim is to get Singaporeans talking about and participating in a human rights discourse through a series of events that are to run through December.
Ms. Clara Feng, Co-chairperson of U60 Organising Committee, opened the event at the National Library on Tuesday with an opening speech which touched on the definitions of Human Rights and the reason U60 was set up. She made it a point to mention and thank all 19 partners for helping make this series of commemorative events a reality.
Speaking next was Ms. Constance Singam, President of AWARE. Ms. Singam emphasized the importance of an on-going effort for the fight for human rights in Singapore. ‘Human right is not a very hip thing to talk about in Singapore,’ she said. ‘It has been an uphill task, and it is good that we have new blood to carry the torch forward.’
Ms Singam was also speaking on behalf of Ms Breama Mathi, chairperson of MARUAH (Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism).
Mr. Choo Zheng Xi, Editor-in-chief of The Online Citizen and co-chairperson of the U60 Committee, thanked the many partners that have stepped forward to ‘normalize the human rights discourse’ and who are helping find new and creative ways to bring human rights messages to Singaporeans.
He went on to relate the UDHR to the work of activists in Singapore, saying that ‘more important than how we do our work as activists, is why we do it.
‘Today, we come together to reaffirm the unifying principles of our work, all of which can be found in the UDHR’. He quoted Article 19 of the UDHR on freedom of expression to show how it informs the vision of The Online Citizen, and urged the audience to ‘find a right in the UDHR that relates to you, and share that with the organizations you work with.’
H.E.Holger Standertskjold-Nordenstam, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Singapore, touched on the importance of respect between human beings and the shared dignity of humanity. According to him, it is through respect that we can achieve human rights. Mr. Holger explained that the European Union (EU) has always been supportive of human rights issues and will continue to remain so. He also commended the U60 team for the work they put into organizing the series of events.
Finally, Mr. Siew Kum Hong, nominated Member of Parliament and Guest-of-Honour of the event, acknowledged that human rights in Singapore do not have an exemplary track record but we have made a lot of progress since its humble beginnings as a small port town. “This success is real and we cannot deny it,” he said.
He noted that Singaporeans should have no need to shy away from a human rights discourse as Singapore’s very existence is founded on the right to self-determination which is set out in Article 1 of the UDHR and highlighted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The U60 committee has lined up a series of activities in celebration of Human Rights throughout December. The next event scheduled is a short films showcase on 4th December at the Substation Theatre from 7-10 pm. The Online Citizen will hold an event at Speakers’ Corner on Saturday, 6 December, themed on “Social Justice and Fairness”. It begins at 5pm.