Ms Braema Mathi addressing a crowd in a demonstration in support of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyu last year.

“Human rights are universal and inalienable, and should not be hijacked by politics,” said MARUAH chairperson Braema Mathi in an email correspondence with The Online Citizen. “Indeed, it is this very act of gazetting us as a Political Association that politicizes human rights, and inappropriately so.”

On 12 Nov, Today reported that the human rights advocacy group has been gazetted as a political association under the Political Donations Act.

This means that MARUAH is barred from receiving funds from foreign donors, letting foreigners take part in its events, operating as a political party and being affiliated to any local or foreign political party.

According to Ms Mathi there were no reasons given for the Government’s decision. She is uncertain whether it has anything to do with Maruah’s position on Burma, for which it wants more commitment from ASEAN and Singapore to ensure the country’s transition to democratic processes (its latest event was a demonstration at Speaker’s Corner to draw attention to the elections in Burma), or its involvement in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review report on Singapore human rights issues.

Maruah’s new status means that many of its plans will have be slowed, and in some cases, ceased altogether. Ms Mathi said just like in other organizations, ‘professionalization’ is the way to go, and it requires funds.

“On the one hand, the Government and various ministers consistently call for Singaporeans to be more active and to contribute to society and to take ownership and stand up for how we want to see our society to develop. On the other hand, when we do exactly that, we get pinned back by this sort of decision by the Government,” she added.

Ms Mathi further disagreed that MARUAH is a political association based on the definition in the Political Donations Act.

“The language in the Act seems to envisage a Political Association as one that deals with party and electoral politics, i.e. the election of candidates. We are not about that at all, “ she said.

In fact, MARUAH had been careful not to politicize human rights or to use a human rights agenda for political gains. For example, no political party members were allowed to join the group.

Expressing regret that a possible opportunity for the Government to continue investing in a ‘trust-building’ exercise was lost, Ms Mathi says that MARUAH intends to take up the matter with the relevant authorities.

To learn more about MARUAH, visit the website here.

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