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Open letter to the Gov’t of Singapore on civil society participation in WB-IMF meeting in Singapore

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The Government of Singapore has warned that protests during the IMF-WB meeting in September will be met with restrictions, including caning of protestors. FORUM-ASIA with other civil society groups have put their names on an Open Letter to the Singapore PM expressing concerns over this pronouncement. Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister
Republic of Singapore

Ms. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the (UN) Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders
Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom opinion and expression of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank
Mr. Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo, Managing Director, IMF

Dear Mr. Lee Hsien Loong;

As a network of the national, regional and international civil society organisations, we the undersigned express our grave concerns about the impending restrictions and threats reportedly being made that will hamper meaningful civil society participation at the upcoming WB-IMF meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006. These threats and restrictions will jeopardize civil society engagement with various inter-governmental bodies on strategic issues such as trade, aid, debt, sustainable development, human rights, peace and human security.

We understand that your government, as well as WB-IMF, are making some arrangements for actions by foreign NGOs, during the above meetings. In our experience such regulated processes tend to be selective, exclusive and provide very limited opportunities for the expression of civil society voices, particularly of marginalised groups who are directly affected by the deliberations and decisions of these meetings. Thus, we would like to highlight the importance of spontaneous and unrestricted civil society actions before, during and after the WB-IMF meeting.

We are also concerned by reports that only selected foreign organisations may be “allowed” to stage peaceful protests – waiving the rules that normally apply in Singapore – and that like-minded Singaporean organisations will not be allowed to do so. We emphasise that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, particularly the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests are universal rights that should be enjoyed by all people, including Singaporean people and organisations.

We consider statements such as the one reportedly made by Mr Wong Kan Seng, Singapore Home Affairs Minister, that certain civil society actions may “attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment”, as veiled threats towards civil society.

The World Bank – IMF meeting in September is not a meeting that concerns only Singapore. Its deliberations and decisions will affect millions of people in hundreds of countries. Hence it will bring thousands of activists from all parts of the world to Singapore, and the eyes of the world will be on this country.

This will be an excellent opportunity for Singapore to display its respect and commitment to uphold universally-recognised human rights standards, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Restrictions on peaceful civil society actions of any kind and threats of using cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments such as caning will only erode Singapore’s credibility in the eyes of global civil society.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Sincerely yours,

  1. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
  2. Sinapan Samydorai, President, THINK CENTRE
  3. Debbie Stothard, Coordinator, ALTSEAN-Burma
  4. Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, Coordinator, Committee for Asian Women
  5. Al Alegre, Executive Director, Foundation for Media Alternatives
  6. Aileen Bacalso, Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Disappearance
  7. Fred Lubang, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International
  8. Lidy Nacpil, International Coordinator, Jubilee South
  9. Jenina Joy Chavez, Senior Associate, Focus on the Global South
  10. Irene Xavier, Coordinator, TIE Asia
  11. Hye-Woo Na, Coordinator, Leaders and Organizers of Community Organization in Asia
  12. Zinithiya Ganespanchan, Coordinator, Women's Network for Peace and Freedom
  13. Wilfred Dcosta, General Secretary, Indian Social Action Forum
  14. Khalid Hayat, Balochistan Rural Development & Research Society
  15. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, AIN O SALISH KENDRA
  16. Anis Hidayah, Migrant Care, Perhimpunan Indonesia
  17. Agnes Khoo, Executive Director, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives
  18. Mohiuddin Ahmad, Regional Committee, Jubilee South/Asia-Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)
  19. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, NGO Forum on ADB
  20. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, Freedom from Debt Coalition
  21. Steve Hellinger, President, The Development GAP
  22. Bernadette T. Aquino, World Council of Churches Women and Globalization Program
  23. Danielle Mahones, Executive Director, Center for Third World Organizing
  24. Deus M. Kibamba, Gender Networking Programme
  25. Andrew Mushi, Tanzania Association of Non Governmental Organisations
  26. Mouafo Florent Noel, Centre for Promotion of Social and Economic Alternatives
  27. Novita M. Tantri, Yayasan NADI
  28. Rosemarie R. Trajano, Executive Director, Kanlungan Center Foundation
  29. Nikki Reisch, Africa Program Manager, Bank Information Center
  30. Dr. Mala Bhandari, Social and Development Research & Action Group NOIDA, India
  31. Virgilio da Silva Guterres, President, Timor-Lorosa'e Journalists' Association (TLJA
  32. John Mihevc, Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition, Canada
  33. Chris Wangkay, Coordinator for Debt Campaign, INFID (International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development)
  34. Dongwon Jo, Media Culture Action, Seoul, S.Korea
  35. Zi Teng, Hong Kong

Please contact Ruki Fernando, Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Program of FORUM-ASIA (+66-4-0991538 / [email protected]) for further details and information.