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Will the International Bar Association take a stand on human rights issues in Singapore?

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In a resolution signed on 11 October, human rights activists and many others urged the International Bar Association to make a stand on human rights abuses in Singapore. The resolution came in the wake of several anti-human rights measures against political dissidents by the authoritarian state.
(Bangkok, 22 October 2007) A group of human rights activists and democratic institutions around the world have strongly urged the International Bar Association (IBA) to address human rights abuses in Singapore, placing the island-state firmly on the radar of the global democracy movement.

On 11 October the group passed a resolution, which called on the lawyers to "express its concern at the lack of respect for the rule of law in Singapore". It is signed by 22 organisations and individuals, including donor agencies, law-makers and political activists. The resolution asked the IBA to take an unequivocal stand on the human rights violations and curtailment of democratic development in Singapore, where the association held its annual conference, from 14 to 19 October.

It requested the association to "urge the Singapore government to practice the rule of law and not the rule by law by signing and ratifying the ICCPR (International
Covenant of Civil and Political Rights)".

Other demands included urging the association’s delegates to meet with Singaporean dissidents and victims of the government's human rights violations and invite them to speak at the Rule of Law Symposium.

The resolution also asked the delegates to reject the notion of the "Asian perspective" of the rule of law and reaffirm its commitment to the universal concept of the rule of law.

This stand is consistent with principles outlined in the IBA's 2005 Resolution on the Rule of Law adopted in Prague, said the resolution.

Meanwhile, the annual conference presented an important opportunity to highlight the failures of the Singaporean government to consistently apply the rule of law and to apply other democratic principles in the country. But the lawyer’s association has been heavily criticised for holding the conference in Singapore, as its courts are considered to be among the least independent in the world.

About 3,000 lawyers are expected to attend the conference. The IBA represents some 30,000 individual lawyers and more than 195 bar associations across the world. According to its website, it professes to “influence the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession”.

The resolution came in the wake of the 8 October arrest of the Singapore Democratic Party leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a well-known critic that was consistently harassed by the authorities for questioning the government's policies and practices. Dr. Chee and four others were arrested for protesting against the city-state's ties with Burma after a week of unprecedented demonstrations in front of the Burmese embassy.