Keep our door open to ideas – Siew Kum Hong

Editor’s note: This letter to the editor was in response to this news story in Today

Source: Today newspaper
6 June 2008

Keep our door open to ideas

I refer to the article “Politics, law and human rights ‘fanatics’: AG Walter Woon” (Today, 30 May 2008).

The Attorney-General, Prof Walter Woon, reportedly said that human rights has become a “religion among some people” for whom “it’s all hypocrisy and fanaticism”, that we should not confuse public law with politics, and that some people assume that their definition of human rights is the decision of the rest of humanity.

As a group that seeks to work on issues related to the establishment of the ASEAN human rights body from a Singapore perspective, Maruah finds the A-G’s reported statements regrettable. Such a dismissal of sincerely-held views, even those expressed immoderately, is not helpful to engagement between a government and its citizens.

History tells us that ardent campaigners who were highly controversial in their day must be thanked for much of today’s social progress. While controversial causes are not necessarily right, our progress as a society depends on us keeping the door open to ideas, and not peremptorily dismissing ideas and their proponents with pejorative language.

Maruah also believes that no single group of persons – including officials – has the right to conclusively define human rights for the rest of society. The definition of human rights evolves as society changes.

This evolution is stunted if dissentients are cast as troublemakers pursuing their own causes under the guise of human rights. Rather than criticizing dissentients, we should see them as making a positive contribution to our understanding and conceptualization of what human rights means to Singaporeans.

Finally, it is not helpful to view public law in complete isolation from politics. After all, politics must be conducted within the framework of the law, and political decisions must be lawful. Similarly, the law does not exist in a vacuum divorced from the politics of the day.

Siew Kum Hong
Member, Pro-Tem Committee
Maruah Singapore

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