note the timing when this news was disembursed. it coincides with the ongoing lees vs chees trademark courtcase.
Politics, law and human rights â€˜fanaticsâ€™: AG Walter Woon
Friday, 30 May 2008 07:25am
Â©Today Online, Singapore (Used by permission)
by Loh Chee Kong
DO NOT confuse politics with the law, Singaporeâ€™s new Attorney-General cautioned, and â€œbe carefulâ€ of those who use human rights â€œto advance their own political agendasâ€.
Professor Walter Woon made the point at his first public appearance as Attorney-General yesterday, as the Law Society launched a high-powered committee seeking to â€œencourage the promotion and discussion of public and international law issuesâ€.
While he described the new committee as a â€œcommendable initiativeâ€ â€” since everyone â€œhas a vested interest in good governanceâ€ â€” Prof Woon cautioned Singaporeans against taking the Government to court simply because they do not agree with its decisions.
â€œWe have to be careful when we talk about public law, and not to confuse law with politics. There are many people who think if a decision is made and they donâ€™t like it, then this is something the law can correct. There is a line between a political decision and a legal decision,â€ he said.
The new committeeâ€™s maiden project is to study the relevance of the United Nationsâ€™ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Singapore law.
Prof Woon weighed in on the issue with several strong words. Noting that human rights is â€œnow a religion among some peopleâ€, he said: â€œYou have, like in some religions, the fanatics. And itâ€™s all hypocrisy and fanaticism (for these people) to set the views, as the leading spokesmen, of what is acceptable and whatâ€™s not.â€
Prof Woon stressed, it is a â€œmisconception that Singapore officialdom is against human rightsâ€. He said: â€œWhat we are against is the assumption of some people that when they define whatâ€™s human rights, that decision is the decision of the rest of humanity.â€
Reiterating that civil liberties must be seen in â€œthe context of our societyâ€, the Attorney-General observed how some places allow insults to be hurled against religions. â€œIs this what we want? Even if we donâ€™t pay the price, our children will pay the price.â€
Prof Woon also voiced his disapproval of advocates using human rights to pursue their own causes. For instance, while the issue of same-sex marriage has been framed as an issue of human rights, he questioned: â€œIs this a question of human rights?â€
He also cited the example of how a lawyer accused the court of breaching human rights, after it ruled against his client in a suit she had taken out against the Government when her son fell down in school.
â€œThe lawyer wrote in to say it was a breach of human rights â€” the right to survival â€” that we should enforce the cost against the client,â€ said Prof Woon.
:Legal academic and Nominated MP Thio Li-Ann, who gave a talk yesterday on human rights, agreed that politicising the issue undermines civil liberties as certain rights are promoted at the expense of others.
Still, she noted, the Singapore Government does not speak â€œthe language of human rightsâ€. When it abolished the quota for female undergraduates in medical school, no mention of the word â€œrightâ€ was made in Parliament; yet in its report to the UN, the Government cited the move as a step forward for womenâ€™s rights.
Several reasons could be behind this, Prof Thio said, including how Singaporeâ€™s communitarian society frowns upon â€œradical individualismâ€. But she disagreed with the perception that human rights promotes individualism, noting that the wording of the UN declaration places a greater emphasis on â€œcollectivismâ€.
She also noted that the Government â€œlegitimates itself not so much by consigning rights but by performanceâ€. While she felt it was â€œgood thingâ€ in terms of upkeeping the living standards of the citizens, she said: â€œThe problem is, can we indefinitely sustain the high economic growth rate? What happens when the ball drops?â€