Singapore: Petition to Ratify ICCPR and ICESR and Repeal the ISA


Urgent Appeal Case: UA981217
ISSUES: Legislation,

6 December 1998: 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Human Rights Day 80 people including former political detainees and many children, gathered at the Excelsior Hotel to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The gathering was a historical event as it was the first time that Singapore’s longest serving political detainee, Chia Thye Poh who had spent 32 years in detention and restrictions under the Internal Security Act could freely attend a party following his freedom just about a week ago. A single large candle was lighted as a symbol to remind themselves of all political detainees still in detention around the world and the hope that they will all be released soon.

To make the occasion more meaningful, it was announced that a petition is being addressed to the Prime Minister of Singapore to ratify two primary international instruments, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and repeal the ISA. It is time to repeal the ISA which has outlived its purpose.

Friends were invited to put their signatures to the petition which will be sent to the Prime Minister before Christmas, 1998.

THE PETITION: Singaporeans including former ISA detainees are asking their government to ratify two international legal instruments, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These two Covenants were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. They did not come into force until 10 years later when 35 states ratified the Covenants.

The two Covenants and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights define human rights and fundamental liberties. These include the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from forced labour, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, the freedoms of speech and association, the rights to food and to health, to an adequate standard of living, to housing, education and participation in cultural life.

Singapore is a member of the United Nations but we have not ratified the two Covenants. By ratifying the Covenants, the Government of Singapore accepts the obligation to give the rights proclaimed in the Covenants the force of law.

By ratifying the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Government undertakes to submit periodic reports to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the measures they have taken to give effect to the rights set out in the Covenant and the progress made to those rights. The country also opens itself to complaints by any member state which has ratified the Covenant should there be any failings.

One of the most basic of human rights is freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. This right is declared in Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Many of them at the gathering were victims of arbitrary arrest and detention under our Internal Security Act and its predecessor, the Emergency Regulations. Many of them also have friends who live as exiles abroad, unable to return to the country of their birth.

Some of them at the gathering may not know the history of arbitrary arrests in Singapore because they were too young. Those who are old enough, remember the times when in the name of national security, innocent people were arrested and detained without trial for many, many years.

Some of them were aware that well educated people including teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists and students whose only crime was to disagree with the government of the day, were arbitrarily arrested, detained or exiled from time to time, since 1948 when the Emergency Regulations were implemented by the British. Imagine the thousands of wasted lives, lives spent in prisons without a fair trial. Imagine the sufferings of the families of those detained and those who have fled Singapore. All victims such arbitrary arrests remembered on this 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The gathering had the pleasure and privilege of the company of Mr Chia Thye Poh who was just recently, on 26 November 1998 freed from all restrictions. Mr Chia was detained for 23 years, spent 31/2 years in internal exile on Sentosa Island and another 6 years under severe restrictions. The Government had taken away 32 of his 57 years of life. He had served a prison sentence longer than any convicted person in Singapore. He had the admiration and respect of all the participatants at the gathering

Mr Chia is the last political prisoner to be freed. For the first time in the history of Singapore, there are no political prisoners. This freedom is to be treasured by doing away with the law that allows arbitrary arrest and detention.

The Internal Security Act has been in the statute books for too long. It has outlived its purpose which was to prevent organised violence. The introductory paragraphs of the ISA read as follows: “Whereas action has been taken by a substantial body of persons to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear organised violence against persons and property:

And whereas action has been taken and threatened by a substantial body of persons which is prejudicial to the security of Malaya:

And whereas Parliament considers it necessary to stop or prevent that action: …” CALL TO REPEAL ISA

It is a harrowing experience to be arrested and detained under the ISA. On this 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, \"we tell our Government that we do not want them to have the power to arrest us arbitrarily, to put us away in tiny, dirty, mosquito infested, windowless cells without beddings. The Government have caused enough pain to our families and friends by their past action. We say today that we have had Enough. It is time to repeal the ISA.\"

This call to repeal the ISA is not new. In 1955, when the PAP was the opposition in parliament, they had called for the abolition of the ISA.

RECOMMENDED ACTION You are invited to sign the Petition and ask as many of your friends to sign it. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Please send it to the Prime Minister of Singapore as soon as possible.


December 1998

The Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Goh Chok Tong Prime Minister’s Office Istana Annexe, Singapore

Dear Prime Minister


We celebrate with all peoples of the world this 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The spirit of the UDHR is the belief that fundamental freedoms and basic rights are essential to human life and dignity. The UDHR inspired major international covenants and conventions which set out norms and standards for all rights, economic, social, cultural, civil and political. These instruments have become decisive points of reference for all countries, even those which are not members of the United Nations.

Singapore is an active member of the United Nations yet it is party to only two major instruments, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In the spirit of the UDHR and its continuing relevance today, we call upon the Singapore Government to ratify the two primary international instruments, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We also call upon the Government of Singapore to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. Not only is the ISA contrary to the principles enunciated in the UDHR and the ICCPR, it is also incompatible with Singapore’s commitment to democracy and civil society.

Yours truly,

Full Name Signature Country

SEND COPIES TO: diplomatic representative of Singapore accredited to your country.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA981217
Countries : Singapore,
Issues : Legislation,