The man with whom Attorney-General Robert McClelland recently met to discuss anti-terrorism strategies, the Singaporean Minister for Security Professor Jayakumar, is not a big believer in universal human rights.
In defending his country’s policies of detention without trial, restrictions on freedom of speech and arbitrary arrests of political opponents, Professor Jayakumar told an International Bar Association conference in 2007 that “it is not possible to have a universal prescription when applying the rule of law. These issues have to be determined according to the social, cultural and political values of each society.”
In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Tuesday, McClelland said he had “recently held talks with the Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for National Security, Professor Jayakumar, on enhancing social cohesion and resilience in order to lessen the appeal of extremist ideology.”
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Professor Jayakumar has, for over 25 years, been one of the leading enforcers of Singapore’s draconian legal system. He entered politics in 1980 as a member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and in 1981 was appointed Minister for Law, a position he held until last year. He was also Minister for Home Affairs for a number of years. In these roles, Jayakumar was responsible for such instruments as the administration of Singapore’s notorious Internal Security Act (which allows for detention without trial), the death penalty and the prosecution of political opponents.
Back in 1987, Jayakumar was vigorously defending the arrest of over 20 lawyers, social workers and Catholic Church-linked activists who were accused of being “members of a dangerous Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the PAP ruled government by force, and replacing it with a Marxist state”. When the arrests provoked international uproar Jayakumar simply said, “for critics abroad, if you want to understand the action, you must also understand Singapore’s unique circumstance and problems”. After eight of those detained complained they had been tortured by police, the Singapore government had them rearrested a year later.
And Jayakumar is not shy in defending the Internal Security Act. He told an international law conference in 1994 that it was necessary for “vicious gangsters and notorious drug traffickers” because there is no point giving them a trial as “no-one dares to testify.”
During the 1980s and 1990, Jayakumar, along with his government colleagues, used defamation and libel suits to crush the sole Opposition member of the Singaporean Parliament, JB Jeyaretnam. In 1997, Jayakumar, initiated a defamation action against Jeyaretnam and 12 leaders of the opposition Workers Party. The idea was to bankrupt the party and its officials. The proceedings were condemned by Amnesty International, the International Bar Association and host of regional human rights organisations.
As recently as 2006, Jayakumar was part of the Singaporean government that arrested another opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who, as Human Rights Watch said, “was arrested on November 23, 2006 for speaking publicly without a permit on April 22, 2006 in opposition to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
Singaporean authorities for years have relied on repressive laws to jail and bankrupt Chee, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Since 1999, the authorities have jailed Chee on three other occasions for violating the city-state’s laws restricting public speech and assembly.”
Professor Jayakumar is an eminence grise of the Singaporean State. He has been a willing and enthusiastic proponent and prosecutor of serial repression of political opponents, and the right of individuals to hold diverse views. He is on the record as believing that governments can undermine or simply abolish fundamental rights like the right to due process, whenever the circumstances suit.
This is not a person from whom our Attorney-General should be taking advice on anything.