Friday, April 30, 2010

Muigai, Mugai, Why You Like That?

UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial discrimination, xenophobia and Related Intolerance Githu Muigai might possibly has the longest UN title ever and his name card with a full title must be a curious sight to behold. It might even be A4-sized and not credit card-sized to fit the entire title in and certainly difficult to hold.

In his eight-day study trip to Singapore at the invitation of the Singapore government, Muigai met up with community leaders, politicians and even members of the group Singaporeans for Democracy, which actually looks like another United Singapore Democrats or friends of SDP incarnation from the composition of its members like Seelan Palay, Martyn See and Rachel Zeng. Nevertheless, it was a good demonstration of some openness by the government as even that bunch of activists can meet a UN representative.

The trip went well for Singapore but not as well as the government hoped - MFA's reaction and the need for a quick rebuttal was proof that the UN Rapporteur did not know exactly what he was talking about as far as the government was concerned. For example, the recommendation of affirmative action which goes against the grain on the value of meritocracy in Singapore.

However, I argue that the trip actually went well since Muigai had to give old tired arguments about freedom of speech constraints and the use of the Penal Code and Sedition Act in terms of regulating race relations. Going on a tangent on the limits of freedom of speech in Singapore is nothing new about the nanny government we have. Thus, for Muigai to pull that out of his sleeve is actually quite passe. Besides, Muigai had to say something critical and find policies that needs to be improved or else he would lose his UN job. He has to look good and be seen to be doing something.

OK remember what we agreed over beer earlier, you shoot off something, and then it is our turn to defend our policies, and then we both have a round of golf.

Compare Muigai's criticism with the recommendations on the USA in the last country visit that UN office had in 2008,

101. As a matter of urgency, the Government should clarify to law enforcement officials the obligation of equal treatment and, in particular, the prohibition of racial profiling. This process would benefit from the adoption by Congress of the End Racial Profiling Act. State Governments should also adopt comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial profiling.

102. To monitor trends regarding racial profiling and treatment of minorities by law enforcement, federal, state and local governments should collect and publicize data about police stops and searches as well as instances of police abuse. Independent oversight bodies should be established within police agencies, with real authority to investigate complaints of human rights violations in general and racism in particular. Adequate resources should also be provided to train police and other law enforcement officials.

Anybody can see that those criticisms reminiscent of the Rodney King Los Angeles race riots are more damning especially for a country that is steeped in the marketing and selling of human rights and democracy globally.

As a whole, the entire exercise of inviting Muigai over, allowing him to meet activists, letting him voice his criticisms and with the government giving a suspiciously quick response such that it suggests to the shrewd some stage management between the UN Rapporteur and MFA, it all bode well for Singapore's international image. The criticisms are nothing new and Singapore can say that it dared invite a UN envoy to scrutinise Singapore.