Human Rights Watch’s Refusal to Publicly Defend its Report
1. We refer to the remarks made on Human Rights Watch (HRW) by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods on 23 March, and the accompanying press release by the Office of the Clerk of Parliament.
2. The Ministry of Law notes that serious allegations have been made to the Select Committee, against HRW and its work. Questions have been raised about how its board is appointed; the influence that donors have; its links to the US foreign policy establishment; and the serious inaccuracies, misimpressions, untrue statements in its Report - “Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys” – Suppression of Free Expression and Assembly in Singapore”.
3. HRW puts itself out as an independent, objective and transparent human rights organisation. Appearing before the Select Committee would give HRW the chance to vindicate itself and set out its views. HRW will be able to speak directly to the elected representatives of Singaporeans, in a public setting, with local and international media present. What is more, whatever HRW said to the Select Committee would be fully protected by the laws of parliamentary privilege.
4. HRW will also be able to defend its Report in public.
5. But HRW has chosen not to appear before the Select Committee. HRW’s initial willingness to appear before the Select Committee evaporated once it was informed that its representative should be prepared to answer questions about its Report. HRW remained unwilling to appear even after it was further informed that another submission had charged that its Report was full of falsehoods. This was despite the fact that HRW was told that it could come and give evidence on any date between 15-29 March, a period of 14 days. It was also offered travel funding, which is offered to all overseas witnesses who appear at the Select Committee. HRW was also told that if its officers could not come to Singapore, they could give its evidence via video-conference on any day between 15-29 March.
6. HRW’s stance is disappointing, but not surprising. HRW has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore. It knows that its Report will not withstand any scrutiny, and has therefore chosen not to come to Singapore to publicly defend its views.
7. HRW, by its conduct, has shown that it cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore.