24 Feb 2007

World Lawyer Gathering in Singapore Attacked by Swedish Lawmaker

John Berthelsen
25 February 2007

The International Bar Association’s October meet runs into more flak as questions are raised about judicial independence in the authoritarian city state

Lawmaker wonders what got into these lawyers. Singapore? Please. In a scorching public letter to President Fernando Pombo of the International Bar Association, Swedish parliamentarian and human rights activist Birgitta Ohlsson has asked that the legal confederation not hold its 2007 annual convention in Singapore this October.

The Asia Sentinel reported on Feb. 21 that the IBA is drawing fire from critics who say the city-state’s courts are among the least independent in the world. The bar association prides itself on believing “in the fundamental right of the world’s citizens to have disputes heard and determined by an independent judiciary and for judges and lawyers to practice freely and without interference.”

“Human rights and the rule of law have come under severe attack by the Singapore government,” Ohlsson wrote on Friday. “Opposition parties and civil society groups have almost no role to play which leaves democracy in a shambolic state in the island-nation.”

Ohlsson is a member of the Swedish Parliament representing the Liberal Party and is the party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs. The Liberal Party is part of Sweden’s ruling coalition.

“Given the circumstances it is important that the IBA, with its bright and proud reputation of defending human rights and the rule of law throughout the world does not tarnish its good standing by holding its meeting in Singapore,” Ohllson wrote. “I urge you to send a strong message to all undemocratic regimes that the IBA will not compromise its principles by moving this conference elsewhere.”

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