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Engagement with the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Mechanism

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From the 13th to 14th of November 2018, training regarding the Engagement with the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Mechanism was organised and held in Bangkok, Thailand. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the training organised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South-East Asia, along with a fellow colleague and board member of Yiting, to represent Project X and learn key techniques and mechanisms to aid us in the fight for equality for sex workers.

I was really excited in the days leading to the trip. I have been a volunteer at Project X for almost two years at that point of time and have learned a lot from the experience. However, there are structural limitations and obstructions we face at times that prevented us from reaching our goals. Learning about the processes and mechanisms that the United Nations offer can really help us build a case and take a stand to support the sex workers. I could not wait for the training to start and was so glad and grateful that Project X has selected me to attend.

We arrived there the night before and had a little time to meet the other attendees and get to know more about the work they do. I felt extremely under qualified after hearing what they’ve done, from investigative journalism to political prisoners. Thank goodness only a handful of people in Singapore deal with male sex workers.

The next day we got there early and was simply in awe of the place. The iconic front of the UN Convention Centre where the flags of the participating UN countries flag flew made everything seemed surreal. The place was having some construction done though, but the experience was still similar. Soon after, we got to meet the other Singapore attendees and Miss Jessica, Human Rights Officer for the South East Asian Regional Office. The training was then commenced with an introduction by the Regional Representative Miss Cynthia Veliko and followed with our training sessions.

The sessions were really informative, and I’ve definitely learned a lot not only by the trainers but also the fellow Singaporean attendees. They shared their experience based on their expertise and many other encounters which I would have never gotten exposed to if not for this.

We had sessions on Digital Security and the importance of privacy and private data as well as a little crash course on encryption and various tools to ensure confidentiality and security. My password which I’ve always thought was really strong that no one could guess it turned out to be the weakest in the room, taking only a millisecond to crack via Artificial Intelligence apparently. After more sharing and even videos of Edward Snowden, my password now takes approximately 6,000,000 years to crack by AI. The importance of keeping data and logs securely is especially crucial for human right defenders in events of any hackings or forced possession, where perpetrators would attempt to obtain as much information and use it to their advantage.

Another session was regarding enforced disappearances involving other human right defenders. We got to hear straight from the mouth of the daughter of Somchai Neelapaijit. She shared with us the harrowing story of what transcended and how her family coped with his disappearance while also never giving up in their quest for justice. Both her mother and she are currently members of the United Nations Human Rights Council and work on cases similar to theirs. Their bravery and relentless spirit in fighting for justice even after such a loss is simply tremendous and incredibly inspiring to me. Who am I to complain about little petty things when I’m in such a privileged position?

Other sessions based on the existing treaty bodies, UPR updates and more were touched through both the days. Closer to the end of the training, we had a discussion with various regional and local NGOs regarding the human rights situation in both Singapore and the neighbouring countries. It was such a pleasure to meet them and listen to their stories and how their passion drives them forward. We mingled and made connections with them and also discussed various ways forward with the current circumstance.

This short but incredibly enriching trip has been such a priceless opportunity for me. Aside from forgoing my last week of school to travel overseas and be invited to the UN SEA Regional Office, who else can say that they’ve been in the same room with so many relatively unseen heroes? Many times, the fight for human rights and justice can seem discouraging with so many things against you but one success or even just one little positive impact you see makes it all worth it.

Ending it off with a quote, similar to Lady Gaga, there can be 100 cases you fight for and 99 of them doesn’t end up in your favour, but all it takes is one and it’ll change your life.

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Vanessa Ho

Executive Director | [email protected]

Executive Director
[email protected]

Vanessa has been full-time with Project X since 2011, and as a result, has had many opportunities to meet and connect with sex workers in Singapore and around the world. Under her leadership, the organisation has grown from a small group of volunteers to one where there are three paid staff and a team of over 60 volunteers. Correspondingly, she has increased the annual operating budget of the organization five times, and is now recognized as the leading organization that empowers and assists women in the sex industry.

Vanessa has written and spoken extensively about sex work, human trafficking, rape culture, and LGBTQ rights in Singapore. She believes that if people can speak about sex, gender and sexuality in open and in non-judgmental ways, society will become a safer place for everyone.

Vanessa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Warwick, and a Masters Degree in Gender, Society and Representation from University College London.