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UN’s Human Rights Review of Singapore: All Rights Are Derogable Upon National Context?

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(7 May 2011, Geneva/Singapore) – On the eve of Singapore’s most hotly contested Parliamentary elections, the country underwent its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN member States once every four years under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council. During yesterday’s three-hour session which took place at the UN Office in Geneva, the Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr. Ong Keng Yong, took the lead in presenting the national report of Singapore and responding to questions and concerns raised by other States.

While many developing countries commended the successes that Singapore has demonstrated in providing its citizens with high levels of economic and social development, a number of recommendations on key areas of human rights were made during the review, particularly: on establishing an independent national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles; ensuring the right to adequate housing for low income persons and families; repealing criminal defamation and censorship legislations to ensure the full enjoyment of freedoms of expression, assembly and association; reviewing preventive detention laws to guarantee the rights to legal counsel and fair trial for detainees; imposing a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty; as well as a diverse range of recommendations on the protection of the rights of migrant workers, including amending legislative frameworks to ensure their adequate working conditions and a prohibition of corporal punishment for those undocumented.

“The Government of Singapore reiterated that the enjoyment of human rights must be “balanced” with people’s obligations, yet it fails to concretely outline where the State’s obligations lie in ensuring the full promotion and protection of human rights for all those living in Singapore. As several States mentioned yesterday, the stability and development we experience in Singapore has occurred at the expense of significant curtailments to freedoms of expression, assembly and association”, stressed Mr. Kong Soon Tan, President of Think Centre, in response to Ambassador Ong Keng Yong’s statement which emphasized the “balance” between economic prosperity and restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms by saying that “trade-offs between different kinds of rights are inevitable”.

Meanwhile, the Government of Singapore expressed its intention to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by 2012, which was widely appreciated by other States. However, no other commitments were explicitly made on the ways to further cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms as well as in relation to those human rights issues which have often been scrutinized by the international community. On the issue of the death penalty in particular, the Singaporean delegation cited “majority public support” as the legitimating factor in its continuous existence. “The Government of Singapore is urged to immediately establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and take proactive initiative to boost the public debate within the country on the prevailing human rights issues including mandatory capital punishment. It is also imperative that the Government take concrete measures to develop human rights education and training programmes  for government officials and the general public”, stated Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

“Recommendations put forward by other States including the fellow ASEAN countries must be followed up with practical and time-bound action plans for actual implementation, with genuine consultations held by the Government inclusive of all relevant stakeholders in the country in an open and transparent manner”, said Mr. Sinapan Samydorai, ASEAN Affairs Director of Think Centre. He added that “together with yesterday’s UPR recommendations, the Government needs to draw up a comprehensive and action-oriented policy to implement its regional commitments such as the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers”. (ENDS)

For further information or media interviews, please contact:

In Singapore, Kong Soon Tan, Think Centre, +65 9107 7905; Sinapan Samydorai, +65 9479 1906

In Bangkok, Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA, +66 81 868 9178, [email protected]

In Geneva, Giyoun Kim, FORUM-ASIA, +41 79 595 7931,[email protected]

Notes to editors:

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group session on Singapore was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva on Friday 6 May 2011 at 9am – 12noon. During the session, 54 member and observer States of the UN Human Rights Council made questions and recommendations to Singapore on its human rights record. The video clips of the full proceedings are available at the archives of UN Live Webcast at:

Think Centre is a member in Singapore of FORUM-ASIA, a membership-based regional human rights NGO with 47 member organisations in 17 countries across Asia.

Please click the links to view the joint and individual UPR submissions by Think Centre and the press release.