FIDH: Singapore government fails to address key human rights concerns during UN review

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By FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

The Singaporean government failed to address important human rights concerns that were raised during the country’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), FIDH said today.

The UPR was held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 January 2016.

“With regard to civil and political rights, the Singapore delegation went on an all-out defense of the status quo based on order, stability, and cultural relativism and their statements showed complete disregard for international human rights standards,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The highest number of recommendations that Singapore received (55 out of 236) called for the ratification of core international human rights instruments.

In response, the government delegation claimed that while Singapore was not a party to certain human rights treaties, its government’s policies were “generally in compliance with their substance.”

This claim was contradicted by remarks made by several members of the Singaporean government’s delegation made during the review.

With regard to the death penalty, Singapore received 13 recommendations that called for progress towards abolition. Twenty countries recommended the Singaporean government re-establish a moratorium on executions. The government defended capital punishment as “legitimate” to deter the most serious crimes, including drug trafficking. This explanation runs counter to UN jurisprudence, which has repeatedly stated that drug-related offenses do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes.”

In response to the five recommendations that called for the abolition of corporal punishment as a legal penalty, the government delegation justified the measure by saying that the use of corporal punishment was “guided by necessity and proportionality” and was administered under “highly-regulated conditions.” The government’s justification is contrary to the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, which is a peremptory norm of international law.

In response to four recommendations that called for the amendment of legislation that allows for lengthy pre-trial detention, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act (CLTPA), the government delegation extolled the benefits of these laws in combating “serious organized criminal activities” and “the threat of terrorism.” However, the delegation failed to address the key issue of pre-trial detention as a violation of the fundamental right to liberty. UN jurisprudence has repeatedly stated that pre-trial detention should be an exception and should be as short as possible and that factors justifying the detention should not include vague standards such as ‘public security'.

Singapore received 12 recommendations that called on Singapore to ensure the realization of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The government delegation claimed that no one in Singapore was prosecuted for “merely criticizing the government or its policy” and warned that freedom of speech must be exercised “in accord with the need to preserve a harmonious society.” UN jurisprudence has long urged the decriminalization of defamation and has stated that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty. It has also declared that “the mere that fact forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.”

Singapore also received six recommendations that urged the government to ensure the realization of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The government delegation responded by justifying the severe restrictions on the exercise of this right with the need to ensure “society’s need for order and stability.” These criteria fall short of internationally accepted standards, which require that any restrictions to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly be necessary and proportionate. International standards also stress the principle that a peaceful assembly should be presumed lawful and deemed as not constituting a threat to public order.

With regard to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights, Singapore received 12 recommendations, 11 of which called for the repeal of Article 377A of the Criminal Code - a clause that criminalizes sexual activity between consenting men. The delegation justified the government’s failure to repeal the British colonial-era provision by saying that Singapore is “basically a conservative society” and that authorities did not “proactively enforce” Article 377A. The UN has for long recommended to abolish laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

“The Singaporean government has been churning out its obsolete arguments against internationally accepted human rights standards for too many decades. It's time they move forward with implementing the necessary legislative and institutional reforms that would make Singapore a truly modern, rights-respecting country,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

FIDH urges the Singaporean government to implement the recommendations it received during its second UPR concerning the ratification of key international human rights instruments, the death penalty, pre-trial detention, corporal punishment, LGBTI rights, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and the right to freedom of association, and to set time-bound benchmarks for their implementation.

The recommendations that Singapore has accepted will be known by the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, to be held in June 2016.