Despite Singapore Government’s assurance of change, much will be status-quo

the following is a statement delivered by Ms Braema Mathi, President of MARUAH, at the 18th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Plenary on Singapore.

Thank you, Madam President. I am making this statement as a representative of Article 19, an international political and civil rights group and MARUAH, human rights NGO in Singapore.

Madam President, I speak as civil society working within Singapore. Much has changed in Singapore since the State under Review event on May 6th. The General Election on May 7th was a watershed the ruling party – People’s Action Party – saw its popularity drop to an all time low of 60.14 per cent, and it lost a Group Representation Constituency – whereby five candidates stand on a single ballot – to the Opposition, leading to the loss of two Cabinet Ministers.

Last month, an unprecedented four candidates contested the Presidential Elections. It was hard-fought, and finally the former Deputy Prime Minster, Dr Tony Tan became President with about 35 per cent of votes

My colleagues and I believe that Singapore is poised for change. The people want more space, more say in policy-making discussions, and more freedom to express themselves without just resorting to the anonymity of social media.

There is a definite expressed change in the relationship between the government and the people. The citizens are making their views known. Post-election analyses done by think-tanks, political parties, civil society reflect a chasm between the people and the government. Much of the dissatisfaction centres around access to job opportunities, lack of – perceived or real –  adequate protection against foreigners taking jobs, rise in costs of living especially on housing and a frustration of  still being  ‘nannied’ by the government which limits political and civil liberties for the citizens, for their own good and based on fear.

Given this backdrop, Madam President, it is imperative that the government loosens its grip on the civil and political freedoms for its people and also increases transparency on its decisions and policies.

As such it is disheartening that these elections and after  acknowledging a readiness to change – the government has not supported the civil and political liberty recommendations (38 of the 114 in the Working Group on the UPR report ((A/HRC/18/11) in the outcome report.

There was also no support for the setting up in due course of a national human rights institution or the ratification of International Treaties such as the ICCPR or the ICESCR or the Optional Protocols to CEDAW or CRC. ( Recommendation 96.22 – 96.24; 96.1- 96.18)

Thus much will remain status quo – defamation laws, Newspaper Printing and Publishing Act, laws for preventive detention, no moratorium on the death penalty, no anti-discrimination laws.

A case in point –  last week, Malaysia announced that it will abolish its Internal Security Act, the main source of its powers of preventive detention. Just one day later, the Singapore government announced that it will not do the same, even though our legislation is historically linked to Malaysia’s.

The elections may have changed many things, but certainly not our civil liberties in Singapore. Please do know that we congratulate our government for wanting to ratify the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and setting up a multi-agency taskforce to study the Palermo Protocol and the implications.

The government of Singapore has done many things right. They have succeeded at many things. Nevertheless Singaporeans remain frustrated at the continued stifling of rights, by a government that is still too cautious.

MARUAH urges our government to work towards civil and political liberties as a priority focus for the next UPR. We will play our part. I  thank all members of the HRC community for their valuable contributions in this discussion.

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