Human rights in Singapore a matter of pragmatism, says government report to UN

The Singapore government on Friday signalled its commitment to protecting the human rights of all Singaporeans, but emphasised a pragmatic approach.

According to The Straits Times, the government released its 23-page report to the media. The report, submitted to the United Nations (UN) for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), covers issues such as the rights of persons with disabilities, the treatment of migrant workers and civil and political rights in Singapore.

Making its first appearance in a national report to the UPR was the issue of LGBT rights in Singapore. The national report submitted to the UN for Singapore’s previous UPR did not include this issue.

The government reiterated its decision to retain S377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men. The law is often described as “anti-gay” and criticised for validating discrimination against LGBT people in Singapore. Constitutional challenges to the law were dismissed last year.

The government explained its decision as an approach to accommodate the sensitivities of different communities, and added once again that S377A would not be proactively enforced. Conservative Christian and Muslim groups have been vocal about their opposition to the LGBT equality movement in Singapore, and actively lobbying the government to retain S377A.

“All Singaporean citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to lead their lives and pursue their activities in their private space without fear of violence or personal insecurity,” said the government, adding that LGBT people do not face discrimination in schools or in the workplace.

The report highlights Singapore’s approach towards protecting human rights: through preserving social harmony and building a fair and inclusive society. The government also included the need for stability and security for economic growth, which, it argues, will allow the state to protect its citizens’ rights.

“Human rights exist in specific cultural, social, economic and historical contexts. In every country, accommodation must be reached among the competing rights of the individuals who make up the nation and the interests of society as a whole,” read the report.

Since the last UPR in 2011, Singapore has signed onto three international conventions: the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN Trafficking In Persons Protocol, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The three-hour UPR dialogue will take place in Geneva on 27 January 2016. The Singaporean delegation will be led by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee and representatives from several ministries.