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H.E Mr. Foo Kok Jwee , Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Singapore to the Unog

No real attempt to change the status quo by Singapore at UN UPR

By Ghui

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has raised some disturbing issues in Singapore. From the continued use of the death penalty to the dismal fact that our country still retains homosexuality as a crime on the statute books, it is concerning that there are appears to be no real attempt to change the status quo. More disturbing is the trend of sidetracking serious questions by the powers be.

On the execution of Kho Jabing, a Malaysian death-row inmate, questions have been raised on the procedural propriety of Justice Andrew Phang rehearing the case on appeal. This is troubling because in layman's terms, this completely negates the point of an appeal. One commentator on social media aptly compared this to the futility of a patient seeking a second opinion of his diagnosis from the same doctor.

Further, there were concerns with regards to the lack of unanimity on the part of all of the Justices in sentencing Kho Jabing to death. More troubling was the revelation that Kho Jabing was not sentenced to death in the first instance! All of these irregularities are disturbing no less because they concern the life of a man but also because this could happen to anyone who finds himself or herself on the wrong side of the law. Would we want to be treated unfairly and arbitrarily if we unfortunately find ourselves or our friends and loved ones in that scenario?

It would be easy to dismiss Kho Jabing as a criminal who deserves his lot but this is an oversimplification of the problem. Criminal or not, processes, procedures and justice have to be observed because it is a system that governs everyone.

The questions raised by many social activists and bloggers have hitherto been met with deafening silence. Instead of dealing with the questions, the Attorney-General's Chambers decided to focus its attention on Kho Jabing's lawyers, Mr Alfred Dodwell and Ms Jeanette Chong–Aruldoss for legal opportunism when all they were trying to do was to save their client from the noose.

The Pink Dot movement has been on the rise over recent years as gay rights gain support from the general public in Singapore. While many (myself included) would hail this as progress, some amongst us (namely a few religious groups) have chosen to make the issue of gay rights their battle cry. While poverty and disability exists amongst us, it remains an enigma to me that these religious groups who claim to love mankind would choose to channel their resources on fighting gay rights over alleviating poverty and suffering. But then, I digress.

Many large corporates who provide employment for Singaporeans have decided to back the issue of gay rights. This is in line with the global policy of such corporates who value diversity over discrimination. Clearly, this is not a Singaporean issue but a global matter. Given that Singapore wants to be an international city that has immigrants from all over the world, surely it should be more aligned with global corporate culture?

The government has constantly said that it could not make any headway with regards to the laws concerning gay rights in Singapore because Singaporeans were not ready for it. Yet, shouldn't a government take the lead in cultivating a country's values? Besides, wouldn't joining forces with the corporates on educating the public on equality be very inclusive? Yet, the government has decided to issue corporates with a warning not to support gay rights?

I find it hard to understand why a government which could garner so much favourable international publicity as a country of choice for highly skilled immigrants would shoot itself in the foot. Is it Singaporeans who are not ready for change or is it the government that is not ready for change? If it is the latter, why not?

Ensuring that all tax payers have the right to live their lives and benefit from tax sponsored benefits is surely not a political issue but an issue of fairness. Why has the government made it a political issue by accusing corporates of meddling with politics just because they are supporting gay rights in line with their international policy of inclusion?

This isn't an action taken to attack Singapore. This is simply a case of following the international corporate culture of these multinational corporations!

Numerous social activists and bloggers have repeatedly asked the government to explain the reasons for its conservative and out of date stance. All the government has done however is to cite Asian values without trying to justify what Asian values even mean? Are gay Singaporeans or their supporters any less Asian? Being gay isn't a Western concept. It is a universal one that transcends race or nationality!

If we want to live up to the ideal of being a sparkling international city, we have to address the issues that make us lag behind. Ignoring the questions raised will not make the problem go away.