01 Oct 2021
1 October 2021
Honourable Council members
Distinguished representatives of Observer states
Members of civil society,
Good afternoon to all of you.
Let me begin by conveying Singapore’s appreciation to the Secretariat and our Troika for their invaluable support and advice throughout the course of our UPR cycle. Let me also thank our fellow States and members of civil society for sharing their perspectives and recommendations. We were deeply humbled by the number of participants that spoke during our review in May and for their constructive and encouraging words.
The UPR mechanism is the signature process of the Human Rights Council. Beyond reviewing each state’s human rights record, it also encourages dialogue between stakeholders on issues of great importance. Singapore welcomes the role the UPR plays in promoting the protection of human rights globally. This includes fostering an appreciation of the different approaches to the realisation of human rights.
Singapore has engaged in each UPR cycle with great sincerity and seriousness. The UPR allows us to reflect on our human rights journey, engage constructively with our partners and peers, and share our experiences.
Singapore’s Principled Approach to Human Rights
Singapore is deeply committed to achieving better outcomes for our people in a manner that reflects our national context and realities.
We are a small, densely populated city-state with a multi-racial and multi-religious society.
We had independence thrust upon us in 1965, which led to a period of great turbulence and intercommunal strife.
Forging a common national identity while maintaining racial and social harmony has always been of paramount importance. During our 56 years of independence, we have worked continuously to pursue development, create opportunities, and maintain harmony in an enabling environment where all Singaporeans can lead fulfilling lives.
Our unique context and history have necessitated a practical and outcomes-based approach to implement our human rights obligations.
This approach is based on two fundamental principles. First, human rights do not exist in a vacuum and must take into account a country’s specific cultural, social, economic, and historical contexts. Second, the rule of law is a cornerstone for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Singapore has continued to apply these principles amidst the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a globally connected city, we were hit hard with the worst recession since our independence. This had a severe impact on every part of our society.
We took swift measures to protect our population, especially the most vulnerable. We implemented financial assistance schemes to support lower to middle-income households, ensured that social services and legal recourse remained available for victims of family violence, and actively tested our elderly. We also cared for our migrant workers just as Singaporeans are cared for. We made sure that they received medical care, stayed in touch with their families, and could return to work as soon as possible.
Misinformation was a major challenge during the pandemic. To address this, we have taken an approach of complete transparency. We provided accurate, up-to-date information through multiple reliable channels, including Government websites and messaging platforms. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act allowed us to apply corrections on falsehoods on the pandemic that affected public interest. As the original content remains up alongside the facts, people can assess both and decide for themselves which is better.
COVID-19 is an ongoing battle and countries will continue to have to calibrate their responses. Like many other countries, Singapore is still learning to navigate the volatile post-pandemic world. But through our human-centric approach, we hope to build the necessary social capital and resilience to progress on the road to recovery.
During this cycle of Review, Singapore is pleased to be able to support 210 out of the 324 recommendations received.
For recommendations we have noted, Singapore already has legislation and policies that address their underlying objectives in ways that best suit our unique social and cultural context. For example, the principle of equality of all persons before the law is already enshrined in the Singapore constitution. We have laws and policies to protect our people from discrimination. We are already implementing policies to strengthen social safety nets and support lower income Singaporeans, women, children, migrant workers, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. We will continue to review and improve on our approach. For instance, the Government will study the views raised during the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development, a national conversation series to gather feedback from Singaporeans on issues concerning women. Concrete proposals will be presented in a White Paper in Parliament in 2022.
We have also not supported recommendations predicated on unfounded assertions, inaccurate assumptions, or erroneous information. We cannot implement recommendations which are not appropriate in our national context.
Looking ahead, I can assure you that Singapore will continue to review our policies to ensure that they are fit for purpose. The context may change, and our challenges may evolve, but our objective of achieving better outcomes for our people will remain constant.
I would like to pause now to hear from fellow States and civil society. Thank you.
Thank you, Mdm Vice-President,
I would like to thank all Member States and representatives from civil society for sharing their perspectives and constructive feedback on a variety of issues.
I would like to address some of them as follows:
Some civil society members raised the issue of the death penalty.
Let me just say that international law does not prohibit the death penalty. There is no international consensus against the use of the death penalty when applied according to the due process of law and judicial safeguards. Every State has the sovereign right to determine the laws most suitable for its national circumstances within the context of its legal system and in accordance with its international obligations.
In Singapore, the death penalty is reserved only for the most serious crimes such as murder, drug trafficking, and the use of firearms. It has, in our experience, been an effective deterrent against such offences. But we regularly review our criminal justice system to ensure its effectiveness and relevance in keeping Singapore safe and secure.
On conscientious objection, national defence is fundamental to every State’s sovereignty, and given Singapore’s national contexts we have no choice but to rely on conscription. This system is only viable if equally, every male Singapore Citizen and second generation Permanent Resident, regardless of race or religion, fulfils their obligations to defend our country.
Further, the right to freedom of religion is constitutionally protected in Singapore. However, this is not an absolute right under international law. In this context, Singapore does not recognize the universal applicability of the right to conscientious objection to military service.
Freedom of Assembly
On the freedom of assembly and the treatment of human rights defenders, I would like to point out that the right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Singapore Constitution. Consistent with international human rights law, this right is not absolute.
The law regulating public assemblies and processions in Singapore is the Public Order Act. Its provisions ensure adequate space for an individual’s rights of peaceful assembly and expression while preserving public order. A police permit is required for cause-based public assemblies or processions so that the authorities can assess the public order risks.
Ratification of Human Rights Treaties
Regarding the ratification of human rights treaties, Singapore takes our international obligations seriously. Our approach is to ensure the necessary legal, policy and institutional framework is in place to fully implement a treaty before we ratify it. We actively review Singapore’s ability to ratify additional human rights treaties and to ensure the full and effective implementation of our treaty obligations.
Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (FICB)
On the FICB raised by some of the civil society colleagues.
It is not the Singapore Government’s intent to prevent all forms of foreign influence; only those attempts at manipulation.
Our concern lies with the use of coordinated, deceptive methods by hostile foreign actors to manipulate our political discourse and disrupt our society.
The Singapore Government does not intend to use the powers under the FICB against foreign individuals, publications, NGOs and academics engaged in legitimate commentary, news reporting, civil activities or academic research that are open, transparent and with attributed comments about Singapore that are not part of a hostile information campaign. They may do so even if their views are critical of Singapore or the Singapore Government.
There are appeal mechanisms to ensure that there are no overreaching powers. Persons issued with Hostile Information Campaign direction(s) under FICB may apply to the Minister for Home Affairs for reconsideration, before appealing to an independent Reviewing Tribunal. To clarify, the Tribunal is chaired by a High Court judge and two other individuals from outside the Government. Appeals are made to this Tribunal and not the court, so as to protect sensitive intelligence that may be relied on to make a decision. The decisions made by the Reviewing Tribunal will be final and binding on all parties.
LGBT persons are members of our society; make no mistake. Just like other Singaporeans, they have access to opportunities and social support such as education, employment, and healthcare; and are protected from violence and harassment. Similarly, our social services are accessible to all members of the public, without discrimination. Violence against, and abuse, discrimination, and harassment of any person for any reason is not condoned, and the law protects LGBT individuals the same as everyone else.
While Section 377A of the Penal Code remains in our laws, the Government has stated clearly that it is not enforced. We believe that in the context of Singapore, where attitudes towards homosexuality are still evolving and various communities hold different views, any move on this issue must be made carefully and sensitively, taking into consideration the sentiments of all communities.
All organisations offering social services are welcome to apply to be registered, and each case will be assessed on its own merits. The Government does not support the registration of organisations which advocate on sensitive issues in a socially divisive manner, including LGBT issues. This position is applied equally to all applications, regardless of whether the organisation is advocating for or against the LGBT cause.
I hope that I have been able to provide you with a better sense of Singapore’s unique circumstances. At times, this has necessitated difficult policy decisions to counter social divisions and balance competing rights.
To conclude, please allow me to return to first principles. Singapore is committed to build inclusivity, safeguard social cohesion, and meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We respect the fundamental human rights enshrined in our Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are fully committed to our human rights obligations under international law.
I am proud to say that we have come a long way since our independence in 1965. Today, Singapore ranks 11th in the UN’s 2020 Human Development Index, 1st for Order and Security and 12th overall in the 2020 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, and 12th worldwide for gender equality in the 2020 UN Gender Inequality Index.
But we don’t intend to stop here. We remain fully cognisant that the improvement of human rights is an ongoing process and our approach must continue to evolve.
Members of the Troika,
Fellow Member States and civil society,
Thank you very much for your time and active participation today.
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