Government fails to accept key human rights recommendations during UN review

Press release

(Paris, Singapore) The Singaporean government has failed to make a commitment to address key human rights issues during Singapore’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), FIDH and Function 8 said today.

“The Singaporean government continues to give lame excuses to avoid making a commitment to upholding fundamental human rights. The international community should continue pressing the government to respect the universality of human rights and international human rights standards.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

The outcome of Singapore’s UPR is expected to be adopted on 30 September or 1 October, during the 48th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. The government accepted, in full or in part, 230 (70%) out of the 324 recommendations it received from UN member states on 12 May 2021. Despite the high rate of acceptance, the government refused to support numerous recommendations on various key human rights issues, arguing that they were “predicated on unfounded assertions, inaccurate assumptions, or erroneous information.” It also continued to reject the universality of human rights by claiming that some recommendations were “not appropriate” in the country’s “national context.”

FIDH and Function 8 call on the government to take immediate and necessary steps toward implementing the recommendations that it did not accept and the implementation of which is consistent with international human rights standards.

Below is an analysis of the government’s response to recommendations concerning selected key human rights issues:

Death penalty

The government refused to accept 17 recommendations on the abolition of capital punishment, the establishment of a moratorium on executions, and the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The government claimed that capital punishment was reserved only for the most serious crimes, such as drug trafficking. However, such argument runs counter to the principles repeatedly stated by UN human rights monitoring mechanisms, according to which drug-related offenses do not fall under the category of the “most serious crimes.”

Ratification of human rights treaties

The government did not accept 14 recommendations that called for the ratification of key international human rights treaties including the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The government claimed that while Singapore was not a party to certain human rights treaties, its “outcomes” were already “fully or largely in compliance” with these treaties’ objectives. In reality, many of the laws currently enforced in Singapore - such as the Public Order Act, the Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, and the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act - are blatantly inconsistent with international human rights standards.

Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association

The government failed to accept 15 recommendations that called for the revision, amendment, or repeal of legislation that unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association – including the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows for the indefinite detention of individuals without trial. In addition, it did not fully accept two recommendations that called on the authorities to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association of civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders, including by eliminating media censorship and allowing peaceful demonstrations without undue restrictions. The government defended its failure to accept these recommendations by saying that these rights “must be exercised responsibly, including to secure respect for the rights of others.” However, many Singaporean laws place unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, making these laws inconsistent with international standards.

Refugees and asylum seekers

The government did not accept a recommendation that called for effective and unhindered access to the country for those seeking asylum. In addition, the government failed to accept three recommendations that called for Singapore to become a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The government justified this response by arguing that, “as a small city state,” Singapore was not in a position to accept refugees and asylum seekers.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) rights

The government refused to accept all 16 recommendations that called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including recommendations that called for the repeal of Article 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual sexual relations between men. The government argued that despite its existence, Article 337A was not being enforced. Such assertion calls into question why the British colonial-era provision should remain in force.

National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)

The two recommendations that called for the establishment of an NHRI in accordance with the Paris Principles did not enjoy the government’s support. The government instead touted the Inter-Ministry Committee on Human Rights (IMC-HR) as a human rights mechanism that “engages civil society.” However, the IMC-HR is a government body whose composition and powers are neither impartial nor independent and do not comply with the Paris Principles.

Cooperation with UN special procedures

The government failed to accept a recommendation for it to extend a standing invitation to UN special procedures for a country visit.

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