MARUAH’s Initial Response to Singapore’s 1st Universal Periodic Review

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MARUAH’s Initial Response to Singapore’s 1st Universal Periodic Review

Geneva, 6 May 2011 – MARUAH applauds the government’s decision to ratify by 2012 the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. MARUAH hopes this can be done without any reservations.

Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, as head of the Singapore delegation, made this announcement at Singapore’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report at the Human Rights Council that was held today, 6 May 2011.

The three-hour session saw 94 countries signing on to speak and make presentations on Singapore. As each country is allowed only a 2-minute intervention under the UPR system at the UN Human Rights Council system, a third of the countries were not able to make their presentations.

MARUAH is pleased with the wide range of topics that were raised by the various countries which have been diligent in keeping a watch on Singapore’s human rights track record to date. Common socio-cultural issues that came up were concerns over protection of migrant workers, reservations on CEDAW ( Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and the CRC (Convention the Rights of the Child), corporal punishment, disabilities, people in need, and meeting housing needs of the people.

The civil and political right issues that came up were primarily on increasing spaces for citizen expression, a review of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, a moratorium on the death penalty, instituting a human rights body, signing onto the international human rights treaties  such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, International Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention Against Torture and International Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.

There was also a call made by countries to protect migrant workers through legal means and to ratify the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families. Some countries such as Slovenia asked that ‘preventive detention’ under the Internal Security Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act be used only in exceptional circumstances and with a fair trial.

The government’s responses to these recommendations was to rationalize the position as one of a trade-off between being more open (on ‘freeing’ up space) and maintaining a pragmatic balance to maintain the fine racial-religious cohesion that Singapore has. The crux of the argument was that if Singapore were to do away with its current laws to allow for greater freedom of expression, there is a risk of disrupting the social cohesion in a very small country.

On the death penalty the government said that the “the majority’ were not keen to do away with the mandatory death penalty and on doing away with corporal punishment, the government officer added that such a step would have “no resonance  with the local community”.

While MARUAH is happy that finally the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be ratified in 2012, we urge the government not to ratify it with reservations as they have done with CEDAW and CRC. We also urge the government to have more open discussions on human rights and greater engagement with civil society.

Said Ms Braema Matthi, President of MARUAH, who attended the UPR session: “This is a good exercise for both the government and civil society. The government came to defend the position of Singapore with regards to human rights.

What this UPR process and our responses have shown is the amount of lobbying that civil societies in Singapore have ahead of them as human rights cannot be just argued away as a trade-off for social cohesion. In today’s globalised world, Singapore is part of a community that believes in human rights and so we need to work at rights and responsibilities and be confident that we will still live together amidst the diversity of views and practices.

As such MARUAH would like to say that there is a State Obligation – as part of this UPR process – to engage its citizens on concepts of human rights and not shy away from such discussions. It is a disappointing way to deal with human rights if the rationale to keep the death penalty is because the majority of citizens want it or because corporal punishment finds no resonance with the community.

“We hope over the next few years this will be the focus of the work by the government – to mainstream human rights discussions through the civil service and among the citizens.”

The final report on this session will be released on Tuesday, next week.

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