MARUAH statement at UPR pre-session on Singapore

Speech by MARUAH for MARUAH and Collective of Singapore NGOs (COSINGO)

DECLARATION MADE BY MARUAH Singapore
UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW (UPR) PRE-SESSION ON SINGAPORE, GENEVA
16th DECEMBER 2015

Presentation of the Organisation
1. This statement is delivered by MARUAH Singapore, on behalf of Civil Society Organisations and individuals who have participated and followed the UPR process. “MARUAH” is a human rights NGO with special consultative status on the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

National consultations for the drafting of the national report (if any)
2. There were 2 government-organised consultations held in Singapore.

3. MARUAH held 3 open consultations with various Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), individuals and university students.

Acknowledgment of work done by the Singapore Government
4. Since the 2011 UPR, the Government has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013, acceded to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol), often known as the Palermo Protocol in 2015, made legislative changes to the mandatory death penalty, thus introducing discretionary approaches and signed onto the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

5. The Government has organised more consultations without CSOs asking for it. Seemingly the government is becoming more open in discussing matters with civil society though the number of people being hauled up under various laws, continues as a deterrent to shut the voices down.

Plan of this Statement
6. The statement addresses the following issues:-
a. Freedom of expression, Freedom of information, Freedom of peaceful assembly and association
b. Impediments to free and fair electoral systems, specifically the GRC system, redrawing of electoral boundaries
c. Lack of Independent Institutions for elections and setting up a National Human Rights Body
d. Ratification of other core international human rights instruments, specifically CERD, and optional protocols for CEDAW, CRC, CRPD
e. Continued usage of preventive detention without trial, under ISA & CLTPA
f. Lack of human rights education in schools

7. This statement will not go into all details but we have introduced footnotes to highlight the notes and evidence. (https://maruahsg.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/maruahupr2015-final.pdf); (https://maruahsg.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/combinedupr-final.pdf)

8. The aim of asking for interventions through questions and recommendations is for people in Singapore to be able to move away from this fear-ridden climate that we are embedded in.

Response to Government’s National Report
9. MARUAH and its stakeholders take an exception to the conceptual framing in Para 4 and 6 of the Government Report. Para 4 – that Realisation of Human Rights needs a practical and not an ideological approach and that human rights exists in specific cultural, social, economic and historical contexts. We ask for a review of this approach as Human Rights is indivisible and it is a combination of being ideological, educating the public on human rights and being practical. We object to this description in Para 4 and 6.

10. In addition we also say that the Report focuses on socio-cultural well-being when human rights deals with the political, economic and environment. Social Protection is at the end of the day a rights-based approach and putting in systems that ensure people get their food, education, housing, medical benefits, long-term social security is equally important.

The Issues:-
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, AND FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
11. Article 14(2)(a) of the Singapore Constitution allows Parliament to restrict freedom of speech and expression in the interest of ‘friendly relations with other countries’, and to ‘provide against contempt of court [and] defamation’. Laws such as the Public Order Act (POA) which requires a permit for any ‘cause-related activity’, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (PEMA), the Sedition Act, Penal Code, the Broadcasting Act, contempt of court proceedings, the Defamation Act, have been used to charge people with various offences ranging from being potentially anti-racist, being defamatory, being a public nuisance to society and to the country.

Follow-up to the 2011 review
12. Countries raised questions and made recommendations (Rec), including Canada (Rec 132, 138), Czech Republic (Rec 139), UK (Rec 88), Slovenia (Rec 114), Switzerland (Rec 140).

13. MARUAH and its partners believe that civil rights for citizens are a very important issue in Singapore, if not an over-riding one.

New developments since 2011 review
There are many developments in this area and we share some key examples, though we have listed all the incidents to the best of our knowledge.

14. Space for Free Speech – Individuals who wish to use the space have to get approval from the National Parks Board (NParks) and there are restrictions on use of the space. Ms Han Hui Hui , Mr Gilbert Goh and Mr Jacob Lau are three examples. (See COSINGO report – para 8 – in https://maruahsg.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/combinedupr-final.pdf)

15. Sedition Act – There have been arrests of a cartoonist, writers, editors under this Act. (Please see para 9 of the COSINGO Report for details or the footnotes here.) https://maruahsg.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/combinedupr-final.pdf)

16. Censorship – A 2013 film on political exiles, “To Singapore, with Love” by Singaporean director Ms Tan Pin Pin, was given a ‘Not Allowed for All Ratings’, which is effectively a ban on public screenings of the film. In another case a grant for a book was withdrawn .

17. Governance or Control – The Media Development Authority (MDA) has implemented tighter online regulatory controls on website that report regularly on issues and these websites must then post a “performance bond” of $50,000, and also remove any objectionable content within 24 hours of receiving a government order.

18. Public Nuisance Charges have been brought against two individuals. Case is still pending.

19. Contempt of Court – A prominent socio-political blogger, Mr Alex Au was fined S$8,000, in January 2014, for a blog post . The post was seen as ‘scandalising the judiciary’. The appeal was dismissed in Dec 2015.

20. Defamation Act – In May 2014, Mr Roy Ngerng was brought to court under the Defamation Act by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s Prime Minister. Mr Lee’s lawyers made a few demands which Mr Ngerng complied with. But the compensation offered by Mr Ngerng was seen as “derisory” and the case went to trial. The outcome is pending. Mr Ngerng lost his job at a hospital before the case went to trial.

21. Penal Code – A then 16-year-old, Mr Amos Yee was charged under Sections 298 and Section 292(1)(a) of the Penal Code and found guilty of offending Christians in a YouTube video and of spreading an obscene image of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Amos Yee, who had turned 17 while in remand, was charged and sentenced to four weeks jail and given a stern reprimand by the judge. (Please see http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/amos-yee-s-appeal-to/2176608.html).

22. Protection From Harassment Act – The Online Citizen (TOC), a social media news portal, wrote an article on a Dr Ting Choon Ming, who alleged that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) infringed on his patent rights and forced him to withdraw his case in a legal “battle of attrition”. MINDEF took out a case against TOC to ask, under the Protection from Harassment Act, that the website take down or to post a clarification on the article. Editors of TOC posted a clarification before the application was filed. The court granted MINDEF’s application in May 2015. The case by MINDEF against TOC was thrown out as MINDEF is not an individual.

23. Interactions with Civil Society Organisations – Some advocacy groups find it difficult to register themselves, with some having their applications rejected. Others have to work very hard to find dialogue spaces with government agencies. The Government is conducting more consultations but it is still based on invitations.

Recommendations
24. Freedom to Speak – We ask that the Speakers’ Corner, as the only public place in Singapore where Singaporeans can exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech, be liberated.

25. Sedition Act – We ask for amendments to the Sedition Act and cite the United Nations Rabat Plan of Action as an example; it has a 6-part threshold test for forms of speech that are prohibited under criminal law.

26. Contempt of Court – Abolition of this concept as it has a deep chilling effect on freedom of expression.

27. Protection from Harassment Act – This law needs to be reviewed to ensure that the right to fair comment is protected, and to provide a space for ‘offending’ or offended parties to clarify and mitigate on their positions, without any intervention from either of these parties.

28. Defamation Act – We call for a review of the Defamation Act to ensure that allegations of defamation and defamation lawsuits do not suppress the provision of constructive and debatable opinions. As public officials (including government officials) owe a duty of accountability to the public, defamation lawsuits brought by public officials should be subjected to a higher standard of review than those brought by purely private parties.

IMPEDIMENTS TO FREE AND FAIR ELECTORAL SYSTEMS, SPECIFICALLY THE GRC SYSTEM, REDRAWING OF ELECTORAL BOUNDARIES
29. The main issue here is the lack of an independent Election Body as the current elections department is under the Prime Minister’s office.

30. Electoral boundaries are drawn in a non-transparent manner, with the Government having full discretion on the timing of revisions to electoral boundaries, and with no requirement for public consultation.

31. The government also has broad discretion on the size of Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) and the minority group which must be represented in the slate of candidates for a particular GRC.
Follow-up to the 2011 review

32. Canada (Rec. 104) had asked about this in 2011. The government’s response has been to say that the system is governed by the Parliamentary Elections Act and that there is integrity in the system. We do not dispute the integrity. But the Parliamentary Elections Act can be amended to have an independent Elections Commission, an Electoral Boundary Committee that works with the citizens to assess the need for re-drawing boundaries and also to remove the GRC scheme, moving back to the one-person-one vote-one candidate system.

New developments since 2011 review
33. We had the General Elections that was held on 11 Sep 2015. The results brought in a 9.9 percentage point vote increase for the ruling party and that Parliament remains with the People’s Action Party as the ruling party with one GRC from the Opposition Party. ( Please see para 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 in the MARUAH report)

Recommendations
34. To set up an independent Elections Commission with a mix in representation of various stakeholders.

35. MARUAH recommends a return to Single Member Constituencies for all districts and doing away with the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).

36. The redrawing of election boundaries should be undertaken by an independent body. Public consultations should be organised, and a minimum period of advance notice before revising electoral boundaries before elections.

CONTINUED USAGE OF PREVENTIVE DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL, UNDER INTERNAL SECURITY ACT AND THE CRIMINAL LEGAL (TEMPORARY PROVISIONS) ACT
37. These laws – ISA and CLTPA are framed as necessary tools to counter the threat of terrorism and to counter security breaches. People are detained without a trial. An Advisory Board reviews the cases.

Follow-up to the 2011 review
38. Poland (Rec 86), Slovenia (Rec 131), Canada (Rec 132), Czech Republic (Rec 127), Djibouti (Rec 129), France (Rec 128), UK (Rec 88) have raised questions on torture, the right to detain without trial and access to lawyers. The Government remains committed to these laws as a preventive approach to terrorism.

New developments since 2011 review
39. There has been a stream of past and present detainees alleging psychological mistreatment and even physical violence whilst in detention. There has been no public inquiry regarding these allegations. The right not to be tortured or be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under UDHR Article 5 is a fundamental and undeniable right. Even if the allegations were true, any attempt to prove them will be difficult, since the detainee would not have any means of independent verification.

40. The Court of Appeal recently ruled that a CLTPA detention case was unlawful because it was beyond the scope of the power vested in the Minister. But the man was detained again under the CLTPA.

Recommendations
41. MARUAH calls for a public review on whether the ISA and CLTPA remain relevant and appropriate in the current form.

42. We ask for detention cases to be reviewed in court, and that all detainees have a fair trial, either open court or in private.

43. We ask for all detainees to have access to legal counsel.

LACK OF INDEPENDENT INSTITUTIONS, E.G. The National Human Rights Body
44. Singapore has no National Human Rights Body but relies on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which comprises individuals who are government representatives and who also see their roles in that light.

Follow-up to the 2011 review
45. Poland ( Rec. 99), South Africa ( Rec. 103), Thailand ( Rec. 98), Timor Leste ( Rec. 97), Egypt ( Rec. 100), Moldova ( Rec. 102) Nepal ( Rec. 35), Canada (Rec. 101) have all asked about the setting up of an NHRI according to the standards of the Paris Principles.

New developments since 2011 review
46. The government has not indicated a change in policy towards the setting up of independent institutions, despite calls from various segments for such bodies, e.g. ombudsman . Neither has it responded to any calls made to set up an NHRI.

Recommendations
47. MARUAH calls for the government to setup a National Human Rights Institution, and also an independent Elections Commission.

RATIFICATION OF OTHER CORE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS, SPECIFICALLY CERD, AND OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS FOR CEDAW, CRC, CRPD
Singapore has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and now the Convention on the Rights of the People with Disabilities and the Palermo Protocol. It has recently announced its intention to accede to the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination. For CRC, CEDAW Singapore has reservations and has not ratified all the optional protocols under the conventions.

Follow-up to the 2011 review
48. Vietnam ( Rec.41), Oman ( Rec.76), Poland ( Rec. 81, 86, 143), Philippines ( Rec. 23), Slovenia ( Rec. 83), Sudan ( Rec. 73), Swaziland ( Rec. 71) Timor Leste( Rec. 87), Trinidad and Tobago ( Rec. 75), Egypt ( Rec. 59), Finland ( Rec. 67, 95), France ( Rec. 91), Ghana ( Rec. 90), Indonesia ( Rec. 39) Lesotho ( Rec. 66), Moldova ( Rec. 116), Morocco ( Rec. 70), Afghanistan ( Rec. 77, 82), Bhutan ( Rec. 48, Czech Republic ( Rec. 85) have all asked for status on Singapore’s approach to International Instruments.

New developments since 2011 review
49. Singapore signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 19 Oct 2015, however with reservations, key of which is that “The Republic of Singapore reserves the right to apply its policies concerning the admission and regulation of foreign work pass holders, with a view to promoting integration and maintaining cohesion within its racially diverse society.”

Recommendations
50. MARUAH commends the government for signing CERD; we look forward to the full ratification and the removal of the reservations as soon as possible.

51. Singapore should give a timeline to accede and ratify other key human rights instruments such as the ICCPR and the ICESR.

52. Singapore should offer a stipulated timeframe to remove the reservations on CRC and CEDAW and ratify the Optional Protocols under the conventions.

LACK OF HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS
53. Singapore has no official school-based curriculum on human rights. Neither has MARUAH has not been invited to any school to give a talk or to share discussions.

Follow-up to the 2011 review
54. At the 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore, Indonesia (Rec. 53), Jordan (Rec. 61) have asked about human rights education.

New developments since 2011 review
55. There is no change other than some discussion at school level by civil service officers.
Recommendations

56. We want Singapore to include human rights education in the national curriculum of primary and secondary schools and to mainstream human rights in Singapore society.

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