UN praises Singapore's social policies

United Nations member states have praised Singapore's social policies as well as its strategies to foster racial and religious tolerance.

At Singapore's second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, a "significant majority" welcomed its efforts to improve care for the elderly, the disabled and other vulnerable groups, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

They also commended its ratification of UN conventions on disabled rights and human trafficking.

The UPR looks at human rights in each of the 193 UN member states every 4½ years. Some 113 states spoke at the 3½-hour session.

However, some called for Singapore to abolish the death penalty, caning, detention without trial and section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between men.

A Singapore delegation, led by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, explained the nation's "pragmatic" stance on such issues.

The death penalty, for example, deters the most serious crimes like murder and drug trafficking.

"No civilised society glorifies the taking of life," said the delegation. "The question is whether, in very limited circumstances, it is legitimate to have capital punishment so that the larger interest of society is served."

Meanwhile, the delegation said the Internal Security Act (ISA), which can be used to detain suspects without trial, has been "particularly effective in addressing the threat of terrorism and continues to be relevant in today's heightened security climate".

It is used only under "exceptional circumstances", such as when the disclosure of intelligence will endanger the sources of information or when witnesses are unwilling to testify in open court for fear of reprisal.

The delegation added that detentions under the ISA are governed by the same checks as in normal arrests.

Detainees are informed about the grounds of detention and have a right to legal counsel.

Detentions under the ISA are reviewed annually.

On the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), Professor Chan said that Singapore "treasures" each Singaporean and acknowledges the contributions of the LGBT community.

"Singapore is basically a conservative society," said Prof Chan.

"We have to manage such issues sensitively and in a pragmatic way without fracturing our society."

She added that LGBT rights are divisive even in liberal societies and reiterated the Government's stance that Section 377A will not be enforced.

Singapore's civil service hires LGBT people, while the country hosts plays about the community, and public gatherings supporting it such as Pink Dot.

"Our approach is to live and let live, and to preserve our common space for all communities in Singapore. We firmly oppose discrimination and harassment and we have laws to protect our citizens from such acts."

The Singapore delegation added that while the Republic does not accede to or ratify all UN human rights treaties, domestic policies are "generally in compliance with their substance".

"Our Government has remained committed to, and invested in, the relentless task of caring for our citizens and protecting their fundamental rights, independent of any UN human rights review process," said Prof Chan.

She said the Government recognises that Singapore's society is changing, with the presence of more diverse interest groups, from animal rights to environment.

"Technology is transforming society and bringing in new ideas, but also exposing us to divisive forces like religious extremism," she said.

"Globalisation has not resulted in one single, happy global village. More than ever, the Government needs to engage different groups more deeply and their competing interests in a pragmatic way."


This article was first published on January 29, 2016.
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