Singapore 'has moved to protect the vulnerable'

An elderly woman picking up a cardboard box outside Geylang Bahru food centre in 2012.
An elderly woman picking up a cardboard box outside Geylang Bahru food centre in 2012. PHOTO: ST FILE

Govt says it was guided by pragmatic approach to human rights, in report to be discussed at UN council

Singapore has taken steps to give better protection to children, the lower-income and migrant workers, as well as victims of trafficking, the Government said in its national report on human rights published yesterday. It will also review these measures regularly.

The 23-page report will be discussed further at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Jan 27 between Singapore Government representatives and other UN members.

The meeting is part of a process called the Universal Periodic Review, which looks at the human rights situation in each UN member-state every 41/2 years.

Singapore had its first Universal Periodic Review in May 2011 and the recommendations made led to the adoption of some recent measures.These include amending laws to better protect families and children.

Singapore has also crafted a national road map to help those with disabilities integrate into society, and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013.

This year, it signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and acceded to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol.

The Government said that in taking these steps, it was guided by a pragmatic approach to human rights.

"The realisation of human rights is a work-in-progress for all states," said Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who leads Singapore's delegation to Geneva next month.

"Singapore will continue to review and adapt our approach based on the changing attitudes and needs of our society," she added.

As part of the Universal Periodic Review, the UN also compiles information based on reports of independent human rights groups as well as civil society.

Several civil society groups will meet UN members next week as part of this process.

They hope their feedback will shape UN members' recommendations to Singapore at the Jan 27 meeting, which will last 31/2 hours and be the basis for the next review.

Singapore's national report was prepared by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights, in consultation with non-governmental organisations.

It describes how Singapore has implemented the recommendations it accepted in 2011, and its progress in building a fair and inclusive society and preserving social harmony. These include stronger social safety nets for lower-income citizens, investments in education, healthcare and housing, and greater consultation and public debate on policies.

A new issue in this year's report is the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The Government reiterated its stance in keeping but not proactively enforcing the Penal Code's Section 377A, which criminalises sex between two men.

This approach seeks to accommodate the sensitivities of different communities and takes into account the evolving social and cultural context here, the report said.

It added that members of the LGBT community were not discriminated against in schools or at work.

Singapore also did not accept a previous recommendation to abolish the mandatory death penalty.

It noted, however, that it removed the mandatory death penalty in 2012 for categories of homicide where there is no intention to kill.

The courts also have discretion to order either life imprisonment or capital punishment in these cases.

"Stability, security and social harmony are the key prerequisites for economic growth, which enables the Government to care for and protect Singaporeans," said the report. "We therefore firmly apply the rule of law to ensure stability, equality and social justice."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore 'has moved to protect the vulnerable''. Print Edition | Subscribe