On Jan 27, Singapore participated in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee led a delegation that comprised civil service officers ("UN praises Singapore's social policies"; Jan 29).
Absent from the table were ministers and elected government leaders, who ought to take the lead to speak for human rights, explain the Government's stance and address the issues raised.
Maruah hopes that our government leaders take the UPR process seriously enough to spare time for a discussion on human rights issues.
Singapore's human rights record should be presented by a minister or deputy minister.
Issues raised during the UPR session included recognising migrant workers and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA) community as people with equal rights, abolishing the death penalty, reviewing the Internal Security Act and certain laws such as Section 377A, removing corporal punishment, and ratifying several international conventions.
Race and security also featured in some observations and questions, with countries asking for clear ratification on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
There were also calls made for a National Human Rights Institution and an independent elections commission to be set up.
These are issues that civil society, Singaporeans and the Government will continue to negotiate on.
However, Maruah finds the approach and stance taken by the Government to certain issues disappointing.
The use of exceptionalism to defend the existence of anachronisms like the death penalty and arbitrary detention without trial shows the Government's lack of commitment to the core principles of human rights.
Human rights are indivisible, inalienable and interdependent.
Yes, we live in difficult times, where security of the person and a country are real.
All the more we need to have meaningful engagement on these issues between our population and the Government.
Braema Mathi (Ms)
Forum Note: Maruah is a human rights group