Singapore's social policies lauded by UN member states; some urge for end to death penalty

GENEVA - United Nations member states have complimented Singapore on its 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 41/2 years. Some 113 states spoke at the 31/2-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. 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.

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."

In a post on his Facebook page on Thursday night, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote: "Many delegations admired our pragmatic approach and how we had effectively transformed the lives of our people. There were of course the usual recommendations urging us to abolish the death penalty and to sign more human rights conventions. But we reminded them that every society is unique and has to formulate its own strategy.

"We have managed to build an inclusive Singapore and to uplift the lives of all Singaporeans through a careful balance of diverse interests. This is an ongoing process, to protect and promote the human rights of all Singaporeans, with the ultimate goal of achieving happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation."