SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to put forth a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to human rights, when an inter-agency delegation undergoes the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Jan 27, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Led by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, this is part of the Republic's obligations as a Member State of the United Nations (UN).
Singapore is currently a party to core human rights instruments of the UN, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It recently signed onto three more Conventions - the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Trafficking In Persons Protocol.
Under the Human Rights Council (HRC), the UPR reviews the human rights policies and practices in all 193 UN Member States - a process that rolls around once every four and a half years, where 14 Member States are reviewed at each session. The UPR's second cycle began in 2012.
Ambassador Chan said: "The UPR is also an opportunity for governments to take stock of their human rights policies and practices. The realisation of human rights is a work-in-progress for all States. Singapore will continue to review and adapt our changing attitudes and needs of our society."
Each Member State needs to submit three documents:
1. A National Report by the Government on its human rights situation
2. A compilation of information on the Member State under review, based on reports of independent human rights experts and groups, human rights treaty bodies and other UN entities
3. A report summarising stakeholders' submissions, including local and international civil society organisations (CSOs)
The second and third components will be prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and are independent from the Member State's National Report.
Singapore submitted its 23-page National Report in October 2015. The full Report is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. It explains the concrete steps in which Singapore has taken to continue building a fair and inclusive society.
The report goes into further detail. "In every country, accommodation must be reached among the competing rights of the individuals who make up the nation and the interests of society as a whole. We therefore apply the rule of law to ensure stability, equality and social justice, which are the necessary conditions for respecting the fundamental human rights enshrined in our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Divided into the two themes of social protection and social harmony, the report highlights the Government's existing policies that seek to protect its most vulnerable groups, like migrant workers, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, while stressing its views on mutual accommodation and meritocracy in the country's multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment.
Singapore received 112 recommendations from its first UPR on May 6, 2011, of which the Government supported 84 - whether in whole or in part.
However, it rejected the recommendation to abolish the death penalty. The report acknowledges this, but added: "In 2012, we removed the mandatory death penalty for categories of homicide where there is no intention to kill. The courts are now given the discretion to order either life imprisonment or capital punishment."
Since the 2011 review, the Government has initiated consultations with CSOs, and in 2012, conducted a year-long open consultation exercise, 'Our Singapore Conversation', which involved around 50,000 citizens.
For its upcoming UPR, the Singapore delegation will be addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights - an issue that was left out in the 2011 report.
It reiterates the Government's stance to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises gay sex. However, the report emphasises that Section 377A is not proactively enforced - members of the LGBT community are not discriminated in schools or the workplace.
"All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation are free to lead their lives and pursue their activities in their private space without fear of violence or personal insecurity," the report states. "The Government does not discriminate against persons seeking a job in the civil service on the basis of their sexual orientation."
During Singapore's three-hour review session, the delegation, led by Ambassador Chan, will present its National Report and engage in a dialogue with the UPR Working Group, made up of 47 Elected Members, as well as Observer States of the HRC. In this peer review system, all parties will be allowed to give recommendations following the presentation.
Ambassador Chan said: "The UPR is not an occasion for the international community to sit in judgment of one of its members. It is a conversation among peers."
Singapore's response to these recommendations will be circulated to all States 48 hours after the UPR.