SINGAPORE: Singapore has submitted its first report on the measures it has taken to eliminate racial discrimination in the country, to a United Nations committee that monitors the implementation of an international convention on this matter.
The report is a requirement for all states parties of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which Singapore signed in October 2015 and ratified in November 2017.
The convention condemns racial discrimination based on race, colour, descent, nationality or ethnic origin, and calls upon states parties to pursue a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.
Singapore will also give an an oral presentation of the measures in their report to the committee in about a year's time.
In a media release on Thursday (Dec 27), the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said that Singapore's report describes the Government's holistic approach to preserving and strengthening social cohesion, which has three pillars.
These pillars are: Legislation that safeguards racial and religious harmony, policies that foster social integration and programmes that mobilise the community to work together for the common good, MCCY added.
The report also highlights "key measures" that Singapore has undertaken to eliminate racial discrimination and strengthen racial harmony, said the ministry.
Some of these measures include the roles of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, which scrutinises Bills and subsidiary legislation to ensure they do not disadvantage any racial or religious community; ethnic-based self-help groups, which provide assistance to low-income people; and the Ethnic Integration Policy, which aims to ensure a balanced ethnic mix across public housing estates, MCCY said.
FAIR RACIAL REPRESENTATION
The report also pointed to measures to ensure fair racial representation in the office of the President.
The Constitution was amended in 2016, allowing a Presidential election to be reserved for a candidate from a particular racial group that has not assumed the office in five consecutive terms.
As such, the 2017 Presidential Election was reserved for Malay candidates, and Halimah Yacob became the first female Malay President to take office that year.
In all other instances, the election is open to candidates from all racial groups.
"The Government recognised that 'the role of the President as a titular Head of State representing our multi-racial society is important and we should have a system that not only allows but facilitates persons of all ethnic groups to be President from time to time'," said the report.
In its release on Thursday, MCCY stressed the importance of racial harmony to Singapore's identity.
As of June 2017, 74.3 per cent of Singapore's resident population were Chinese, 13.4 per cent Malay, 9 per cent Indian and 3.2 per cent from other ethnic groups.
"Racial harmony has been a key part of Singapore’s identity since independence," said MCCY. "This did not come about by chance – it is the result of hard work and deliberate effort to forge unity across disparate ethnic communities, through policies that strengthen social cohesion and build trust over time.
"Ratifying the ICERD underscores Singapore’s longstanding commitment to work towards a society free of racial discrimination."
In preparing its report, the Government consulted a wide range of people including youths, academics, religious and community leaders, community organisations and civil society organisations, said MCCY.
The ministry also invited members of the public to provide feedback on the draft report from September to October 2018 through REACH.
ICERD IN OTHER COUNTRIES
The ICERD has drawn controversy in other countries, most recently in Malaysia, where thousands travelled to Kuala Lumpur earlier this month to protest against the convention.
In September, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the United Nations General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify the convention.
However, Putrajaya backpedaled on its decision in November, as ratifying ICERD would require a two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the Federal Constitution.