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Singapore to participate for the third time in UN review of member states' human rights record

Singapore to participate for the third time in UN review of member states' human rights record

File photo of Singapore skyline. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Singapore will participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council's universal periodic review (UPR) next month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press statement on Thursday (Apr 1). 

The UPR is a state-driven reporting process that reviews the human rights situation in all UN member states once every five years. Singapore was last reviewed in 2016, and this is the third time that it is being reviewed.

The UPR session will take place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on May 12. Singapore's delegation is headed by Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee.

Singapore's latest national report for the UPR touches on the country's approach to human rights, and how it has tried to build an "inclusive", "coherent" and "resilient" society. It also includes sections on protecting low-income and vulnerable residents, social support, as well as access to justice amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The report takes stock of the human rights situation in Singapore, describes the implementation of the recommendations Singapore accepted in whole, and policy developments since Singapore’s last UPR in 2016," said MFA.

"It also details Singapore’s decisive measures taken to help our society emerge stronger and more resilient from the COVID-19 pandemic. In its preparation of the national report, the Government also engaged many civil society organisations on issues covered in the report."

APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS

Singapore had submitted its national report for the upcoming review in January.

The report noted that Singapore’s approach to human rights is premised on two tenets - first, that human rights do not exist in a vacuum but must take into account a country’s specific circumstances including cultural, social, economic, and historical contexts. 

In addition, it stated that the rule of law is "an essential precondition and bedrock" for promoting and protecting human rights. 

"Like all countries, we have to balance the rights of individuals and society. We must constantly resist calls to privilege any group over another and bear in mind how the primordial forces of race, language and religion had threatened to tear our society apart in our formative years," said the report.

"Our leaders hence decided to build a society that would accommodate all ethnic groups and recognise all religions as equal."

The report lays out ways in which Singapore has tried to build an inclusive and coherent society. 

For instance, it pointed out that the country has strengthened legislation to protect children and youth against sexual exploitation.

In a section covering migrant workers, the report stated that foreign workers are accorded the same rights as local workers under laws such as the Employment Act and Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The report also touched on issues such as freedom of peaceful assembly and association. 

"Singaporeans have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association," it said. "Similar to the freedom of expression, this right is limited, consistent with international standards, to ensure mutual respect amongst our people and broader societal priorities including the need to preserve public order and maintain social harmony in our densely populated city-state."

On protection of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, the report noted that it "firmly" opposes discrimination and harassment and has laws to protect its citizens from such conduct.

"All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to pursue their activities in their private space," the report said.

TAKING STOCK OF PROGRESS

The UPR process is a chance for Singapore to "take stock" of progress, identify challenges, hear the views of others and engage citizens and civil society on the way forward on human rights, the report noted.

After Singapore's first UPR in 2011, it supported in whole or in part 84 of 112 recommendations. After its second UPR in 2016,  Singapore supported in whole or in part 125 of 236 recommendations, added the report.

An inter-ministry committee on human rights tracks and reviews the implementation of recommendations, with the Government engaging civil society on issues raised.

The committee also conducted three rounds of consultations with civil society organisations on "thematic lines" to ensure that a representative spread of these organisations were engaged on the issues touched upon in this report, it said.

In its press statement, MFA said Singapore participates in the UPR process as "a responsible UN member state". 

"We look forward to continuing a positive and constructive conversation with fellow UN member states and civil society organisations on our achievements and challenges," added MFA.

"This includes sharing Singapore’s pragmatic and outcomes-based approach to human rights, tailored to improving the lives and interests of all Singaporeans within our unique historical, social and cultural context."

Source: CNA/mt(gs)

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