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(Geneva) – Singapore should accept recommendations from other states on crucial civil and political rights issues given during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights said today. The UPR, a peer review process each country undergoes every four years to ascertain its progress on human rights, concludes its first examination of Singapore on September 22, 2011.

Despite multiple calls at the council for Singapore to repeal the Internal Security Act and other preventive detention laws, to impose a moratorium on capital punishment, and to eliminate caning as a form of punishment, the government has shown little inclination to reform, Human Rights Watch said. Instead it has refused to adopt human rights treaties or change abusive laws, often without explanation.

“Singapore’s UPR responses betray a stubborn refusal to accept that Singaporeans are entitled to the same basic rights as people everywhere,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Singapore commits to human rights reform only at the margins, well away from any measures that would ensure meaningful freedom of association, expression, and assembly, which the government considers threatening to its unchallenged power.”

During the UPR, Singapore sought to justify its refusal to respect core civil and political rights by contending that a multi-cultural society cannot afford to air issues related to “ethnicity, language, race, and religion” lest it “cause friction and divide Singaporeans.” In an attempt to explain its failure to ratify the major human rights treaties, the government said it continues to study “the technical and resource implications” of ratification. And despite stating a commitment at the UPR to protect migrant laborers, Singapore was one of only nine states that that did not vote for a new international treaty to protect such workers (the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers).

Singapore’s responses to many recommendations formulated at the UPR showed an unwillingness to reconsider long-held positions on important human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said. For example, Singapore refused, without explanation, to consider ensuring that preventive detention “is only used in exceptional cases and does not violate the right to a fair trial.” It refused, again without explanation, to consider changes in its use of the death penalty and declined to join with the growing number of states that have endorsed General Assembly Resolution 62/149 on Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty. The government also refused to abolish the practice of torture in the form of judicially authorized caning and caning in educational facilities.

“As far back as 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of making ‘changes to liberalize our society,’ but Singapore has failed to meet that aspiration,” Robertson said. “During the four years before Singapore’s next UPR session, its leaders should reconsider the recommendations they now refuse to accept and act on them to the benefit of all Singaporeans.”


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