K. Shanmugam

Minister of Home Affairs

Ministry of Home Affairs

New Phoenix Park

28 Irrawaddy Road

Republic of Singapore – 329560

 

Sent via fax:

+65 6254 6250

 

Sent via e-mail:

k_shanmugam@mha.gov.sg

k_shanmugam@mlaw.gov.sg

 

June 21, 2016

Human Rights Watch Letter Re: Corporate Support for the PinkDot Festival

 

Dear Minister Shanmugam:

We write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express concern regarding the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement on June 7, 2016 regarding corporate sponsorship of the PinkDot festival.  Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that investigates and monitors the human rights situation in more than 90 countries worldwide, including Singapore.

In the statement, which was reportedly in response to media inquiries about companies sponsoring the festival, the ministry states that “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. … LGBTI issues are one such example.”[1]

Since 2009, the PinkDot festival has featured a gathering of Singaporean citizens and permanent residents to celebrate the freedom to love and express support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Since the very beginning, organizers of the annual event have been meticulous in registering the gathering and ensuring that all of the announcements and regulations fall within Singapore’s public assembly laws. This year’s PinkDot festival took place on June 4.

In 2011, Google-Singapore became the first international company to sponsor the event—a decision the company stated they undertook because it matched their corporate values of diversity and acceptance.[2] This year, the event counted 18 corporate sponsors, all of which are legally registered entities in Singapore.[3]

The ministry’s June 7 statement sends a discriminatory message to PinkDot’s corporate sponsors that their support for the festival is contrary to government policy. This infringes on rights to freedom of expression, which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees to “everyone,”[4] and pressures corporations to act in contravention of their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.[5]

Singapore’s public assembly laws are overly narrow and strict and do not meet international standards. Under the Public Order Act 2009, the government requires a permit for any cause-related assembly in any public place or to which members of the general public are invited. Grounds for denial of the permit are broad and left largely to the discretion of police.

Demonstrations and rallies are restricted to the “Speakers’ Corner,” require advance notice, can only be organized by Singaporean citizens, and can only be attended by citizens and permanent residents. PinkDot was organized within the boundaries of this law, and garnered the support of the Singaporean branches of multinational firms that value diversity and non-discrimination. Yet the Home Affairs Ministry’s PinkDot statement sends a negative, rights-restricting message.

The corporations that sponsor PinkDot employ Singaporeans, follow Singapore’s laws, and contribute to Singapore’s economy. They have human rights responsibilities and should not be pressured to support discrimination against the LGBT community.

Singapore, as a country that has gone to great lengths to encourage international firms to set up headquarter offices in the country, should also recognize the negative message that your statement sends to international business firms from the growing number of countries in Europe, North America, Latin America, and elsewhere, that recognize LGBT rights and have incorporated them into their corporate non-discrimination policies. This is consistent with their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles.

In the wake of the violent attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando in the United States on June 12, a group of Singaporeans held a vigil at Hong Lim Park. At the evening gathering, one of the organizers told the crowd: “In Singapore, we have absolutely no protection from any form of discrimination or even possible hate crimes committed in the future. But you know what …we are still here. We are resilient. We won’t be cast aside. Look around you. Everyone here is a part of a family. We are your sons, your daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, and co-workers.”[6]

On June 15, in response to the Orlando attack, you told reporters that, “The Government’s duty… is to protect everyone. Their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, they are not relevant in terms of the Government’s duty to protect.”[7] Your comments echoed Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, who said: “Let us treasure the peace and harmony we enjoy in Singapore, and focus on the common humanity we share.”[8]

Your June 7 statement to companies planning to sponsor the PinkDot festival encourages discrimination, is a threat to the fundamental rights of all Singaporeans, and is a stain on your country’s reputation as a welcome home for international business. Human Rights Watch urges you to swiftly reverse course, repudiate your statement, and end efforts to restrict LGBT Singaporeans in exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, free from discrimination and intimidation.

Sincerely,

Brad Adam

Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

Graeme Reid

LGBT Rights Director, Human Rights Watch


[1] Republic of Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, “MHA Statement on Foreign Sponsorships for Pink Dot 2016,” June 7, 2016, https://www.mha.gov.sg/Newsroom/press-releases/Pages/MHA-Statement-on-Foreign-Sponsorships-for-Pink-Dot-2016.aspx

[2] PinkDot, “PinkDot Now Supported by Google-Singapore,” http://pinkdot.sg/pink-dot-2011-now-supported-by-google-singapore/

[3] PinkDot, “PinkDot 2016 Corporate Sponsors,” http://pinkdot.sg/2016-corporate-sponsors/

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc A/810 at 71 (1948), article 19, available at http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/instree/b1udhr.htm.

[5] United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011, HR/PUB/11/04, available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf.

[6] The Online Citizen, “Candlelight Vigil To Mourn for the 49 Killed at the Orlando Shooting,” June 14, 2016, http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2016/06/candlelight-vigil-to-mourn-for-the-49-killed-at-the-orlando-shooting/

[7] TodayOnline, “Govt ‘will protect all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation,’” June 14, 2016, http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/govts-duty-protect-all-sporeans-threat-violence-regardless-race-religion-or-sexual

[8] ChannelNewsAsia, “Singapore leaders express condolences over Orlando shooting,” June 13, 2016, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-leaders-express/2866470.html