(New York) – The government of Singapore should rescind its call for foreign corporations to cease sponsorship of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) diversity event, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the home affairs minister. The government’s June 2016 warning to companies that sponsor the PinkDot festival, an annual LGBT gathering, sends a discriminatory message contrary to basic rights and global business standards.
On June 4, thousands gathered in Singapore for the festival, an annual celebration of LGBT diversity carried out since 2009 under Singapore’s stringent public assembly laws. On June 7, 2016, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry called on corporate sponsors of the event to cease their support, saying 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.”
“Singapore’s demand that foreign companies stop sponsoring PinkDot encourages corporations to discriminate against LGBT people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is not only reprehensible toward LGBT people, but to corporations that have pledged to eliminate bias in their corporate practices.”
The Singapore government’s statement runs counter to the responsibilities that corporations have under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch said.
Singapore is home to a growing number of companies from Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America that recognize LGBT rights and have incorporated them into their corporate non-discrimination policies. Some of the corporations that sponsored the 2016 PinkDot festival have already responded to the government’s statement by reaffirming their commitment to LGBT inclusion and nondiscrimination.
In the wake of the violent attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando in the United States on June 12, in which 49 people died and over 50 were injured, a group of Singaporeans held a vigil at the place where PinkDot was held the week before. 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 won’t be cast aside.”
On June 15, in response to the Orlando attack, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters: “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.” The deputy prime minister and coordinating minister for national security, Teo Chee Hean, also said on June 13: “Let us treasure the peace and harmony we enjoy in Singapore, and focus on the common humanity we share.”
“The government’s June 7 statement to companies not only encourages discrimination against LGBT people, it threatens the fundamental rights of all Singaporeans,” Adams said. “Such incitement to discrimination is a stain on the country’s reputation as a welcome home for international business.”