Singapore concludes its first UN human rights review

Updated On: Sep 23, 2011

Singapore's Universal Periodic Review report was adopted at the 18th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

The session marked the end of the country's first Universal Periodic Review, a mandatory process for all UN member states to review their human rights situation. The mechanism aims at improving the human rights situation in the 192 UN member states. The review consists of 3 main processes - review, implementation and assessment, all of which take place within a four year cycle.

Procedurally, three main documents are used to conduct the review of the state; the national report, written by the state under review and in consultation with civil society; a compilation of the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) of information from treaty bodies, special procedures and UN agencies; and a summary by the OHCHR, of information recevied from national institutions and NGOs.

First the state is reviewed for 3 hours, by other states. The states make recommendations on how to improve the human rights situation in the country. Two days after the review, a report is adopted by the Council. Finally, the result of each review is reflected in an “outcome report,” listing the recommendations made to the State under review including those that it accepted and which it will have to implement before the next review.

The UPR is universal in that it reviews all states in the world. It also concerns all human rights, from civil to political rights to economic, social and cultural rights.

Guide to the UPR Process (Source: UPR-info.org)

In its national report, Singapore outlined the constitutional and legal framework for the protection of human rights in Singapore, and the achievements, challenges and constraints of human rights protection in relation to health, education, housing, employment and social security.

It also considered the protection of rights of special groups such as women, children and migrant workers. Finally, it considered political and civil liberties such as due process and fair trial, preventative detention (including the Internal Security Act, or ISA), as well as freedom of assembly, and expression.

On it's part, the OHCHR and state's combined report recommended that to improve its human rights situation, Singapore should establish a national human rights institution, make plans to ratify the two core international human rights instruments and ensure that the ISA is only used in exceptional circumstances. It should also continue to engage with UN Special Rapporteurs, including the Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights defenders, and put in place measures to protect victims of trafficking, among other recommendations.

In the adoption of the outcome report, Singapore accepted that it would consider ratifying two UN human rights conventions, but not those recommended by the review. It also rejected the proposal to establish a national human rights institution. It also pledged to work to improve child and migrant worker rights.

Singapore National Report (UN Human Rights Council, 2 February 2011)

UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) Report (UN Human Rights Council, 11 July 2011)

Though national media did not comment on the outcomes of Singapore's UPR, international human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, was critical of Singapore's response to the UPR process.

It said that Singapore should Singapore accept recommendations from other states on crucial civil and political rights issues.

“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.” said Mr. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the organisation.

He also noted that 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 next Universal Periodic Review will be in four years' time. SIIA contributed to Singapore's UPR process by submitting information to the Review as an NGO.

Report: UN Human Rights Council adopts S'pore report (CNA, 21 September 2011)

Report: Singapore: Adopt UN Rights Recommendations (Human Rights Watch, 21 September 2011)


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