SIIA SUBMITS INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT TO UN
SINGAPORE, 1 NOV 2010 – The Singapore Institute of International Affair (SIIA) has submitted an independent report to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in conjunction with the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the state of human rights in Singapore.
The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. It was established when the UN Human Rights Council was created on 15 March 2006.
Singapore will, for the first time, be reviewed at the eleventh session of the Working Group on the UPR in Geneva from 2-13 May 2011. While Singapore has been assessed in the past on specific human rights issues by UN treaty-based bodies, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Convention, this UPR will be the first time its will be assessed in relation to a wide-range of human rights and obligations under international law.
SIIA’s report takes note of the country's key human rights achievements, while also highlighting the challenges and constraints that the country faces when tackling this issue. The review makes three key recommendations: that Singapore establish a National Human Rights Centre, support the creation of a local network of scholars and practitioners to undertake a study of human rights in Singapore, and to consider acceding to selected major international human rights instruments.
SIIA’s report was authored by Mahdev Mohan, SIIA Associate Fellow & Assistant Professor of Law at the SMU School of Law; Reuben Wong, SIIA Council Member & Assistant Professor at the NUS Department of Political Science; Simon Tay, SIIA Chairman & Associate Professor of Law at NUS Law School; and Ms. Lim May-Ann, SIIA Policy Research Manager.
"This review comes at an important time," said Prof. Simon Tay. "As the world's attention is increasingly focused on ASEAN and Asia, Singapore's standing as a developed country, and correspondingly its achievements and shortfalls in its human rights record, should be assessed. These recommendations are meant to serve as starting points for May 2011, when Singapore appears before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva."
The SIIA report notes that Singapore has done well for its citizens in many areas, such as promoting good governance and rule of law, as well as providing affordable education, public housing and medical care for all its citizens.
"With an excellent legal system which guarantees basic economic and social rights, Singapore has done well for herself," said Prof. Reuben Wong. "In addition, Singapore is also a party to the 2007 ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR), which aims to promote and protect human rights in the region."
Noting that Singapore has progressively improved its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) over the years, Ms. Lim May-Ann cautioned that "we should be careful not to sensationalize issues whenever the phrase ‘human rights’ is discussed, but understand that it includes a large box of topics which must be sensibly unpacked.”
However, the SIIA report also notes four key challenges and constraints which Singapore should be prepared to address in Geneva. It observes that Singapore’s laws limit fundamental rights and due process, such as the right to freedom of expression through new media. The report also notes obstacles to and the absence of research about the ways in which Singaporeans may have access to justice. The report also calls on Singapore to pay greater attention to the rights of persons with disabilities.
Prof. Mahdev Mohan emphasized that the UPR is testament to the fact that certain fundamental human rights norms constitute international law obligations which Singapore and other UN Member States must protect. “This is not a one-off event, as next year marks the first of many more periodic reviews to come for Singapore” he said. “It is high time that Singapore grooms a new generation of international lawyers and inter-disciplinary scholars who understand human rights law in its proper local or regional context and are able help Singapore work toward meeting its outstanding human rights obligations,” added Prof. Mohan.
The SIIA review has been submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It can be viewed on the SIIA website at http://siiaonline.org/?q=node/4859
For more information on the report, please contact Ms. LIM May-Ann, Manager of Policy Research, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +65-67349600.
ABOUT THE SIIA
Founded in 1961, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is the oldest independent think tank in Singapore, and represents Singapore in the influential ASEAN-ISIS network of regional think tanks. Recently ranked as a top 15 think tank in Asia, the institute has observed and contributed to the discussion of human rights in ASEAN for more than a decade.
In 2008, it organised the 7th Workshop on the ASEAN Regional Mechanism on Human Rights. The workshop reviewed and analysed regional efforts in establishing a human rights mechanism and, to this end, developed a set of recommendations designed for practitioners, policymakers and civil society, including ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan.
The SIIA is committed to human rights public education and its role in positively contributing to Singapore’s processes of incremental change. By raising awareness of human rights, SIIA hopes to promote critical reflection on domestic issues and active participation in determining standards that should govern Singaporean society.
Ms. LIM May-Ann
Manager of Policy Research
Singapore Institute of International Affairs
2 Nassim Road Singapore 258370
tel: +65-67349600 fax: +65-67336217