Singapore’​s human rights record under the universal periodic review

Dear United Nations Human Rights Office,

I refer to the 7 May 2011 Straits Times report of my country’s representation of its human rights record to the UN by our ambassador, Mr Ong Keng Yong.

Mr Ong highlighted Singapore’s economic progress and other achievements. If economic progress can substitute for human rights, then China will have no human rights issues now.

Mr Ong speaks of balance. But there is no balance. It is not as though the country is still in the 1950s or 1960s struggling to make an economic breakthrough. Prosperous Singapore today demands a human rights standard equivalent to those of First World countries. We cannot forever harp on a balance that was applicable in the 1950s and 1960s when our situation has so vastly improved over the past decades. We cannot continue to have all the paid newspapers in this country owned by just one company whose shares are almost entirely owned by government linked companies and whose chairperson has always been important ex-ministers.

Mr Ong speaks of priority for social harmony due to our multiculturalism. But people in New York are not alien to multiculturalism. Yet, there is no trade off between social harmony and human rights in New York. There should not be such trade offs for Singapore as well.

In the name of social harmony, our government has implemented the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) where several constituencies are lumped together as one. The team contesting for a GRC must comprise of at least one minority candidate and that according to the government is how minority representation in parliament is achieved. But we can have minority representation without the GRC. We can simply declare one of the several constituencies in a GRC to be a minority constituency where only minority candidates can contest in. The other constituencies in that GRC can then be contested individually and independently. The GRC is merely an excuse to entrench the ruling party in power.

Mr Ong speaks of meritocracy which is really an integral part of our East Asian culture.

Mr Ong points to us having one of the lowest homicide rates in the world and attributes that to our death penalty. But Hong Kong has very similar rates without having the need for the death penalty. That is not to say that I support the abolishment of the death penalty.

Mr Ong claims that our approach to human rights is due to our unique historical, political and cultural circumstances. If Taiwan and South Korea can overcome historical and political obstacles to achieve progress in human rights, why can’t Singapore considering that we are culturally similar?

To award Singapore high marks for human rights is to condemn Singaporeans to many more decades of sub-standard human rights.

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