US Report on Human Rights in Singapore


Every year, it is the same tango. The US would write about lack of human rights in Singapore and MFA would issue a response, at least that is how activists, the media and MFA would want to frame the situation. Reading of the US State department report showed that it covered much more than the ISA e.g. press and internet freedom, status of minorities, gender, the disabled. The report is written naturally for a US audience and the topics mentioned are accordingly so e.g. there are comments on anti-Semitism, right to collective bargaining in labour rights, topics alien very much in Singapore’s context. Also, the US State Department’s report was dated May 24, 2012, so it took a while before MFA decided to respond, unless that US report was completed earlier but not released until recently.

What does it all mean? Before we go into a  routine defensive posture and attack the US report for its double-standards e.g. they have Gitmo, death penalty, penal labour, we must see the report as it is. It is just political rhetoric, propaganda even, just like many local government reports and domestic media coverage of it. No big deal and totally expected as that is what governments do to cater those who are sheep among its domestic audience.

Besides, the report was “positive” in certain aspects e.g. “The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.” and “The national elections held in May were free, fair, and open to a viable opposition.

The main criticisms of the US report put to the Singapore government were fundamentally civil and political rights, not really “human rights” as that term is too vague and abused by political pundits. The ISA was a convenient excuse for wrestling by the US and Singapore governments.  It seemed to be the agreed topic for sparring even as it comes up every time, just like the human trafficking criticisms that would come up in another part of the year. The overall theme of the debate in this report is the government’s asymetric use of laws to restrict, restrain, retaliate, and the separation of the executive, judiciary and less so, legislative. However, that is a common concern of watchdogs globally about containing government power excesses, even in the US.

So what is this whole US human rights report and MFA response circus about? Nothing but rhetoric from both sides and business is as usual.

S’pore disturbed by ‘double standards’ shown in US human rights report
Updated 10:52 PM Aug 16, 2012

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has issued a strongly worded statement rebutting the United States State Department’s ‘Human Rights Practices 2011’ report.

MFA said it is disappointed that the report again includes the “same gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the Singapore Government’s policies”.

It added it is “disturbed by the double standards” applied to the US’ criticism of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which is meant to address threats to internal security, including threats to public order, communal and religious harmony, and subversive and terrorist activities.

MFA said: “The US, in its own fight against terrorism, has come to realise that trade-offs between rights are inevitable. In this context, we fail to understand how the US reconciles its criticism of the ISA with the continued existence of its own detention facilities at Guantanamo without applying a double standard. By contrast to the Guantanamo detention facilities, which exist outside the framework of US law, the ISA provides a proper legal framework and prescribes rules for preventive detention.”

It added as the same misrepresentations and inaccuracies are repeated year after year, it does not appear that the US State Department has paid any attention to the points repeatedly made in response to past years’ country reports.

MFA said: “This seems to suggest that the US Department of State is really not interested in the facts, and indeed does not want the facts to come in the way of the conclusions it wishes to reach, pursuant to its own ideology. This approach undermines the objectivity of the report.”

It added: “Singapore does not claim that our system is perfect, or that our system would necessarily work in other countries. Our government is held accountable to the public through democratic elections and the rule of law. We will adapt our policies in the interests of our people and as the balance of rights and obligations evolve in our society.” CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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One response

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 21 Aug 2012 | The Singapore Daily

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