S’pore agrees to rare human rights visit

Ben Bland
Asian Correspoendent

Githu Muigai

Although the Singapore government usually prevents human rights experts from conducting official trips to the city-state, it has agreed to a request from the UN special envoy on racism to visit Singapore later this month.

Githu Muigai, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on racism, is scheduled to visit from April 21 to April 28, according to Anh Thu Duong, one of his assistants at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He will meet with “relevant government officials, as well as with civil society representatives” during his week-long trip before presenting the findings of his mission on April 28.

Muigai’s mandate requires him to examine “incidents of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, any form of discrimination against Blacks, Arabs and Muslims, xenophobia, negrophobia, anti-Semitism and related intolerance, as well as governmental measures to overcome them”. UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts that report to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

His assistant told me in an email that “Singapore had very few visits by Special Procedures mandate-holders (in fact, only one UN human rights expert visited Singapore). Therefore, we thought it’d be a good idea to get there.”

The Singapore government routinely blocks visits from human rights experts and crosses swords with international rights campaigners, including UN representatives.

In 2007, Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution criticised the Singapore government for hanging a Nigerian citizen who, he claimed, was denied the right to the presumption of innocence. The government hit back strongly.

While the Singapore government disregards international norms on issues like the use of the death penalty and media freedom, it actually has a comparatively good record on racism, which may explain the government’s willingness to allow the UN visit.

The majority ethnic Chinese still dominate society and politics and there is strong evidence that the Malay community struggles to compete educationally and economically, but racial tensions and overt discrimination are much less apparent than in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.


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