Singapore in its inaugural report to the United Nations on the status of human rights defended its tough stance on the death penalty as well as other issues like detention without trial that have repeatedly come under fire from human rights groups.
The city-state is set in May to undergo the first stage of a review under the UN’s Human Rights Council as part of the UN’s effort to review the human rights situation in all its 192 member states.
The report released late Friday said ‘as a young city-state with a multiracial, multireligious and multilingual population, Singapore has no margin for error.’
The government said it respected the universality of human rights but maintained that ‘the manner in which all rights are attained and implemented must take cognizance of specific national circumstances and aspirations.’
On the death penalty, which is mandatory for murder and some drug-related offences, the report said Singapore ‘considers capital punishment as a criminal justice issue rather than a human rights issue.’
‘In the case of drug trafficking, the death penalty has deterred major drug syndicates from establishing themselves here,’ it argued.
The report also defended Singapore’s Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, saying it was preventive in neutralizing threats to national security and had proved effective in fighting terrorism.
‘Governments around the world increasingly recognize the need for preventive powers within a comprehensive institutionalized legal framework to deal effectively with terrorism and all forms of violent extremism,’ it said.
The report countered criticism by groups like Human Rights Watch that Singapore’s laws on assembly and freedom of expression sharply limit peaceful criticism of the government and stymie dissenting voices.
‘Behind the facade of a dynamic and open Singapore promoted by the government is a more sinister reality of serious restrictions on civil and political rights and determination to maintain one-party rule,’ Human Rights Watch said in January. ‘Behind the sunny Singaporean smile featured in tourism ads, there are iron teeth prepared to deal with those considered a challenge to the government.’
The government countered this week that given Singapore’s small size and high population density and diversity, ‘it is vital that individual rights and freedoms be exercised responsibly within a legal framework.’
Singapore, however, was open for change, the report added.