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Singapore strongly rejected a United Nations official’s call for more openness in the public debate of racial issues in the multiethnic city-state, saying it was its own right to define the balance between free expression and safeguarding racial harmony.
After a one-week visit to Singapore, UN Special Rapporteur on racism Githu Muigai on Wednesday said Singapore should review some laws because they were restricting discussion of sensitive issues and might be to the detriment of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
“Here we must emphatically disagree with Mr Muigai,” Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
Sensitive issues like race, language and religion could be discussed, “but a balance must always be struck between free expression and preservation of racial and religious harmony,” it said.
“This balance is only for the Singapore government to determine because only the Singapore government bears the responsibility should things go wrong,” the statement said.
“The UN bears no such responsibility, and we see no reason to take risks for the sake of an abstract principle,” it added.
Muigai acknowledged that the current peaceful coexistence of the diverse communities in the country was “a remarkable achievement in itself” but urged the government to allow a more open debate on matters of ethnicity.
As the first UN rapporteur on racism to visit Singapore, Muigai met with government officials, non-governmental organizations and community members.
His wide-ranging country report, including education, housing and the situation of migrant workers, is set to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June next year.
The majority (75 per cent) of Singapore residents is of Chinese ethnicity. It also has minority communities of Malays (14 per cent) and Indians (9 per cent), according to government statistics.