Human rights in Singapore

Life in Singapore
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The government in Singapore has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to inhibit political opposition.[1] In 2015, Singapore was ranked 153rd out of 175 nations by Reporters Without Borders in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Freedom in the World scored Singapore 4 out of 7 for political freedom, and 4 out of 7 for civil liberties (where 1 is the most free), with an overall ranking of "partly free" for the year 2015.[2]

Internal Security Act

The Ministry of Home Affairs Internal Security Department enforces the country's Internal Security Act (ISA) as a counter to potential espionage, international terrorism, threats to racial and religious harmony, and subversion. The ISA permits indefinite detention without formal charges or recourse to trial, and has been used to imprison political opponents, including Chia Thye Poh, who was held for 32 years without trial before being released. As of 2005, 36 men were being held under the ISA.[3]

Human rights under domestic law

Right to life, capital punishment

Singapore enforces the death penalty by hanging and has, according to Amnesty International, one of the world's highest execution rates relative to its population.[3] The government has contested Amnesty's claims, and denies that its use of the death penalty constitutes a violation of human rights. Singapore is against euthanasia, and mercy killing is not legalised.

In Singapore the death penalty is mandatory for first-degree murder and for the possession of more than 14g of heroin in its pure form (dia-morphine), which is deemed to be evidence of trafficking.[4] Amnesty International, which opposes all capital punishment on principle, notes that some 400 criminals were hanged between 1991 and 2003, for a population of 5 million.[5]

The government states that drug-trafficking is one of the most serious crimes, because Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the drug menace due to its small size and location near the Golden Triangle. The government also states that Singapore does not mete out the death penalty lightly and uses it only in the most serious cases. The government claims that, as a result of its strict policies, Singapore has among the lowest prevalence of drug abuse across a range of hard and soft drugs.[6]

Freedom of expression and association

The government has restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press and has limited other civil and political rights. Censorship of political and racially or religiously sensitive content is extensive.

In Singapore, under the Public Order Act 2009, outdoor public processions or assemblies require police permits. Without police permits, such outdoor assemblies are illegal.[7] Indoor assemblies, however, can be held freely without the need to apply for police permits.[8] The only place in Singapore where outdoor public assemblies do not require police permits is at the Speakers' Corner which is modelled on Hyde Park, London. However, one must still register one's personal details with the National Parks Board online before speaking or protesting at the Speakers' corner, and there are also many CCTV cameras in the park, a situation that some Singaporeans and Singaporean MPs have commented on.[9][10]

Government pressure to conform has resulted in the practice of self-censorship by journalists.[11] According to Amnesty International, in 2010 laws were tightened to limit the freedom of expression and assembly, and used to threaten critics and opposition activists. Lawsuits were taken out by the authorities against dissidents. Government critics and human rights defenders nevertheless held public gatherings.[12]

A British journalist, Alan Shadrake, was convicted in Singapore in 2010 of contempt of court for scandalising the Singapore judicial system, through his published views on the country's criminal justice system, sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment and a fine of $20,000.[13]

National Service

All male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents who have reached the age of 18 are to enroll for national service. They serve a 22- or 24-month period as Full Time National Servicemen (NSFs), either in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Social issues


Singapore law dating from 1938 (Penal Code, s. 377A) bans sexual relations between men, but no prosecutions for private sexual activity have taken place since 1999. Since a May 2009 rally at Speaker's Corner, gay rights supporters have participated in the annual Pink Dot SG rally at the Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park without government interference.[14] The 2009 event was deemed significant enough to be included in the US Department of State's human rights reports for 2009, released on 11 March 2010.[15]

Migrant workers

According to Amnesty International one quarter of Singapore's population were migrants at the end of 2009.

The Employment of Foreign Workers Act excludes domestic workers (2009). Singapore does not provide basic protection for foreign domestic workers, such as a standard number of working hours and rest days, minimum wage and access to employment benefits.[16] The recruitment fees of domestic workers can be up to 40% of the workers salary in a two-year contract. Until end of 2010 Singapore government have refused to regulate the recruitment fees.[17]

In 2010 two migrants from Burma, after 11 years' work in Singapore, did not receive new work permits, following their active support for Burma's pro-democracy movement.[12]

Human trafficking

The US Trafficking in Persons 2009 report listed Singapore on Tier 2: countries not doing enough to address human trafficking. Women are trafficked to Singapore for domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation.[14]


Corporal punishment

Main article: Caning in Singapore

Singapore also employs corporal punishment in the form of severe caning on the bare buttocks for numerous criminal offences if committed by males under 50, and this is a mandatory sentence for some 30 offences. Some international observers, including Amnesty International, maintain that corporal punishment is in itself contrary to human rights, but this is disputed. Caning is never ordered on its own in Singapore, only in combination with imprisonment. There is mandatory caning of at least three strokes, combined with a minimum of three months' imprisonment, for foreign workers who overstay by more than 3 months. The government argues that this is necessary to deter would-be immigration offenders, as Singapore remains an attractive destination for illegal immigrants; experience prior to 1989 had shown that imprisonment was not alone a sufficient deterrent. It feels that long-term overstayers who are not able to work legitimately pose social problems and may turn to crime.[18]

Corporal punishment may also be ordered for various sexual offences, rioting, the possession of weapons, violence of all kinds, illicit drug use, and vandalism of public property. Male members of the armed forces are liable to a less severe form of caning for breaches of military discipline.

Internment without trial has been used to deal with espionage, terrorism, organised crime, and narcotics.

International agreements

According to Amnesty International, Singapore has signed the following international agreements relating to human rights:[19]

As of 2010, Singapore has not signed the following agreements:[20]

International rankings

See also


  1. "2009 Human Rights Report: Singapore". U.S. Department of State. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  2. "Freedom in the World 2015". Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  3. 1 2 "Amnesty International Report 2005: Singapore". Amnesty International. 2005. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  4. "Singapore: Country Specific Information". Department of State. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  5. "Singapore: The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions". Amnesty International USA. n.d. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  6. "The Singapore Government's Response To Amnesty International's Report "Singapore – The Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll Of Executions"" (Press release). Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. 30 January 2004. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010..
  7. "Singapore to toughen protest laws ahead of APEC meet". Reuters. 17 January 2009.
  8. "Activist filmmaker under investigation for organising event" (Press release). International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 17 October 2011.
  9. "Singaporeans can demonstrate at Speakers' Corner from Sep 1". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 August 2008.
  10. "CCTV installed at Speakers' Corner". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 July 2008.
  11. "the Singapore profile, the Library of Congress Country Studies project (PDF)" (PDF). the Library of Congress. May 2005. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  12. 1 2 "Amnesty International Report 2010 (PDF)" (PDF). Amnesty International. p. 233. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  13. "Amnesty International Report 2011 (PDF)" (PDF). Amnesty International. pp. 287–288. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  14. 1 2 HRW 2010 pages 343–346
  15. "Human Rights Reports for 2009 (PDF)" (PDF). Department of State. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  16. "Amnesty International Report 2009, the State of the World's Human Rights (PDF)" (PDF). Amnesty International. pp. 289–290. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  17. "World Report 2011 (PDF)" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. p. 368. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  18. "Written Answer to Parliament Question on Mandatory Caning of Foreign Workers Who Overstay". Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs. 26 May 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  19. "Amnesty International Report 2009, The State of the World's Human Rights (PDF)" (PDF). pp. 380–381. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  20. "Amnesty International 2011 Full Report, the State of the World's Human Rights (PDF)" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
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