Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

Singapore: Human rights situation of homosexuals

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 20 December 1999
Citation / Document Symbol SGP00001.ZNK
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Singapore: Human rights situation of homosexuals, 20 December 1999, SGP00001.ZNK, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a6a38.html [accessed 1 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Query:

What is the situation of homosexuals in Singapore?

Response:

The Law

Singapore's Penal Code contains two clauses related to homosexual acts:

Section 377: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 377(a): Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.  (RIC, 1995)

Although both sections carry a mandatory prison sentence, Section 377 has been primarily applied to non-consensual heterosexual cases, while Section 377(a) has been used to convict homosexuals.  The average sentence for those found guilty under Section 377(a) was generally set at two to three months in length, but from 1993 onward, the sentence has been six months or longer.  It is also important to note that while the government of Singapore has outlawed "gross indecency" between males in public and private, relationships between females are tolerated as long as they are kept private.  (ILGA, 1999)

In addition to the statutes described above, many heterosexual males are convicted under Section 354 of the Penal Code for "molesting" or "using criminal force to outrage the modesty of" another person. (ILGA, 1999)  In these cases, plainclothes policemen pose as decoys, and arrest gay men who approach them. This offense carries a jail term of up to two years, a fine, a caning or a combination of any two such punishments.   According to a Straits Times article, "the men who pleaded guilty [to the crime under Section 347] received sentences ranging from two to six months in jail.  All of them were also ordered to be given three strokes of the cane." (Straits Times, 23 Nov. 1993)

Violations of Human Rights and Persecution

Although there are no official figures, the International Gay and Lesbian Association reports that between 1990 and 1994, there were 67 convictions of homosexuals arising from police entrapment. The names, and often the pictures, of those found guilty are published in the newspaper.  "As part of the campaign against gays and lesbians, police patrol bars and calculate the ratio of male to female customers.  If the ratio falls outside specified limits, the bar owner is fined and the customers must show their identity cards."  (Chicago Tribune, 15 April 1994)

Organizations advocating gay rights have had difficulty functioning in the largely anti-gay society as well.  Under Singapore's Societies Act, all organizations must be registered, and a minimum of ten people must sign the registration petition. People Like Us, an active gay, lesbian and bisexual advocacy group, had its application denied by the government, and despite several appeals, the group was never given any explanation for the application's rejection.  Therefore, People Like Us was forced to disband under threat of severe penalties including a hefty fine and/or lengthy prison term.  (PLU, 1999)

Other publications report far worse punishments.  An article found in the San Francisco Examiner describes a "medical treatment" for gays and lesbians that attempts to alter a patient by applying small electric shocks to the person while showing him or her pictures of homosexuals.  (San Francisco Examiner, 2 May 1994)  The Resource Information Center has been unable to confirm this report, and human rights groups and the State Department make no mention of this type of activity in their publications.

Conclusion

Clearly, homosexuals have been discriminated against in Singapore.  However, a United States Embassy Official reported that the treatment of, and tolerance toward, homosexuals has improved.  For example, several nightclubs that cater to gay men and women are currently in operation in Singapore, and despite police surveillance of these establishments, the owners have not been subjected to open harassment.  Nevertheless, the Embassy official also stated that authorities might still use entrapment to obtain an arrest, and several high-level ministers from the country have been quoted as saying that Singaporean society is not ready to accept homosexual couples.  (U.S. Embassy, 1999)

This response was prepared after speaking with country conditions experts and researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC, including the World Wide Web.

References

"A Political Reason for Singapore," San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco: 2 May 1994).

Immigration and Naturalization Service, Resource Information Center. Documentation on the Status of Homosexuals (April 1995).

People Like Us.  Singapore Law on Homosexual Sex (17 June 1999) [Internet] - www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/3878.

The International Lesbian and Gay Association.  World Legal Survey: Singapore (17 December 1999) [Internet] - www.ilga.org.

"Twelve Men Nabbed in Anti-Gay Operation," Straits Times (23 November 1993).

 United States Embassy.  Telephone Conversation with Embassy Official, 20 December 1999.

Winters, Jeffery.  "Priorities Mark the Difference Between the U.S. and Singapore," Chicago Tribune (Chicago: 15 April 1999), p.21.

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