United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Singapore, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3e44.html [accessed 28 May 2015]
This 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.
SINGAPORE Singapore, a city-state of 3.3 million people, is a parliamentary republic in which politics are dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP), which has held power since Singapore gained autonomy from the United Kingdom in 1959. The PAP holds 77 of the 81 seats in Parliament. Goh Chok Tong completed his fifth year as Prime Minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, who served as Prime Minister from independence in 1965 until 1990, remains active politically, holding the title of Senior Minister. The majority of the population is ethnic Chinese (78 percent), with Malays and Indians constituting substantial minorities. The Government maintains active internal security and military forces to counter perceived threats to the nation's security. It has frequently used security legislation to control a broad range of activity. The Internal Security Department (ISD) is responsible for enforcement of the Internal Security Act (ISA), including its provisions for detention without trial. All young males are subject to national service (mostly in the military). Singapore has an open free market economic system. The construction and financial services industries and manufacturing of computer-related components are key sectors of the economy which has achieved remarkably steady growth since independence. Gross domestic product rose a projected 7.7 percent in 1995, and citizens have an annual per capita gross national product over $19,200. Wealth is distributed relatively equally in what is essentially a full-employment economy. There was no improvement or deterioration in the human rights situation. The Government continued to intimidate opposition parties and their candidates and to restrict the independence of the judiciary in cases with political implications or affecting members of the ruling party. The Government has wide powers to detain people arbitrarily and subsequently restrict their travel, freedom of speech, and right to associate freely, and to handicap political opposition. There was no evidence of a change in the Government's willingness to restrict these human rights when it deemed that necessary in pursuit of its policy goals. The Government restricts press freedom and intimidates journalists into practicing self-censorship. There is some legal discrimination against women, which, in practice, affects only a small percentage of the population. The Government has moved actively to counter societal discrimination against women and minorities.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of politically targeted killings. In August the Government charged three prison officials with causing the death of a prisoner (see Section 1.c.). ((NOTE: Deaths in custody at the hands of prison officials should be mentioned routinely in Section 1.a. in all reports which describe such incidents.))
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture, and government leaders have stated that they oppose its use. However, there have been credible reports in past years of police mistreatment of detainees. Reliable reports indicate that police have sometimes employed sleep deprivation or interrogate detainees in very cold rooms where the prisoners may be stripped of their clothes and doused with water. In 1993, of the 94 complaints of police abuse investigated, 14 were substantiated. The Government reserves the right to use indefinite detention without trial to pressure detainees to "rehabilitate" themselves as well as to make admissions of wrongdoing. In the past, the Government has acknowledged that, in the case of detentions without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, the indefinite nature of the detentions served to pressure the detainees. Persons alleging mistreatment under detention may bring criminal charges against government officials who are alleged to have committed such acts, but they may be discouraged from making accusations for fear of official retaliation (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.). The Penal Code mandates caning in addition to imprisonment as punishment for offenses involving the use of violence or threat of violence against a person, such as rape, robbery and extortion. The law also mandates caning in other areas, such as for certain convictions under the Vandalism Act and for specific immigration offenses. Prior to 1994, damage against private property had been classified as mischief, which does not include caning as a means of punishment. However, the Government opted to apply the Vandalism Act in 1994 in a widely publicized case of foreign teenagers accused of spray painting privately owned automobiles and sometimes used the Act in 1995 in such property cases. For example, in February the Government invoked it against a shipyard boss accused of scratching the privately owned automobile of a neighbor. In contrast, a couple convicted in March of spray painting a privately owned automobile was charged only with mischief. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of criminal force, such as kidnaping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. The law prescribes a maximum or minimum number of cane strokes in many of these cases, although the court does not always abide by these guidelines. Women are exempted from caning, as are men over 50, under 16, and those determined unfit by a medical officer. In 1993 the courts included a caning sentence in 3,244 cases. Caning statistics for 1994 are not available. Prison conditions are generally good and meet minimum international standards. Some abuses have occurred and have been reported in the press. In August, for example, three prison officials were charged with causing the death of a prisoner. The Government responded quickly to the alleged abuse and publicly denounced all abuses of power by prison officials. The Government does not allow human rights monitors to visit prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Internal Security Act (ISA), the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and the Undesirable Publications Act all have provisions for arrest without warrant. Those arrested must be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours. At that time, those detained under criminal charges may obtain legal counsel. A functioning system of bail exists for those charged, and there were no reported abuses of it. The ISA, the CLA, and the MDA authorize detention without trial. The CLA is used almost exclusively in cases involving narcotics and secret criminal societies and has not been used for political purposes. According to the Government, the cumulative number of persons currently detained under the CLA as of July was 570, of which 248 were for secret society activities and 322 for drug trafficking. Under the MDA, the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) may also commit--without trial--suspected drug users to a drug rehabilitation center for up to 6 months, with subsequent extensions, in cases of positive urinalysis tests. Those persons detained without trial under the ISA are entitled to counsel but have no legal recourse through the courts to challenge the substantive basis for their detention. Persons detained without trial under the CLA are also entitled to counsel but may only challenge the substantive basis for their detention to the committee advising the Minister for Home Affairs on detention issues. The ISA gives broad discretion to the Minister of Home Affairs to order detention without charges if the President determines that a person poses a threat to national security. The President may authorize detention for up to 2 years; the detention order may be renewed for 2-year periods with no limitation on renewal. An advisory board reviews each detainee's case periodically, and detainees may make representations to it. The board may make nonbinding recommendations that a detainee be released prior to expiration of the detention order. If the Minister wishes to act contrary to a recommendation for release by the board, he must seek the agreement of the President. The ISA empowers the police to detain a person for up to 48 hours; any police officer at or above the rank of superintendent may authorize that the detainee be held for up to 28 days longer. Once initial interrogation has been completed, the authorities have generally allowed ISA detainees access to lawyers and visits by relatives. No one has been jailed under formal ISA detention since 1990. However, the Government has maintained some restrictions on the rights of two former ISA detainees to travel abroad, make public statements, and associate freely. Chia Thye Poh, a former Member of Parliament, was released from prison in 1989 after 23 years in preventive detention under the ISA but was confined to a small island adjacent to Singapore during evening and night hours until 1992. Now resident in Singapore proper, he cannot be employed, travel abroad, issue public statements, or associate with other former detainees without ISD approval. Vincent Cheng, a detainee released in 1990, could not issue public statements, publish, or travel abroad without ISD consent until July, when the ISD removed the restriction order against him. The Constitution prohibits exile and the Government respects the prohibition in practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the Government restricts the independence of the judiciary in practice through its control over the assignment of judges and through laws limiting judicial review. In 1989 the Government amended the Constitution and the ISA to eliminate judicial review of the objective grounds for detentions under the ISA and subversion laws. This allows the Government to restrict, or even eliminate, judicial review in such cases and thereby restrict, on vaguely defined national security grounds, the scope of certain fundamental liberties provided for in the Constitution. The judicial system has two levels of courts: the Supreme Court, which includes the High Court and the Court of Appeal; and the subordinate courts. The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice. The President also appoints subordinate court judges on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The term of appointment is determined by the Legal Service Commission of which the Chief Justice is the chairman. Subordinate court judges and magistrates, as well as public prosecutors, are civil servants whose specific assignments are determined by the Legal Service Commission, which can decide on job transfers to any of several legal service departments. Supreme Court Justices may remain in office until the mandatory retirement age of 65, after which they may continue to serve at the Government's discretion for brief, renewable terms at full salary. Judicial officials, especially in the Supreme Court, have close ties to the ruling party and its leaders. In February 1994, completing a transition begun in 1989, Parliament approved a bill abolishing all appeals to the Privy Council in London. The single Court of Appeal, established in 1993, combining the former Court of Appeal (for civil cases) and Court of Criminal Appeal, therefore became the highest court of review in Singapore. The judicial system provides citizens with an efficient judicial process. In normal cases the Criminal Procedures Code provides that a charge against a defendant must be read and explained to him as soon as it is framed by the prosecution or the magistrate. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right of appeal, in most cases. They normally have the right to be present at their trials, to be represented by an attorney, to confront witnesses against them, to provide witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to review government-held evidence relevant to their cases. The Constitution extends the above rights to all citizens. However, as noted in Section 1.d., persons detained under the ISA and the MDA are not entitled to a public trial. In all remaining cases, trials are public and by judge; there are no jury trials. There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government can use its wide discretionary powers under the ISA if it determines that national security is threatened. In most cases, the law requires search warrants, normally issued by the magistrate court, for intrusion into the home. Law enforcement officers may, however, search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide that searches are necessary to preserve evidence. The ClA and the MDA Act also permit warrantless searches in dealing with drug- and secret society-related offenses. The courts may undertake judicial review of such searches at the request of the defendant. Divisions of the Government's law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department (ISD) and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board (CPIB), have wide networks for gathering information. The authorities have the capability to monitor telephone and other private conversations and conduct surveillance. While there were no proven allegations that they did so in 1995, it is widely believed that the authorities routinely conduct surveillance on some social and political critics of the Government and on some opposition politicians.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution permits official restrictions on the freedom of expression and, in practice, the Government restricts the freedoms of speech and the press and intimidates journalists into practicing self-censorship. The ISA permits the Government to prohibit or to place conditions on publications that incite violence, that counsel disobedience to the law, that might arouse tensions among the various classes (races, religions, and language groups) or that might threaten national interests, national security, or public order. The Government uses a broad definition of these laws to restrict political opposition and criticism. It is clear from recent events that the Government will not tolerate discussions in the press of alleged government corruption, nepotism, or a compliant judiciary. All general circulation newspapers in all four official languages are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH), a private corporation which has close ties to the national leadership. In November SPH signed a memorandum of understanding to buy a Tamil language newspaper which was the last remaining newspaper independent of SPH. SPH also owns 20 percent of Singapore Cablevision, which operates the expanding cable television system. SPH is required by law to issue ordinary and "management" shares; holders of management shares have the power to control all SPH personnel decisions. the Government must approve, and can remove, holders of management shares. Hence, while Singapore newspapers, especially the English-language Straits Times, print a large and diverse selection of articles from their domestic and a variety of foreign resources, editorials and coverage of domestic events closely parallel government policies and the opinions of government leaders. Government leaders often criticize what they call the "Western model" of journalism, in which the media are free to report the news as they see it. Government officials argue that the role of the domestic media is to support the goals of the elected leadership. A wide range of international magazines and newspapers may be purchased uncensored, although newspapers printed in Malaysia may not be imported. A 1990 law requires foreign publications that report on politics and current events in Southeast Asia to register, post a bond the equivalent of $144,000, and name a person in Singapore to accept legal service. These requirements strengthen government control over foreign media. The Government may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and the Undesirable Publications Act. Under amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, it may limit the circulation of foreign publications which, by the Government's broad determination, interfere in Singapore's domestic politics. It has done so on occasion in the past. Some publications are barred from importation, and the authorities censor movies, video materials, and music. Censorship of materials and the decision to deny the importation of specific publications are based on a determination that such materials would undermine the stability of the State, are pro-Communist, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive and/or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The authorities report that there is strong public support for continued censorship of sex and violence in films. In its relations with foreign media, The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review remained "gazetted" (limited in circulation), although in May the Government relaxed restrictions and raised the limit for the Far Eastern Economic Review from 2,000 per issue to 4,000 per issue. The limits for the AWSJ and Asiaweek remained at 7,000 and 15,000 per issue, respectively. The new Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) came into effect in 1994 to regulate and promote the broadcasting industry. The SBA develops censorship standards with the help of advisory panels whose membership represents a cross section of society. There are four government-linked subsidiaries under a holding company, Singapore International Media PTE Ltd. These have a near monopoly on broadcasting, operating all 4 free television channels and 12 of the 15 radio stations. An expanded cable service, Singapore Cablevision (SCV), jointly held by government-linked corporations and the U.S.-owned Continental Cablevision Company, began operations in June. The island-nation currently is being wired for a fiber-optic network. When the project is complete in 3 to 4 years, more than 30 channels including British Broadcasting Corporation and other international news and entertainment programs will be available to subscribers. Two of the other three radio stations not operated by the State are operated by the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which is closely affiliated with the Government; the third is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, available 24 hours a day. In addition to the BBC, Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio broadcasts are available. Cable News Network International, carried live, is available 24-hours a day on pay television. Satellite dishes are banned with few exceptions. Journalists from foreign publications are required by law to apply annually for renewal of the employment pass which allows them to operate in Singapore. The Government continued to limit the amount of time some foreign correspondents could remain in the country by denying requests for renewal of their employment passes, usually beyond a period of 3 years. The Government has denied requests in the past from several major publications to station correspondents in Singapore. Tension between the Government and foreign correspondents increased as the Government continued to attack the "liberal Western media" for carrying out an alleged "conspiracy" to undermine PAP rule and for irresponsible reporting in Singapore and abroad. Government leaders sometimes use defamation suits or the threat of such actions to discourage public criticism. In July Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his son, deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, won a libel suit against the International Herald Tribune (IHT) for an article, published in August 1994, suggesting that the younger Lee was appointed to his post on account of his father. The plaintiffs sought damages in addition to a printed apology, which appeared in the newspaper on August 31, 1994. In June, during a widely publicized public hearing to determine the scope of the judgment against the IHT, all three plaintiffs testified that the IHT did not apologize in good faith and demanded aggravated damages for the harm caused to their reputations. The plaintiffs sought $936,000 in damages. In July the High Court awarded a record judgment of $678,000. In January Dr. Christopher Lingle, an American academic who had been a visiting lecturer at the National University of Singapore, the IHT, and the Singapore printer were fined for contempt of court following the publication of an article about Asian governments by Lingle on October 7, 1994. Although Singapore was not mentioned in the article, the court focused on the article's reference to some governments as being "more subtle: relying upon a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians or buying out enough of the opposition to take control democratically" as a reference to Singapore. Although the IHT published an apology for the article in December, 1994, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew filed a civil libel suit. The IHT agreed in November to pay the Senior Minister $213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit. The settlement included only the IHT and not Dr. Lingle, who could be sued at a later date. In at least the two incidents cited above, the use of libel suits appears to have intimidated the press successfully. Faculty members at public institutions of higher education are government employees. A number of university lecturers are concurrently PAP Members of Parliament (M.P.'s). Academics sometimes criticize government policies, but they avoid public criticism of individual government leaders and sensitive social and economic policies because of possible sanctions, such as in the cases of Dr. Christopher Lingle and Dr. Chee Soon Juan (see also Section 3). Publications by local academics and members of think tanks rarely deviate substantially from government views.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution grants citizens the freedom of peaceful assembly and association but permits Parliament to impose restrictions "as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore." The Government restricts those rights in practice. Assemblies of more than five persons in public, including political meetings and rallies, must have police permission. Persons wishing to speak at a public function, excluding functions provided by or under the auspices of the Government, must obtain permission from the public entertainment licensing unit, a division of the Criminal Investigation Department. Opposition politicians have in the past experienced delays as long as 26 days, according to police records, before receiving notification of action on their applications. The Government closely monitors political gatherings regardless of the number present. Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members must be registered with the Government under the Societies Act. The Government denies registration to groups it believes likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order (see Section 2.c.). The Government has absolute discretion in applying this broad and vague language to register or dissolve societies. It prohibits organized political activities, except by organizations registered as political parties. This prohibition effectively limits opposition activities (see Section 3). It has less of an effect on the PAP, which enjoys the support of residential committees and neighborhood groups ostensibly organized for nonpolitical purposes but whose leadership contains many grassroots PAP members.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution and usually respected in practice. There is no state religion. The Government has determined that every public housing estate must have a mosque. It therefore provides some financial assistance to build and maintain mosques. The Government also facilitates contributions to the construction of Indian and Chinese temples. Missionaries are permitted to work and to publish religious texts. However, all religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and must be legally registered. The Government restricts some religious sects by application of the Societies Act and has banned others, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church. In February the police arrested 69 suspected Jehovah's Witnesses and seized books, magazines, periodicals, and other materials believed to be related to the group. Of the 69 arrested, 28 were tried and found guilty of holding a meeting of a "banned society" and were fined between $709 and $2,836. The Government banned the sect in 1972 on the grounds that Jehovah's Witnesses oppose military service, and their members refuse to perform national service, salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the State. The case against them remains pending in court. The 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act made illegal what the Government deems to be the inappropriate involvement of religious groups and officials in political affairs. The Act also prohibits judicial review of any possible denial of rights arising from the Act, and it specifically denies judicial review of its enforcement.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution grants citizens the right to move freely throughout the country, though Parliament may pass laws restricting the right of citizens to move freely within the country on the basis of "the security of Singapore . . . the public order, public health, or the punishment of offenders." The Government requires all citizens and permanent residents over the age of 12 to register and to carry identification cards. After the completion of national service, enlisted men are required to participate in reserve training until the age of 40 and officers to age 50. Reservists who plan to travel overseas for less than 6 months must advise the Ministry of Defense; for trips longer than 6 months, reservists must obtain an exit permit. Males approaching national service age must obtain an exit permit in order to study outside Singapore. The Government may refuse to issue a passport and has done so in the case of former ISA detainees. The ISA allows the Ministers for Law and Home Affairs to suspend or revoke a detention order or to impose restrictions on former detainees' activities, places of residence, and travel abroad. The right of voluntary repatriation is extended to holders of Singaporean passports. In 1985 Parliament provided for the loss of citizenship by Singaporeans who reside outside Singapore for more than 10 years consecutively. Action under this law is discretionary and has been taken in at least one case involving a well-known government opponent, Tan Wah Piaow. The law stipulates that former Singaporean members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) residing outside Singapore must appeal to the Government to be allowed to return. They must renounce communism, sever all organizational ties with the CPM, and pledge not to take part in activities prejudicial to the State's internal security. In addition, the law requires them to be subject to interview by the ISD and to any restrictive conditions imposed on them. Singapore neither accepts the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese seeking refugee status nor offers first asylum to refugees. Prior to 1991, the Government permitted Indochinese asylum seekers to disembark if a resettlement country promised to remove them within 90 days and if the rescuing vessel was in Singapore on a scheduled port of call. In June 1991, the Government halted disembarkation on the grounds that resettlement countries had not honored their guarantees of removal. As of December, there were 102 asylum seekers at the Hawkins Road camp, all of whom were denied refugee status through screening procedures conducted by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The authorities permit persons of other nationalities who make claims for asylum to have their status determined by the UNHCR for possible resettlement elsewhere. There is no forcible repatriation.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully through democratic means, and the voting and vote-counting systems in elections are fair, accurate, and free from tampering. In practice, however, the Government uses its extensive powers to place formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents. It also attempts to intimidate the opposition through the threat of libel suits and potential loss of employment or professional licenses. Parliamentary elections may be called at any time but must be held no later than 5 years from the date Parliament first sits. Opposition parties have been unable seriously to challenge the PAP since the late 1960's. Consequently, the PAP's domination of the political system continues as it has for three decades under Lee Kuan Yew. Opposition politicians currently hold only 4 seats in the 81-member elected Parliament, 3 for the Social Democratic Party and 1 for the Workers' Party. In addition to the 81 elected members, the President appoints 6 "prominent citizens" to serve as nominated M.P.'s for 2-year terms. The PAP's political success in part results from restrictions on opposition political activities, but also from government policies which helped Singapore achieve rapid economic growth, thereby enabling the Government to provide a wide array of public services. The PAP has a broad base of popular support, sustained in part through neighborhood, youth, and labor groups. Although political parties are legally free to organize, the authorities impose strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability. While the PAP has been able to enjoy the support of ostensibly nonpolitical organizations, the Government has used its broad discretionary powers to hinder the creation of comparable support organizations for opposition parties. The PAP's grip on power has also been enhanced by: patronage; political control of the press, and the courts; strong party discipline and performance; and its access to the instruments of power. For example, a government program to refurbish public housing gives priority to PAP constituencies. Government regulations also hinder attempts by opposition parties to rent office space in government housing estates or to establish community foundations which run private kindergartens. The PAP claims the lack of an effective opposition is due to disorganization, lack of leadership, and lack of alternative policy programs. In August 1993, citizens elected their first President. The Presidency has expanded powers over civil service appointments, government and statutory board budgets, and internal security affairs. Presidential aspirants must be certified by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), a body composed of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Chairman of the Public Accountants Board, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The PEC was responsible for screening applicants on the basis of integrity, character, reputation, ability, and experience in managing the financial affairs of a large institution. Eligibility was considered automatic if the candidate had 3 years' experience as a high-ranking public servant or chief executive officer of a large corporation. These requirements limit the pool of potential Presidential candidates. The committee rejected the applications of two opposition figures--J.B. Jeyaretnam, Secretary-General of the Workers' Party (WP) and a former M.P., and another WP member--for not satisfying the eligibility criteria regarding character and financial expertise. The threat of civil libel or slander suits continues to discourage criticism or challenges by opposition leaders. The Legal Code also provides for criminal defamation offenses, but these provisions are seldom used. The most recent example of the use of libel or slander suits by government entities to intimidate prominent opposition politicians was that of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore and Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee was dismissed from his teaching position in March 1993 for an alleged irregularities involving his use of research funds and sued by his department chairman, Dr. S. Vasoo, a PAP M.P., for making allegedly defamatory remarks. Chee had to pay $200,000 in damages to Vasoo and two other university employees as compensation for his allegedly defamatory remarks (see 1994 report). The Government uses parliamentary censure or the threat of censure to humiliate or intimidate oipposition leaders. For example, Parliament censured Chee Soon Juan and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in November for allegedly endorsing attacks on the judiciary made by Chee's fellow panelists, dissident Francis Seow and academic Christopher Lingle, at a forum held at Williams College in September. The Government did not attribute any statement directly attacking the judiciary or endorsing the views of Seow and Lingle to Chee or the SDP. Instead, government parliamentary leaders said that the failure of Chee and other SDP leaders to contradict the attacks made by Seow and Lingle constituted positive assent by "clever omission." Although there is no legal bar to the participation of women in politics, they are underrepresented in Parliament. There are no female cabinet members, and only 2 of the 81 elected parliamentary seats are occupied by women. Two of the six nominated Members of Parliament are women. Women occupy 103 of 495 positions at the senior levels of the civil service, although they occupy none of the top 29 positions. There is no restriction in law or practice against minorities voting or participating in politics. Malays comprise 14 percent of the general population and currently hold 12 percent of the seats in Parliament. Indians make up 7 percent of the general population and hold 9 percent of the seats in Parliament. Minority representation in Parliament is in part the result of government legislation requiring a minority representative in selected group constituencies.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no nongovernmental organizations, with the exception of the opposition political parties, that actively and openly onitor alleged human rights violations. While the Government does not formally prohibit them, efforts by any independent organization to investigate and criticize publicly government human rights policies would face the same obstacles as those faced by political parties. The Government denies that international organizations have any competence whatsoever to look into human rights matters in Singapore. Visa regulations do not recognize monitoring human rights as a "business purpose" for visiting Singapore, but neither is such activity regarded as a "social visit." Amnesty International is not allowed to operate in, or to visit, Singapore. The Government continued to allege a "conspiracy" between the "liberal Western media" (see Section 2.a.) and Western human rights organizations and other institutions which it claimed were intent on undermining its rule. Such allegations became the subject of a parliamentary debate in November in which the Government accused Western human rights and media organizations of using local opposition politicians to "debase" government rule.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution contains no explicit provision providing equal rights for women and minorities; instead, it states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. Mindful of Singapore's history of intercommunal tension, the Government takes affirmative measures to ensure racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural nondiscrimination. Social, economic, and cultural facilities are available to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. Minorities constitutionally are afforded equal rights, actively participate in the political process, and are well represented throughout the Government.
There is no evidence of any widespread practice of violence or abuse against women. Laws such as the Penal Code and the Women's Charter protect women against domestic violence and sexual or physical harassment. A battered wife can obtain court orders barring the spouse from the home until the court is satisfied that he will stop his aggressive behavior. The Penal Code prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum imprisonment of 2 years for conviction on a charge of outraging modesty that causes the victim fear of death or injury. Women enjoy the same legal rights as men in most areas, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. The Women's Charter, enacted in 1961, gives women, inter alia, the right to own property, conduct trade, and receive divorce settlements. Muslim women enjoy most of the rights and protections of the Women's Charter. Muslim men may practice polygyny and may divorce unilaterally whereas Muslim women may not. However, polygyny occurred in only 20 of 4800 marriages registered in 1994. In 1962 the Government instituted the principle of equal pay for equal work in the civil service and announced the abolition of separate salary scales by 1965. Women make up over 50 percent of the labor force and are well represented in many professional fields, but they still hold the preponderance of low-wage jobs as clerks and secretaries. As a result, their average salary levels are only 70 percent those of men. Women hold few leadership positions in the private sector. Other areas of discrimination remain. For example, children born overseas to Singaporean women are not granted citizenship automatically as are children born to Singaporean men. Female civil service employees who are married do not receive health benefits for their spouses and dependents as do male government employees.
The Government is strongly committed to the rights of children. The Government demonstrated its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. Access to public education and medical care is equal for all children in the society. In 1993 the Government updated and reenacted The Children and Young Persons Act. This revised Act establishes protective services for those children who are orphaned, abused, disabled, or refractory, and it creates a juvenile court system. The Ministry of Community Development works closely with the National Council for Social Services to oversee children's welfare cases. Voluntary organizations operate most of the homes for children while the Government funds up to 50 percent of all child costs, which includes normal living expenses and overhead, as well as expenses for special schooling, health care or supervisory needs. There is no pattern of societal abuse directed against children.
People with Disabilities
The Government implemented a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility in 1990 which established standards for facilities for the physically disabled in all new buildings and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. Although there is no legislation that addresses the issue of equal opportunities for the disabled in education or employment, the National Council of Social Services, in conjunction with various voluntary associations, provides an extensive job training and placement program for the disabled. Informal provisions in education have permitted university matriculation for visually handicapped, deaf, and physically disabled students. The Government allows the equivalent of a $2,500 tax deduction for families with a disabled person.
Unlike the Indian or Eurasian communities, which have achieved economic and educational success rates on a par with the majority Chinese, Malay Singaporeans still have a lower standard of living, although the gap has diminished in recent years. Malays remain underrepresented at the uppermost rungs of the corporate ladder, a reflection of their historically lower education and economic position, but also a result of de facto employment discrimination. Advertisements sometimes specify the ethnicity and gender required of applicants or require fluent Mandarin speakers. The Constitution acknowledges the "special position" of Malays as the indigenous people of Singapore and charges the Government to support and promote their "political, educational, religious, economic, social, and cultural interests." A Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all current and pending bills to ensure that they are not disadvantageous to a particular group. It also reports to the Government on matters affecting any racial or religious community and investigates complaints.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides all citizens with the right to form associations, including trade unions. Parliament may, however, impose restrictions based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The right of association is delimited by the Societies Act and by labor and education laws and regulations. the trades union act authorizes the formation of unions with broad rights, albeit with some narrow restrictions, such as prohibitions on the unionization of uniformed employees. The national labor force comprises about 1.7 million employees, of whom some 239,000 are organized into 82 employee unions. Seventy-three of these unions, representing almost 99 percent of all unionized workers, are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization which has a close relationship with the Government. The NTUC unabashedly acknowledges that its interests are closely linked with those of the ruling PAP, a relationship often described by both as "symbiotic." For example, President Ong Teng Cheong served simultaneously as NTUC Secretary General and Second Deputy Prime Minister before assuming his current position as President in 1993. His successor at the NTUC, Lim Boon Heng, was formerly Second Minister for Trade and Industry and continues as Minister Without Portfolio. In addition, several other high-ranking NTUC officials are PAP M.P.'s. NTUC policy prohibits union members who actively support opposition parties from holding office in affiliated unions. While the NTUC is financially independent of the PAP, with income generated by NTUC-owned businesses, the NTUC and PAP share the same ideology. Workers, other than those in essential services, have the legal right to strike but rarely do so; no strikes have occurred since 1986. Most disagreements are resolved through informal consultations with the Ministry of Labor. If conciliation fails, the disputing parties usually submit their case to the Industrial Arbitration Court, which has representatives from labor, management, and the Government. These labor dispute mechanisms, along with the PAP/NTUC nexus, have played important roles in creating nonconfrontational labor relations. The Government also attributes the rarity of strikes to a cultural aversion to confrontation, high economic growth rates, labor shortages in recent years that have sustained regular wage increases, and the popular conviction that strikes would undermine Singapore's attractiveness to investors. The NTUC is free to associate regionally and internationally.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is a normal part of management-labor relations, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Agreements between management and labor are renewed every 2 to 3 years, although wage increases are negotiated annually. Collective bargaining agreements generally follow the guidelines issued by the National Wages Council (NWC), a group composed of labor, management, and government representatives, that makes annual recommendations regarding salary and bonus packages. The Industrial Relations Act makes it an offense to discriminate against anyone who is or proposes to become a member or an officer of a trade union. The offense is punishable by a fine equivalent to $1,440 and/or a 6-month prison sentence. Labor laws and regulations are enforced uniformly. There are no export processing zones, nor are special concessions given to firms producing for export.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Under sections of the Destitute Persons Act, any indigent person may be required to reside in a welfare home and engage in suitable work. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the coercive terms of this Act, which includes penal sanctions, on the grounds that it is not in compliance with the ILO convention on forced labor, ratified by Singapore in 1965. The Government maintains that the Act is social legislation providing for the shelter, care, and protection of destitute persons; and that work programs are designed to reintegrate individuals into society.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Government enforces the Employment Act, which prohibits the employment of children under age 12. Children over age 12 and under age 14 must receive written permission from the Commissioner for Labor for "light work suited to his capacity." There are few such applications, and the Commissioner for Labor has never approved one. Employers must notify the Ministry of Labor within 30 days of hiring a child between the ages of 14 and 16 and must forward medical certification to the Commissioner. The incidence of children taking up permanent employment is also low, and abuses are almost nonexistent. Ministry of Labor regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work to no more than 7 hours a day. Children may not work on commercial vessels, with any machinery in motion, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job. The Ministry of Labor effectively enforces these laws and regulations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Singapore has no laws or regulations on minimum wages or unemployment compensation. The labor market offers relatively high wages and good working conditions. The Employment Act sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours and provides for 1 rest day each week. The Ministry of Labor effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health laws. Enforcement procedures, coupled with the promotion of educational and training programs, have reduced the frequency of job-related accidents by a third over the past decade. While a worker has the right under the Employment Act to remove himself from a dangerous work situation, his right to continued employment depends upon an investigation of the circumstances by the Ministry of Labor. Because of the domestic labor shortage, over 360,000 foreign workers are employed legally in Singapore, 22 percent of the total work force. Most are unskilled laborers and household servants from other Asian countries. Foreign workers face no legal wage discrimination; however, they are concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs. About 85,000 foreign maids, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, are employed in Singapore. While maids have made occasional complaints, working conditions for foreign domestics generally are acceptable. The Government does not bar complainants from seeking legal redress and takes a firm stand against employers who abuse their domestic servants. Foreign workers are ineligible for the limited free legal assistance that is available to citizens. The authorities have fined or imprisoned employers who have abused domestics, often with great publicity.