Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Singapore

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Singapore, 30 January 1997, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997


Singapore, a city-state of 3.4 million people, is a parliamentary republic in which politics is 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 elected seats in Parliament. Goh Chok Tong completed his sixth year as Prime Minister. 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 8.8 percent in 1996, and citizens have an annual per capita gross domestic product of more than $24,000. Wealth is distributed relatively equally in what is essentially a full-employment economy.

Although there were problems in some areas, the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. 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 affects only a small percentage of the population. The Government has moved actively to counter societal discrimination against women and minorities. While freedom of religion is generally respected, the Jehovah's Witness organization has been banned since 1972.

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 political or other extrajudicial killings.

Three prison officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter for causing the death of a prisoner in August 1995 (see Section 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

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 interrogation of detainees in very cold rooms where the prisoners may be stripped of their clothes and doused with water. In 1993, the last year for which statistics are available, 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 (CLA), 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 some 30 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 and drug-trafficking offenses.

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 last year for which statistics are available, the courts included a caning sentence in 3,244 cases.

Prison conditions are generally good and meet minimum international standards. Some abuses have occurred and have been reported in the press. In March, for example, three prison officials pleaded guilty to manslaughter for causing the death of a prisoner in August 1995. The Government had responded quickly to the 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, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, 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 1995, the last period for which statistics are available, was 570, of whom 248 were for secret society activities and 322 for drug trafficking. Under the MDA, the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau 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 1995, 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, persons detained under the ISA and the MDA are not entitled to a public trial (see Section 1.d.). 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 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 1996, it is widely believed that the authorities routinely conduct surveillance on some opposition politicians and other critics of the Government.

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 – English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil – are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH), a private corporation that has close ties to the national leadership. 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 print a large and diverse selection of articles from their domestic and a variety of foreign sources, 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 $141,100, 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.

The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) are "gazetted" (limited in circulation). In July the Government relaxed restrictions and raised the limits for the FEER from 4,000 per issue to 6,000 per issue and the AWSJ from 7,000 per issue to 9,000 per issue. The limit for Asiaweek remained at 15,000 per issue.

Some publications are barred from importation, and the authorities censor movies, television programs, 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 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.

The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) was established 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. In July the SBA assumed responsibility for regulating access to the Internet. While the Government does not classify regulation of the Internet as censorship, access to web pages that undermine public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, and public morals is banned. In addition, content that tends to bring the Government into hatred or contempt, or that excites disaffection against the Government is forbidden. In September Internet service providers were required to filter Internet access for the more than 120,000 Internet subscribers through proxy servers. These proxy servers are designed to prevent subscribers from seeing about a dozen sites, deemed to violate the government's ban. The list of banned sites is not a matter of public record.

The government-linked holding company, Singapore International Media PTE Ltd, has a near monopoly on broadcasting. Its 4 main subsidiaries operate all 4 free television channels and 10 of the 15 domestic radio stations. Of the five remaining radio stations, two are owned by the Ministry of Defense and two by the National Trade Union Conference (NTUC), which is closely affiliated with the Government. The only radio station not under government control is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, which is available 24 hours a day. In addition to the BBC, Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio broadcasts are available. An expanded cable service, Singapore Cable Vision (SCV), jointly held by government-linked corporations and the U.S.-owned Continental Cablevision Company, began operation in June 1995. The island nation currently is being wired for a fiber-optic network. When the project is complete by the year 2000, more than 30 channels, including BBC and other international news and entertainment programs, will be available to subscribers. Cable News Network International, carried live, is available 24 hours a day on SCV's 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 that allows them to operate in Singapore. The Government continued to limit the amount of time that 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 remained because of earlier government allegations that the "liberal western media" had carried out a "conspiracy" to undermine PAP rule and had engaged in irresponsible reporting in Singapore and abroad.

Government leaders sometimes use defamation suits or the threat of such actions to discourage public criticism. In July 1995, 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, allegedly 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 1995, 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. In July 1995, the High Court awarded a record defamation judgment of $678,000.

In January 1995, 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 1995, to pay the Senior Minister $213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit. Lingle was separately ordered by the courts in April to pay $71,000 in damages, plus costs, to the Senior Minister. 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 Christopher Lingle and 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 routinely experience delays of 3 to 4 weeks before being notified of the disposition of 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 all residents of public housing should have access to religious organizations traditionally associated with their ethnic groups. 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 groups by application of the Societies Act and has banned others, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church. The Government banned the former in 1972 on the grounds that it opposes military service, and its roughly 2,000 members refuse to perform military service, salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the State. In July a 72-year-old grandmother was arrested and convicted for possession of banned Jehovah's Witness literature. She was sentenced to a $500 fine. She refused to pay and was ordered to jail for 7 days. She was first arrested in February 1995, along with 69 other suspected Jehovah's Witnesses, at which time the police seized books, magazines, periodicals, and other materials believed to be related to the group. Of the 69 persons arrested, 28 were tried and found guilty of holding a meeting of a "banned society" and were fined between $500 and $2,000.

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 that right 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 age 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. Beginning at age 11, boys' passports are restricted to 6 months. Males approaching national service age must obtain an exit permit in order to study outside the country. Boys over the age of 17 1/2, who have not already obtained a deferment, cannot obtain an exit permit until they have at least begun their national service. The Goverment 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 (see Section 1.d.). 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 the country 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 must apply 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 accepted the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese seeking refugee status nor offered 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. Approximately 140 Vietnamese boat people were placed in an open camp in Singapore. All were interviewed to determine refugee status and a number were resettled in resettlement countries. Ninety-nine Vietnamese boat people were repatriated on June 29, under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation program. Five other Vietnamese asylum seekers have been allowed to remain in Singapore. The authorities permit persons of other nationalities who make claims for asylum to have their status determined by the UNHCR for possible resettlement elsewhere.

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 3 decades under Lee Kuan Yew. Opposition politicians hold 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 that 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. Singapore's economic success under the PAP has strengthened the party's leadership role. However, its grip on power has also been enhanced by: Patronage; political control of the press and the courts; strong party discipline; and access to the instruments of power. For example, during the December election campaign senior government officials pointedly warned voters that precincts that elected opposition candidates would have the lowest priority in extensive government plans to upgrade public housing facilities, heightening concerns among some observers about the degree of freedom of choice within the electorate. Government regulations also hinder attempts by opposition parties to rent office space in government housing or to establish community foundations for, among other purposes, running private kindergartens. In August the Government denied an opposition party request to produce and distribute video tapes on the grounds that visual images can be used to evoke emotional rather than rational responses. Moreover, according to the Government, the use of videos could allow political parties to sensationalize or distort information to capture the maximum attention of the viewer. The PAP claims that 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 some 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 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 alleged irregularities involving his use of research funds and sued by his department chairman, 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.

The Government uses parliamentary censure or the threat of censure to humiliate or intimidate opposition leaders. For example, Parliament censured Chee Soon Juan and the SDP in November 1995 for allegedly endorsing attacks on the judiciary made by Chee's fellow panelists, dissident Francis Seow and academic Christopher Lingle, at a forum held in the United States at Williams College in September 1995. 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." In December Parliament levied fines in excess of $36,000 against Chee and three other SDP members, claiming that they had committed perjury and other offenses during the proceedings of a special parliamentary committee examining government health care subsidies. Parliament accused the opposition party of fabricating statistics about the extent of these subsidies in a written submission and subsequent testimony to the committee. Chee and his colleagues claimed that they had submitted some incorrect figures to the committee in error but that they had not intended to mislead anyone.

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 128 of 560 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 laws 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 monitor 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 the country, 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 international human rights organizations and other institutions which it claimed were intent on undermining its 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 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, among other rights, 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; they also may divorce unilaterally, whereas Muslim women may not. Polygyny occurred in 104 of 4,412 marriages registered in 1995.

In 1962 the Government instituted the principle of equal pay for equal work in the civil service and abolished separate salary scales in 1965. Women make up 39 percent of the labor force and are well represented in many professional fields, but they still hold the preponderance of low-wage jobs such as clerks and secretaries. As a result, their average salary levels are only 74 percent those of men. Women hold few leadership positions in the private sector.

Other areas of discrimination remain. For example, children born overseas to female citizens are not granted citizenship automatically, while those of male citizens are. Female civil service employees who are married do not receive health benefits for their spouses and dependents as do male government employees.


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 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 societal pattern of 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 impaired, deaf, and physically disabled students. The Government allows the equivalent of a $2,400 tax deduction for families with a disabled person.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Indian and Eurasian communities have achieved economic and educational success rates on a par with the majority Chinese. Malay Singaporeans, however, 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, and, some have claimed, in certain sectors of the Government, a reflection of their historically lower education and economic position, but also a result of employment discrimination. Advertisements sometimes specify ethnicity and gender requirements 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 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 Trade Unions 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 1.75 million employees, more than 237,000 of whom are organized into 84 employee unions. Seventy-five of these unions, representing almost 73 percent of all unionized workers, are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization that 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, 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 $1,414 and/or a 6-month prison sentence. Labor laws and regulations are enforced uniformly.

There are no export processing zones.

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 as 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. A child 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

There are 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 350,000 foreign workers are employed legally in Singapore, 20 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 and are often required to work long hours. Foreign construction workers often live in substandard housing on construction sites. About 85,000 foreign maids, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, are employed in Singapore. Maids, foreign or domestic, are not covered under the Employment Act. Most work 6 days per week from very early morning until late in the evening. Many contracts allow only 1 day off per month. Contracts often stipulate that a maid must remain on the premises except for official duties or on her day off. Wages average around $210 per month (not including free room and board). Maids often work for several months without pay because they must reimburse their placement agents. Labor law requires that employers contribute to a central provident fund for maids. Work permits for low-wage workers stipulate that their work permit will be cancelled if they apply to marry or marry a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. Maids only occasionally complain since they find the wages and working conditions to be generally acceptable. Although many lower-paid workers not covered under the Employment Act are ineligible for the limited free legal assistance that is available to citizens, the Government does not bar complainants from seeking legal redress and takes a firm stand against employers who abuse their domestic servants. The authorities have fined or imprisoned employers who have abused domestics, often with great publicity.

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