U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - 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 fourth 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 9.5 percent in 1994, and Singaporeans have an annual per capita income over $18,000. 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. There continued to be credible reports of police mistreatment of detainees. 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 human rights when it deemed that necessary in pursuit of its policy goals. 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 the Malay minority.


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 killing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of 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 during the past year of police mistreatment of detainees, some of which has been reported in the press. Reliable reports indicate that police sometimes interrogate prisoners in very cold rooms where the prisoners may be stripped of their clothes and doused with water. In August, after 16 months in custody, murder charges were withdrawn against a suspect who claimed that he was forced to confess as a result of police interrogation methods. The police maintained that all proper procedures had been followed in obtaining the confession. The court said that it appeared the accused had been assaulted while he was in police custody and that his confession, therefore, could have been coerced. In 1993, of the 94 complaints of police abuse investigated, 14 were substantiated. The Government reserves the right to use indefinite confinement 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. 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. The Government opted to apply the Vandalism Act in the widely publicized case of foreign teenagers accused of spray painting privately owned automobiles. Previously, damage against private property had been classified as mischief, which does not include caning as a means of punishment. Many critics expressed the view that caning was an excessive penalty for youthful, nonviolent, first-time offenders whose actions were reparable and questioned why the Government chose to punish these teenagers more harshly than in past cases. 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 judgment included a caning sentence in 3,244 cases.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The ISA, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, 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 Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, and the Misuse of Drugs Act authorize detention without trial. The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act is used almost exclusively in cases involving narcotics and secret criminal societies and has not been used for political purposes. According to the Government, 46 detention orders were issued under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act during 1993, of which 27 were for secret society activities and 19 for drug trafficking. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) may also commit--without trial--suspected drug users for up to 6 months, with subsequent extensions, to a drug rehabilitation center 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 Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act 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 rcommendation 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 normally allow ISA detainees access to lawyers and visits by relatives. No one has been jailed under formal ISA detention since 1990. However, the Government maintains 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, or issue public statements without ISD approval. Vincent Cheng, a detainee released in 1990, may not issue public statements, publish, or travel abroad without ISD consent. While the law does not specifically prohibit exile, the Government has never practiced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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. 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. The accused has the right to be represented by an attorney. Trial is by judge rather than jury. Persons detained under the ISA and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, as well as suspected drug users detained under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are not entitled to a public trial, which is accorded in all other cases. 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. In February, 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 President appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice. 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. 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. Judicial officials, especially in the Supreme Court, have close ties to the ruling party and its leaders. These factors call into question the judiciary's independence. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government can use its wide discretionary powers 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 searches are necessary to preserve evidence. The Misuse of Drugs Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) 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 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, but there were no proven allegations that they did so in 1994.

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. 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 government corruption, nepotism, or a compliant judiciary. The Government owns the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and operates it under a statutory board of the Ministry of Information and the Arts. On October 1, the SBC was divided into four government-owned subsidiaries under a holding company, Singapore International Media PTE Ltd. Also, the new Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) came into effect 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. Government-owned corporations have a near monopoly on broadcasting, operating all 3 free television channels and 10 of 14 radio stations. The three pay television channels are jointly owned by government-owned corporations and the U.S. Cablevision company. Two of the other three radio stations 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 on the FM band. In addition to the BBC World Service, Malaysian television and radio broadcasts and Indonesian radio broadcasts are received uncensored in Singapore. Cable News Network International, carried live, is available almost 24-hours a day on pay television. Satellite dishes are banned with few exceptions. All general circulation newspapers, with the exception of a small circulation Tamil language newspaper, are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH), a private corporation which has close ties to the national leadership. SPH also owns 20 percent of Singapore Cablevision, which operates the cable television system. The 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 have unrestricted freedom 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 case by the Government against the editor of the Business Times, the leading business daily owned by Singapore press holdings, and four other persons was settled in March. The editor and four others--a government official, a journalist, and two employees of a foreign securities firm--were convicted of failing to protect the secrecy of official information in regard to a December 1992 report in the Business Times of unreleased government growth figures. The defendants were fined but received no jail sentences. A wide range of international magazines and newspapers may be purchased uncensored, although newspapers printed in Malaysia may not be imported (and vice versa). A 1990 law requires foreign publications that report on politics and current events in Southeast Asia to register, post a bond the equivalent of $132,000, 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. In its relations with foreign media, the Government relaxed restrictions on the circulation of some foreign publications. In January the restrictions on the circulation of The Economist were lifted. The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review, all "gazetted" (limited in circulation) in 1987, remained gazetted. However, the limits were raised to 7,000 per issue on the AWSJ, 15,000 per issue for Asiaweek, and 2,000 per issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review. The Government also permitted the AWSJ to station a correspondent full time in Singapore beginning in 1993. From 1988 to 1991, the AWSJ was not permitted to have a correspondent in Singapore, and from 1991 to 1993, a correspondent was permitted on a part-time basis only. However, in June the Immigration Department refused the application from the Asiaweek correspondent to renew his employment pass. Journalists from regional publications are required by law to apply annually for renewal of the employment pass hich allows them to operate in Singapore. Government leaders sometimes use libel or slander suits or the threat of such actions to discourage public criticism. In June a Former Singapore Law Minister sued the International Herald Tribune for publishing an allegedly defamatory letter about him in May. The letter compared the leniency shown to the former law minister after a car crash when he had been convicted of "drunk driving and refusing a breathalyzer test" with the harsh punishment for persons convicted of vandalism. In fact, the former law minister had not been convicted of the former, but was charged with "driving without care" and "failing to give a blood sample." The suit was settled out of court after the IHT printed an apology and paid an unspecified amount in damages. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his son, deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, are seeking damages from the IHT for an article, published in August, which suggested that the younger Lee had been appointed to his post on account of his father. Damages of an unspecified amount are being sought, in spite of a printed apology, which appeared in the newspaper on August 31. Lawyers for the two sides are still negotiating the amount of the damages. In January 1995 Dr. Christopher Lingle, an American academic who had been a visiting lecturer at the National University of Singapore, the International Herald Tribune, and others were fined for contempt of court following the publication of an article about Southeast 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, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew filed a civil libel suit. That action is pending. In at least the three incidents cited above, the use of slander or libel suits appears to have successfully intimidated the press. The authorities censor movies, video materials, and music. Some publications are barred from importation. 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 language animosities. The authorities report that there is strong public support for continued censorship of sex and violence in films. In January, after a performer's actions in a nude entertainment, the Government tightened its restrictions on drama groups. It now requires organizers of scriptless plays to provide a synopsis when applying for a license. The founder of the group responsible for the above performance was prosecuted for providing entertainment without a license because the play ran overtime. The performer was fined and barred from future public performances. 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 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

Assemblies of more than five persons in public, including political meetings and rallies, must have police permission. Individuals 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 police Criminal Investigation Department. Opposition politicians have experienced delays as long as 26 days, according to police records, before receiving notification of action on their applications. The authorities do not approve all applications. For example, according to a police spokesman, opposition M. P. Ling How Doon was not allowed to speak at his constituency's national day celebration dinner in August because the function was organized by a political party and held outdoors. On the other hand, PAP M. P. and Minister Without Portfolio Lim Boon Heng was allowed to speak at a similar open-air function in August because it was organized by the Citizens' Consultative Committeeunder the People's Association, which is not a political party. The Government closely monitors political gatherings regardless of the number present. Most associations, societies, clubs, churches, and other organizations with more than 10 members must be registered with the Government under the Societies Act. The Government denies registration to societies it believes likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order. 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. 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 (see also Section 3).

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. Four Jehovah's Witnesses were convicted, and their appeals dismissed, for possessing banned publications under the Undesirable Publications Act. All four were fined. 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 denies the judiciary the competence to review possible denial of rights which could arise from the application of the Act, and it specifically denies judicial review of its enforcement.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

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 remain liable for 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 deny a passport, and has done so in the case of former ISA detainees. The ISA allows the Minister 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 nation'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 September 1, there were 98 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 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 had 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 associations. 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, courts, and religion; 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. Government leaders continued to use civil libel or slander suits or the threat of them to discourage criticism or challenges by opposition leaders. The Legal Code also provides for criminal defamation offenses, but these provisions are seldom used. A prominent opposition figure who was the target of investigation by government entities was Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore and Deputy Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee was dismissed from his teaching position in March 1993 after a university audit of his financial records uncovered an alleged irregularity involving his use of research funds to express mail his wife's doctoral thesis to her university adviser in the United States. He defended his action by arguing that his wife's thesis was relevant to his own research and that he had received prior approval for the mailing from his Department Chairman, Dr. S. Vasoo, a PAP M. P. Chee, one of the first university lecturers to join an opposition party, rose to prominence during an unsuccessful bid against Prime Minister Goh in the December 1992 by-election. In April 1993, Chee was sued by Vasoo for making allegedly defamatory remarks. After selling his house, Chee paid $200,000 in damages to his former university department chairman and two other university employees as compensation for his allegedly defamatory remarks. The high court also ordered Chee to pay all legal costs and refrain from repeating his allegedly defamatory remarks. According to the law, if Chee had been unable to pay and had declared bankruptcy, he would have been ineligible to run for Parliament for at least 5 years. Although there is no legal bar to the participation of women in politics, they are underrepresented in government. 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 are also underrepresented in the highest levels of the civil service. There is no restriction in law or practice against minorities voting or participating in politics. Malays currently hold 12 percent of the seats in Parliament, in part the result of government legislation requiring a minority representative in selected group representation 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 Singapore, but neither is such activity regarded as a "social visit." Amnesty International is not allowed to operate in or to visit Singapore.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

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 are constitutionally afforded equal rights, actively participate in the political process, and are well represented throughout the Government.


Women enjoy the same legal rights as men in most areas, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. The Constitution contains no explicit provision of equal rights for women; instead, it states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. The Women's Charter, enacted in 1961, gave 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, except that Muslim men are allowed to practice polygyny and may divorce unilaterally whereas Muslim women may not. 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. 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. 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 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.


The Government is strongly committed to the rights of children. 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 or supervisory needs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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." The Government has concentrated on creating equality of opportunity, especially in education, and does not promote the concept of equality in result. 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. 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.

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 $2,000 tax deduction for families with a disabled person.

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 1.6 million employees, of whom some 233,000 are organized into 83 employee unions. Seventy-four 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 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 $1,250 and/or a 2-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; that no one is coerced to work; 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 65,000 foreign maids, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, are employed in Singapore, and some have complained of abuse or poor working conditions. 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 Singapore citizens. The authorities have fined or imprisoned employers who have abused domestics, often with great publicity.

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