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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique State-driven mechanism and significant innovation under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that emerged from the 2005 UN reform process. It is the only universal procedure that reviews the human rights situation in all 193 UN Member States and takes place once every four-and-a-half to five years.

The Universal Periodic Review and the Human Rights Council were created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251[1]. The UPR is one of the key elements of the HRC which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve human rights, to fulfill their human rights obligations, to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights[2] and to share best human rights practices around the globe. Since the first UPR session was held at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2008, all UN member states have been reviewed.

Singapore participated in the first cycle of the UPR on 6 May 2011 during which she submitted her first UPR National Report. In the latter document, no mention of LGBT equality or Section 377A of the Penal Code was made by the Singapore government even though civil society and LGBT advocacy groups such as People Like Us highlighted Singapore's poor gay rights record.

The second cycle of the UPR began in 2012. Fourteen UN member states were reviewed at each session of the UPR Working Group which was held thrice a year. Singapore’s second UPR was scheduled on 27 January 2016 during the 24th session of the UPR Working Group from 18-29 January 2016. This time, owing to continuing campaigning by civil society and LGBT activist groups like Pink Dot, Oogachaga and Sayoni, legal challenges against the constitutionality of Section 377A and the Article 12 Constitutional suit for equal protection of LGBT people in the workplace, together with heated public discussion on LGBT rights in Singapore, the Government redressed this deficiency and specifically mentioned the issue in its second National Report for the 2016 UPR. However, it did not implement any of the suggestions by fifteen UN member states to eliminate discrimination against Singapore's LGBT community.

During Singapore's third UPR, which took place on 12 May 2021, there was a conspicuous lack of any legal reform regarding LGBT rights in the republic since the previous session, with Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee basically repeating what she said during the second UPR - that Section 377A was retained but not enforced and that the holding of Pink Dot for the past 12 years was evidence of the country's tolerance towards the LGBT community. Observers noted that the UPR appeared to be a symbolic but toothless mechanism for encouraging member states to comply with recommended LGBT rights standards.

First Universal Periodic Review, 2011[]

Preparations[]

Civil society groups in Singapore submitted reports on her human rights track record ahead of the United Nations deadline on 1 November 2010[3],[4]. They were enthused because it was the first time that Singapore's human rights record were to come under scrutiny by the UN. At least eight civil society groups in Singapore put forward their views on the country's human rights track record. They represented diverse organisations from migrant workers to womens' groups. Collectively, the groups also submitted a joint proposal collated by MARUAH, the Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism[5]. Their message was that economic growth did not necessarily equate with quality of life.

"Economic growth, well-being do not automatically bring in happiness, justice or social equality. These issues have to be pushed for, fought for and brought into reality," said Alex Au, spokesperson for advocacy group People Like Us. The groups pointed to issues like poor housing for migrant workers, the perceived discrimination of homosexuals under Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men, detention without trial under the Internal Security Act, and problems faced by disadvantaged groups like the disabled and elderly[6].


Braema Mathi, chairperson of MARUAH, said: "We have not talked about stuff from a rights-based perspective for so long. We have always talked about it from a welfare-based approach, from a goodwill-based approach. "I think the language will change and the mindset will change and people will start thinking that 'actually I deserve it here. Things are not right. I've tried so hard, why isn't it coming? Something is not right with the policy, the implementation, etc.', rather than 'me always trying to do a patch-up job trying to cope with situations that are not working to my benefit'....So it's about re-framing."

Singapore submitted its report to the UN by February 2011 and presented its report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in May 2011. The report traced the country's history and set in context the environment in which Singapore operated in. The May 2011 meeting also involved a dialogue with member states. At the end of it, a final outcome document was published, which listed recommendations that member states could take to improve their human rights situation. That document, though, was not legally binding but it formed the basis for future reviews.

As part of the process, civil society groups could attend the UN meeting in May 2011 to observe Singapore presenting its report. In September 2011, they could speak and make representations when the final outcome document was adopted by the United Nations. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had consulted stakeholders, including some local civil society groups, adding that they were welcome to submit their own reports to the UN.

Civil society groups acknowledged that it would be a long-drawn process but they hoped that it would get Singaporeans thinking and help to improve the quality of life here. "It's an opportunity for us to surface the problems migrant workers in Singapore are facing. It's not just a matter of statistics, because (even) if just one person is abused, it is good for us to act," said Bridget Lew, founder-president of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

"I hope that more civil society members will engage in the process, the space will open up and more people will talk and embrace that space...the more we engage we understand this concept, that it also comes with responsibilities," said Braema Mathi. Submissions of the individual civil society groups were published online. The next review process was scheduled to be carried out in four-and-a-half years' time.

UPR proper in Geneva[]

On 6 May 2011, Singapore underwent its first-ever Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. A second hearing was scheduled for September 2011. At the first hearing, only states had a right to question Singapore while civil societies could do so at the second hearing[7].

As noted by human rights lawyer George Hwang, Singapore's official national report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review did not mention Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalised sexual relations between men[8].

There were a total of 19 submissions, five of these being joint submissions. The number of parties which submitted numbered 27. Of these, 17 were by Singaporean organisations and 11 by international NGOs, like Amnesty International. Of the submissions by Singaporean civil societies, only People Like Us and COSINGO referred to Section 377A and discrimination of LGBTQ rights. (COSINGO is the acronym for Coalition of Singapore NGOs, spearheaded by MARUAH.)

At the session on 6 May 2011, several countries including the UK, France and Canada amongst others queried Singapore's continuing criminalisation of male gay sex to which a Singapore delegate Sng Siew Ping, Director (International Relations), Ministry of Home Affairs, responded saying:[9],[10]


"The issue of sexual orientation raised by France and UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands. My delegation is aware that sexual orientation is also a controversial issue in UN bodies including the present one.

"In Singapore, people are free to pursue their interests and lifestyles. Recognition and success is based on merit and not on factors such as sexual orientation. In the area of employment, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices promotes and educates employers and the general public on fair and responsible employment practices. Our legislation also allows those who feel that they have been unfairly dismissed including on grounds of sexual orientation to appeal to the Minister for Manpower to be reinstated. Yet we recognise that much of Singapore society remains conservative social mores and mindset cannot be changed by legislation alone. In recent times we had robust parliamentary debates in Singapore on whether to decriminalise certain homosexual acts. On this let me assure the UK and clarify in particular that what is being criminalised is not gay Singaporeans but homosexual acts between men. Now an extensive public consultation was held and the matter was considered at the highest political levels, it was not taken lightly and in the end it was decided to leave things be. The Singapore police has not been proactively enforcing the provision and will continue to take this stance.

"To answer the delegate from Canada, no action is taken against consenting adult males who may have relations unless their conduct breaks other laws, for instance laws against indecent public behaviour or paedophilia. The reality is that LGBT people in Singapore do not have to hide their sexual orientation for fear of losing their jobs or for fear of prosecution by the state. They have a place in our society and are entitled to their private lives."

Second Universal Periodic Review, 2016[]

Preparations[]

The welfare of LGBT groups was mentioned in Singapore's international human rights report, after the Government conducted consultations with these groups for the first time[11]. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) consulted LGBT groups, including Pink Dot and Sayoni, and other civil society organisations in January 2015, ahead of its human rights report to be submitted to the United Nations the following year. "In preparation for Singapore's 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council in January 2016, MFA conducted outreach to interested civil society organisations to get their feedback, including LGBT groups," the ministry said, adding that the contents of its national report for the review were still being prepared and not yet finalised.

Pink Dot spokesman Paerin Choa said it was the first time the LGBT group has been consulted, and that it "is a very significant development as it has given the LGBT community in Singapore an opportunity to be heard in the international community". Braema Mathi, president of human rights group MARUAH, said the move was a sign that the Government was recognising LGBT communities.

However, National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh was less hopeful. "I don't think it is a game-changer when the groups are consulted. (It's) just that the Government agrees such groups exist and it is good to hear their views," he said. "But what eventually happens remains to be seen. I doubt there will be many policy changes though."

LGBT groups also planned to submit their own reports for the UPR to the UN. Queer women's group Sayoni prepared one with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), migrant rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), and civil society organisations Function 8 and Think Centre. Pink Dot intended to prepare one with LGBT counselling group Oogachaga. The groups said they were planning to bring up issues such as the Penal Code's Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men - a rule recently upheld by the Supreme Court - workplace discrimination against the LGBT community and censorship of the media.

In December 2015, five civil society groups said they were headed to Geneva, Switzerland the following month, to address representatives of United Nations member states and make recommendations on human rights issues in Singapore[12].

Sayoni representative, Jean Chong (extreme right) and two other civil society activists headed for the UPR in Geneva in January 2016. (Source: The Straits Times)

They would focus on such issues as migrant worker rights, gender equality, income inequality, the death penalty and LGBT rights. Also up for review in January 2016 were Belgium, Denmark, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Paraguay, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Activists from countries up for review, like Singapore, were invited to lobby the permanent missions of UN members in Geneva one month before the UPR session. A Singapore Government delegation would present a national report on human rights ahead of the 27 January 2016 UPR session on Singapore.

Civil society organisations headed to Geneva in January 2016 included LGBT group Sayoni, migrant worker advocates HOME, anti-death penalty group Second Chances and human rights advocates MARUAH. Oogachaga's representative, Bryan Choong, would only be there earlier, in December 2015, to meet with and lobby foreign missions. Sayoni, Second Chances and HOME were also representing a coalition of 10 local NGOs that included AWARE and Think Centre.

Singapore's first UPR in 2011 saw only two activist groups - MARUAH and Think Centre - in Geneva. Then, Singapore received 143 recommendations from countries including France, Oman, the Czech Republic and Indonesia. MARUAH president Braema Mathi, who would be travelling to Geneva, said she found her 2011 experience useful, and credited the UPR for Singapore eventually ratifying UN conventions on human trafficking and disabilities since then. "The system in itself is a good system of getting more and more countries to become more accountable on how they are maintaining and enhancing human rights in their own countries," she said. For the 2016 UPR, she planned to focus on civil and political rights and the electoral system.

The civil society groups spent about $3,000 each to send a representative to Geneva who had five to eight minutes to give their views to UN delegations at what are called UPR pre-session meetings. Oogachaga did not have a speaking slot but would set up meetings to lobby UN members on recommendations in their joint report with Pink Dot: Employment protection for LGBT persons, bullying and harassment in schools, legal recognition of LGBT groups, and access to healthcare and social services. "Through these meetings, we hope that more recommendations on LGBT human rights issues could be made during the UPR session in January," said Oogachaga consultant Bryan Choong.

In June 2015, civil society organisations submitted their group or individual reports to the UN. They were also consulted in January 2015 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which was preparing Singapore's national report. The UPR would be based on Singapore's National Report, together with civil society reports and a UN report on Singapore's commitments and engagement with UN human rights mechanisms. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies political scientist Alan Chong said some of these NGOs saw their participation as a way to shape Singapore's human rights standards in line with international norms, and "a way to hurry or pressure government policies towards certain directions".

Government's position in final UPR National Report[]

The Singapore Government submitted its 23-page UPR National Report in October 2015[13] and released it to the media on Friday, 11 December 2011[14]. The full report, which is available on theMinistry of Foreign Affairs website[15],[16], covered a wide range of issues including social safety nets, the rights of persons with disabilities, migrant worker protection and civil and political rights.

The Government explained its approach and progress on human rights saying that Singapore took a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to human rights, even as she is fully committed to protecting the human rights of Singaporeans. Her way of promoting human rights is to build a fair and inclusive society, by enhancing social protection and preserving social harmony. "Human rights exist in specific cultural, social, economic and historical contexts. In every country, accommodation must be reached among the competing rights of the individuals who make up the nation and the interests of society as a whole," said the report. Stability, security and social harmony are key prerequisites for economic growth, which enables the Government to care for and protect Singaporeans, it added.

Dr. Chan Heng Chee, Ambassador-at-Large.

"We therefore firmly apply the rule of law to ensure stability, equality and social justice, which are the necessary conditions for respecting the fundamental human rights enshrined in our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

In an update of its progress since the last UPR, the report noted that Singapore had recently signed onto three international conventions:

  • The International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The UN Trafficking In Persons Protocol and
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

in addition to being party to other core human rights instruments of the UN, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which she signed earlier.

As part of the UPR process, a three-hour dialogue between Singapore and other UN members would be held on 27 January 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. Singapore's delegation would be led by Ambassador-at-Large, Dr. Chan Heng Chee, and include representatives from several ministries. It would present the National Report and engage in a dialogue with the UPR Working Group, made up of 47 Elected Members, as well as Observer States of the HRC. In this peer review system, all parties would be allowed to give recommendations following the presentation. Singapore's response to these recommendations would be circulated to all States 48 hours after the UPR.

Dr. Chan said, "The realisation of human rights is a work-in-progress for all states. Singapore will continue to review and adapt our approach based on the changing attitudes and needs of our society." However, she cautioned that, "The UPR is not an occasion for the international community to sit in judgment of one of its members. It is a conversation among peers."

LGBT rights[]

A new issue that emerged in the Government's second UPR National Report was the rights of LGBT people which Singapore did not raise in the first report in 2011. The Government reiterated its stance that Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises male gay sex was retained, but not proactively enforced. It added that this approach sought to accommodate the sensitivities of different communities so all can exist harmoniously together, and took into account the evolving social and cultural context of the country[17].


The section dealing with LGBT rights[18] is reproduced here:

"LGBT Community

111. The retention of section 377A of the Penal Code was thoroughly and passionately debated in Parliament in 2007. In 2013, two legal applications were made to challenge the constitutionality of section 377A and the Court of Appeal upheld its constitutionality in both cases. This is a sensitive issue in multi-religious Singapore and the decision to retain section 377A of the Penal Code was a carefully considered and finely balanced decision taken by Parliament. Segments of Singapore society continue to hold strong views against homosexuality for various reasons including religious convictions and moral values. Petitions to repeal section 377A were often met with counter-petitions.

112. While section 377A is retained, the Government does not proactively enforce it. All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to lead their lives and pursue their activities in their private space without fear of violence or personal insecurity. Members of the LGBT community are also not discriminated against in schools or the workplace. The Government does not discriminate against persons seeking a job in the civil service on the basis of their sexual orientation.

113. We believe that each country should be allowed to deal with such sensitive issues in its own way, taking into account its evolving social and cultural context. Our approach seeks to accommodate the sensitivities of different communities so that there is room for all to exist harmoniously together. We believe this to be a pragmatic and reasonable compromise in the current circumstances."

A group of 10 civil society organisations also submitted to the UPR its recommendations to improve Singapore’s human-rights record in 11 areas[19]. The group called itself the Alliance of Like-Minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS)[20] and included AWARE, HOME and The Online Citizen.

Among the things ALMOS called for was the repeal of Section 377A, a review of the practice of deporting and blacklisting pregnant foreign domestic workers, and a review of all laws that potentially restricted freedom of expression.

Statement and campaign by Sayoni[]

During the UPR Pre-Session in Geneva on 16 December 2015, Jean Chong delivered Sayoni's statement on behalf of the LGBTQ communities in Singapore.

HumanWrites001.jpg

It addressed:

  • Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore
  • The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons
  • The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation
  • The right to family life for LGBTQ persons
  • Rights of Transgender people
  • Workplace discrimination

The entire statement may be read on Sayoni's website:[21].

As a follow-up to their work at the UPR Pre-Session, Sayoni, in partnership with Destination: INK and supported by the ASEAN Sogie Caucus, ALMOS and Artistry, organised a spoken word competition entitled, "Human Writes: a spoken word competition" which lasted from 31 January to June 2016 to raise awareness of the Universal Periodic Review[22]. Contestants were presented with a new theme related to human rights every month to which they could respond. Winners and runner-ups got to compete in the grand finalé to win $500.


Timetable for Singapore's review[]

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Singapore's review would be broadcast live over the UN Web TV Channel at 9:30pm (Singapore time) on Wednesday, 27 January 2016:[23].

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Joint report by Pink Dot and Oogachaga[]

In preparation for Singapore's UPR session on 27 January 2016. Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga Counselling and Support submitted a joint report about LGBT issues to the United Nations' Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.

A simplified and eye-catching version of the report to facilitate education of the LGBT and mainstream communities regarding these issues was published and may be read here:[24],[25]. (The report's layout was done by graphic designers and long-term gay couple Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim).

In the week leading up to the UPR, the two organisations released a series of 6 comic strips drawn by openly gay cartoonist Otto Fong to highlight some of the key concerns raised in the joint report.

  • Part 1: Legal registration of LGBT organisations

The Registrar of Societies refuses registration of LGBT organisations, apparently because it is “contrary to the national interest” to do so. We recommend the Government should allow legal registration of LGBT organisations by ROS.

UPRComics001.jpg


LGBT youth in Singapore are exposed to Reparative Therapy in order to change their sexual orientation and/ or gender identity. Internationally, these practices are denounced as harmful and unethical. We recommend the Government outlaw all such clinical practices.

UPRComics002.jpg


  • Part 3: When school counsellors are not trained on LGBT issues

LGBT students lack access to professionals who can provide accurate LGBT sexuality and sexual health education. We recommend the Government should implement comprehensive and LGBT-inclusive curriculum in schools.

UPRComics003.jpg


Educators and professionals in mainstream education are not empowered to handle homophobic and transphobic bullying. We recommend the Government set up a taskforce to look into the issue of LGBT bullying and the well-being of its LGBT students and staff.

UPRComics004.jpg


  • Part 5: Lack of protection for LGBT people

You could be fired from your job, denied a promotion, bullied or blackmailed for being LGBT, and there’s no employment protection. We recommend the Government should include "sexual orientation and gender identity" in the employment laws.

UPRComics005.jpg


  • Part 6: Censorship of LGBT information

Mainstream media guidelines prohibit broadcast of music or programmes that positively portray homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism and transsexualism. We recommend the Government should remove these discriminatory guidelines in order to provide accurate representation of LGBT persons.

UPRComics006.jpg


Advance questions[]

These following were the 7 advance questions on LGBTI issues that the foreign missions Oogachaga and Pink Dot representatives spoke to in December 2015 intended to ask Singapore on her scheduled UPR date and which were published beforehand on the UPR website.

  • Czech Republic - What measures are the Government adopting to eliminate discriminatory provisions in its national legislation with regard to women and other groups such as LGBTIs? In this regard, does it consider revision of the article 377A of the Penal Code?
  • Netherlands – Would Singapore be willing to repeal section 377A of the penal code which criminalizes all sexual relations between two male persons?
  • Norway - We appreciate that social acceptance of homosexuality seems to be growing in Singapore, and that section 377 A of the Penal Code is not proactively enforced. As a result, the dignity and freedom of individuals belonging to the LGBT community is slowly growing. The retention of section 377A does however strongly signal against a pluralistic and inclusive Singapore for all. Under which conditions will Singapore consider revoking section 377A?
  • Sweden - What measures have been taken to remove all censorship guidelines that allow for the discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints?
  • Switzerland - The Societies Act of Singapore gives discretionary power to the Registrar of Societies to recognize a group as a society. It has been reported that no LGBT advocacy group has been granted registration by the Registrar of Societies. What are the reasons for this lack of registration? How do you ensure that the Registrar of Societies grants registration on the basis of the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment?
  • United States of America – We are troubled that LGBTI persons reportedly face institutionalized discrimination in Singapore, including government censorship of LGBTI topics in the arts and media. What consideration has Singapore given to creating new legislation to protect LGBTI individuals’ ability to enjoy freedom of expression?

UPR proper[]

During the actual, second Universal Periodic Review of Singapore's human rights record which took place at the United Nations, Geneva on Wednesday, 27 January 2016, delegations from Austria, Brasil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America recommended that the republic decriminalise consensual sex between men and eliminate discrimination against LGBT people.

However, Singapore's representative, Ambassador-At-Large, Chan Heng Chee made a speech which basically rehashed what her predecessor had said during the first UPR cycle in 2011 - that the island nation's society was largely conservative and that Section 377A, which criminalised male gay sex, would remain but not be proactively enforced[26],[27]. She further pointed out that the ability of LGBT groups to hold an event such as Pink Dot was an example of the freedom they had and stated that they were given the space to rally, demonstrate and stage plays about issues of concern to their community. She went on to state that LGBT people were free to live their lives in Singapore and that the civil service did not discriminate against LGBT employees. Chan's cosmetic pronouncements demonstrated that no progress whatsoever had been made in improving the legal environment to protect the rights of LGBT Singaporeans over the span of four-and-a-half years since the previous UPR[28].


Transcript:

Chan Heng Chee: "Now, a few delegations - the Czech Republic, Norway, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, United States, Slovenia and Austria - have raised the rights of LGBTI persons in their statements and advance questions. In my opening remarks, I said: "We treasure every Singaporean. LGBTI persons are part of our society, and we acknowledge their contributions like we do for all our citizens."

Let me say that Singapore is basically a conservative society. We have to manage such issues sensitively and in a pragmatic way without fracturing our society. Even in developed countries with more liberal societies, LGBT rights remain a divisive issue. We inherited the law on sodomy, Section 377A of the Penal Code, from Britain through the Indian Penal Code and the Straits Settlements Penal Code during our colonial history. But our position today is not to proactively enforce Section 377A.


On October 22 2007, there was a long and intense debate in parliament on repealing 377A. Parliament eventually decided to retain the status quo. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the following points: One, Singapore is a conservative society. Two, it is better to accept the legal untidiness and ambiguity of leaving 377A as it is and not proactively enforce it. And three, it would not be wise to force the issue to settle the matter one way or the other.

In fact, LGBTI persons are free to lead their lives in Singapore. The civil service does not discriminate against LGBTI applicants. They hold an annual LGBTI rights rally called Pink Dot, which was attended by more than 28,000 people last year as reported in our national media. They are free to write and stage plays about LGBTI issues, and there are bars that are frequented by LGBTI persons. Our approach is to live and let live and to preserve the common space for all communities in Singapore. We firmly oppose discrimination and harassment and we have laws to protect our citizens from such acts. Our view is that our society should evolve gradually, our population has to decide collectively, rather than the government decides one way or the other."

Sayoni's Jean Chong's statement during ALMOS press conference[]

One day after the UPR, Sayoni representative Jean Chong and other civil society activists from the Alliance of Like-Minded CSO's in Singapore (ALMOS) held a press conference at 3pm on Thursday, 28 January 2016. The following video excerpt is Chong's statement to the press regarding Sayoni's recommendations to the UPR and in response to Chan Heng Chee's comments[29].


Local reaction to Chan Heng Chee's speech[]

Chan's statements at the UN sparked a heated debate, especially among activists for LGBT rights, at the then young tertiary institution Yale-NUS college because she also served on its governing board[30]. MARUAH president Braema Mathi wrote to the press to express disappointment at Chan's comments[31]. Some students at Yale-NUS called for Chan’s removal from its board of governors, while others said a dismissal would be unfair because Chan was speaking in the capacity of a Singaporean ambassador, not as a governor of the university. “Yale-NUS may be beholden to the laws of Singapore, but we do not have to accommodate the government’s official position on gay rights within our own leadership ranks,” undergraduate Nicholas Carverhill wrote in a 3 February 2016 op-ed in The Octant, a Yale-NUS student publication[32]. He said that if Yale-NUS was to create an inclusive community, it could not have leadership that actively advocated for policies contrary to the school’s commitment of inclusivity. The G Spot, Yale-NUS' main student group raising awareness on issues of gender, sexuality and feminism, issued a “Statement of Concern” on 1 February 2016 following Chan’s speech saying that it was contacting the university's administration to request a closed-door dialogue with Chan on issues related to her comments at the UPR.

Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis affirmed that Chan was a “lively and positive force” on the governing board. “[Chan] has been an integral member of our governing board, and a firm believer in our mission and vision to build a community of learning, where all viewpoints are heard and a respectful understanding of different opinions and beliefs is encouraged,” he added. One student noted that most at the college agreed that Chan’s message was in a spirit contradictory to Yale-NUS’s core values of equality and nondiscrimination, but that the student body was split over whether Chan should be blamed for delivering a government message. Some undergraduates openly requested Chan’s resignation from the governing board because as a Singaporean ambassador, Chan could not help but speak on behalf of the Government whose views might contradict those of the college community. A student said others who opposed Chan’s resignation reckoned that forcing her to do so would set a precedent that Yale-NUS could not have any government representatives or civil servants on its governing board, as these figures would be required to speak for the Government regarding controversial issues. They would be sorry to see Chan resign simply because she fulfilled her government job, adding that Chan’s role as an ambassador did not necessarily conflict with her role as a member of the board. “Calling for Chan’s removal is naïve and demonstrates a lack of understanding of local politics,” remarked another student. Changes in Singapore often stemmed from within, as opposed to through extreme means such as advocating for someone’s removal from office, he added, explaining that removing Chan from the governing board, after she “toed the party line” at an international forum, was not an effective way to fight for LGBT rights. Chan’s removal would be more appropriate had she spoken in favor of Section 377A outside of a government capacity.

Sara Amjad, Yale-NUS’s director of diversity and inclusion, said students responded to Chan’s comments in different ways because of their diverse backgrounds. She added that she was meeting students individually, helping them unpack their thoughts and considering any action to be taken. Chris Bridges, Yale-NUS’s new dean of students, said that his office fully supported the debate, particularly as reflections and conversations were key steps before actions, if any, could be taken. In the end, Yale-NUS president Pericles Lewis decided: "Yale-NUS College will not consider asking Ambassador Chan to relinquish her position...She has been an integral member of our governing board, and a firm believer in our mission and vision to build a community of learning, where all viewpoints are heard and a respectful understanding of different opinions and beliefs is tolerated and understood."[33]

UN Human Rights Council's Consideration of Singapore's second UPR report[]

[34]


The United Nations Human Rights Council held its consideration of Singapore's second UPR report on 24 June 2016 at Geneva, Switzerland. Singapore accepted about half of the recommendations made by UN member States but rejected calls to decriminalise homosexuality, abolish the death penalty and caning, and the ratification of core treaties[35]. 115 recommendations were not implemented by Singapore, including numerous calls by states to decriminalize same-sex relations.

“Singapore is regarded by its neighbours as a role model for economic and social development, but serious human rights issues that need to be addressed remain,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok. “We call on Singapore to adopt a more comprehensive approach to the UPR, and urge the Government to do more to advance all human rights for all." (Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Singapore dated 15 April 2016).

"Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review" dated 13 June 2016 is one of the links accessible at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/SGSession24.aspx

"32nd session of the Human Rights Council: Reports" may be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session32/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Joint statement by Oogachaga & Pink Dot SG[]

[36]


Oogachaga and Pink Dot SG's joint statement was delivered by the International Lesbian & Gay Association World (ILGA World)'s representative, Diana Carolina Prado Mosquera, at the meeting.

Transcript[]

"Thank you Mr. President,

This statement is delivered in consultation with two Singapore NGOs, Oogachaga and Pink Dot SG that work on the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During the 24th UPR session, Singapore received and noted all 13 SOGI related recommendations. Eleven of these recommendations specifically refer to the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex activity between consenting adult males, Section 377A of the Penal Code. We are disappointed that the government continues to deny the existence of institutionalised discrimination perpetuated by the existence of Section 377A.

In its earlier response, the Singapore government maintained its position that this legislation is not proactively enforced. It added that the Prime Minister has previously stated it was better to accept the ‘legal untidiness and ambiguity’ of leaving the law as it was. As concluded by the Human Rights Committee, it is irrelevant whether laws criminalizing such conduct are enforced or not; their mere existence continuously and directly interferes with an individual’s privacy.

In fact, we would like to highlight that this has direct consequences for LGBT human rights in Singapore:

1. Discriminatory media guidelines and censorship;

2. Refusal to register and formally recognize LGBT organizations;

3. Lack of appropriate support and sexuality education for LGBT youth;

4. Lack of healthcare and social services to address the needs of LGBT persons;

5. Workplace discrimination towards LGBT persons.

Sadly, since the 24th UPR session, prejudice towards Singapore’s LGBT community has increased. In February, a local TV station censored a segment of a programme, in which US President Obama thanked celebrity Ellen Degeneres for advancing the LGBT rights. In June, a same sex kiss in the musical Les Miserables was also censored by Singapore government.

The Singapore government has additionally restricted local subsidiaries of multinational companies from expressing support for LGBT events and programmes in Singapore – a move that has further narrowed outreach and support, as well as stigmatised affirmation for the LGBT community.

We urge the Singapore government to repeal Section 377A as it is a centerpiece through which the human rights and well-being of LGBT Singaporeans are denied and disregarded. We also seek ongoing engagement with the government to address and resolve the key areas highlighted in our report.

I thank you Mr. President"

Statement by Asian Forum for Human Rights & Development, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, ALMOS & Sayoni[]

[37]


ASEAN SOGIE Caucus', ALMOS' and Sayoni's joint statement was delivered by Sayoni's representative, Jean Chong.

Transcript[]

"Mr. Vice President, Forum Asia, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, ALMOS and Sayoni make this statement on behalf of the LGBT community in Singapore.

We are alarmed that Singapore has rejected nearly half of the 236 recommendations it received. This negative precedence for the UPR is a disturbing indication of the country's unwillingness to work with international human rights processes.

Those rejected include key recommendations on freedom of expression, assembly and association. Existing legal restrictions on these rights far exceed what is permissible under international human rights law. We call on the state to review all laws and policies that impose undue restrictions.

We regret that Singapore has merely noted recommendations on censorship of LGBT content in the media and the continued criminalisation of sex between consenting men under Section 377A.

Despite reassurances that 377A is not proactively enforced, the state appears to conveniently ignore the cascading and intersectional effects of this law that encourages discrimination.

The claim that LGBT media content is allowed as long as guidelines are followed, is a fallacy. Guidelines prevent all positive or neutral portrayals of LGBT persons, even when it includes comments on TV related to history and social change in other countries. In reality, stigmatisation of LGBT people is permitted.

Although the state has been quick to cite the annual pride event Pink Dot, as evidence of tolerance and inclusiveness, on 7 June 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced restrictions on foreign sponsorship for the event.

We welcome the 14 June 2016 statement by the Minister of Home Affairs and Law that everyone will be protected against violence regardless of sexual orientation, we note that this would remain as lip service as long as the state retains laws that promote violence and discrimination against LGBT people. Section 377A and stigmatisation through censorship makes LGBT people reluctant to report violence and discrimination against them.

We call on the government to take concrete steps to decriminalise and remove all policies and laws that discriminate against LGBT persons living in Singapore.

Thank you."

The statements by other civil society organisations can be accessed in English and other languages at: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/32/17

Third Universal Periodic Review, 2021[]

Owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore's third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) review, the 38th session of the UPR Working Group was scheduled to take place virtually via Zoom on 12 May 2021 at the UN Office at Geneva, Switzerland. Singapore’s delegation would be headed by Ambassador-at-large Professor Chan Heng Chee and would take part in a three-hour dialogue where other UN members would provide their recommendations on how Singapore could improve its human rights record.

Joint stakeholder reports[]

Civil society groups[]

In late 2020, a coalition of six LGBT groups submitted a joint stakeholder report to the UN. The latter is a document prepared by civil society NGOs which explains the human rights issues faced by people in a particular member state, records the member state's actions on those issues and contains recommendations for improvement. The coalition was formed by Sayoni, IndigNation, Prout, The Healing Circle, TransgenderSG, and Young Out Here[38],[39].

The stakeholder submission highlighted pertinent human rights issues and the lack of protections for LGBT persons in Singapore. LGBT individuals in Singapore continued to experience violence and discrimination in the public and private spheres, from State and non-State actors. Deliberate discrimination in policies, institutional gaps, and a lack of anti-discrimination legislation based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), compounded and contributed to the human rights violations against them.

To recapitulate, during the previous review in 2016, Singapore had received numerous recommendations to redress laws and policies that discriminated against LGBT persons. These included:

  • the repeal of Section 377A
  • the removal of discriminatory media guidelines, in order to provide a more balanced representation of LGBT persons
  • the enactment of legislation prohibiting discrimination, based on SOGIESC, in employment.

In spite of this, the State did not support any of the UPR recommendations for the improvement of LGBT rights. Zuby Eusofe, founder of The Healing Circle, lamented: “Although the government has said that violence against all persons will not be tolerated in Singapore, this will remain as lip service as long as the state retains laws that promote discrimination. We hope that our report will raise awareness of the specific challenges we face, and the government will sincerely collaborate with non-State organisations to address the unequal treatment of LGBTQ persons,” she added.

Key issues highlighted in the stakeholder coalition report included:

  • LGBT youths often facing peer bullying and harassment in schools, but receiving inadequate protection from educational institutions
  • LGBT persons often experiencing violence from the people closest to them, family members and intimate partners, who attempted to “punish” or “correct” their perceived nonconformity towards social norms and gender stereotypes
  • Transgender persons facing significant barriers to legal gender marker change, which increased discrimination and unequal access to healthcare, housing, employment, and education
  • State and non-State service providers lacking LGBT-affirming sensitivity training to adequately support LGBT persons

Exclusive report on transgender issues[]

A joint submission by TransgenderSG, Sayoni and APTN (Asia-Pacific Transgender Network) was the first civil society report from Singapore to focus exclusively on transgender issues[40]. The report referenced data from the first nationwide survey of Singapore’s transgender community, conducted by TransgenderSG, and a research study done by Sayoni, and addressed the following key areas of concern:

  • The difficult process of legal gender recognition (LGR), including the prohibitive cost of required genital surgeries that can go up to SGD$150,000 for transgender men; such surgeries being unavailable in Singapore; requiring an invasive genital examination for surgical confirmation; the significant medical risks of surgery; the lack of Medisave or insurance coverage; and the violation of bodily autonomy in pressuring transgender Singaporeans to undergo major surgeries they may not want, need or be able to afford at the time. Transgender persons with incongruent legal gender documentation face heightened vulnerability to harassment, discrimination and violence. Lack of LGR is associated with negative mental health outcomes. Only 9.7% of surveyed transgender Singaporeans had managed to change their legal sex, including 53.8% of those who had transitioned more than 10 years ago.
  • Discrimination, abuse, and restrictions facing transgender students. 77.6% of openly transgender students in TransgenderSG’s survey reported negative experiences in school ranging from bullying to sexual abuse. Less than a third agreed or strongly agreed that they felt safe at school, and only 24% said they had a staff member they could go to for support. School administrators had implemented unreasonable demands that pressured even high-performing transgender students to drop out of school, or sought to prevent them from transitioning or pursuing HRT, sometimes by contacting their healthcare providers without the student’s or their parents’ knowledge or consent.
  • Discrimination against transgender persons in the employment sector. A joint research study by APTN and Curtin University found that transgender job candidates in Singapore faced the worst discrimination compared to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. TransgenderSG’s survey revealed an unemployment rate of 23.5% among transgender people not presently studying, including 14.3% of university graduates. The overall unemployment rate in Singapore was 2.9% over the same period. This affected transgender persons’ abilities not just to provide for themselves but to financially support their parents and other family. It was also a mismanagement of resources for a segment of highly educated Singaporeans to be persistently unemployed or underemployed.
  • Discrimination and harassment in healthcare settings that discouraged transgender persons from seeking necessary general healthcare, particularly in areas of sexual and reproductive health; and limited access to transgender healthcare, including restrictions for those under 21 that have driven transgender youths to dangerous and unregulated avenues to obtain the hormones and surgeries necessary for their well-being.
  • Access to marriage, decent housing and shelter. Transgender Singaporeans who have transitioned but are unable to change their legal sex end up in a legal limbo where they are unable to marry anyone of any sex. This and restrictions against same-sex marriage lock the majority of trans people out of public HDB housing before the age of 35, and force many in abusive home environments to either tolerate domestic violence or become homeless due to a lack of alternative housing options. To date, only one homeless shelter openly accepts transgender residents.
  • Violence against transgender or gender non-conforming adults, youths and children including physical, emotional and sexual violence from family members, the public or officials; immunity for actors promoting and practising “conversion therapies” known to lead to lasting psychological harm; and barriers to reporting and gaps in service provision for victims of such violence to seek relief or redress.

The submission also proposed key legislative, policy, and programmatic actions to ensure that the human rights, safety and dignity of transgender people in Singapore were upheld by both State and non-State actors.

“This joint report on transgender rights is the most important document ever produced to understand the impact of violence and discrimination against transgender persons in Singapore,“ said Jean Chong of Sayoni. “While state and non state actors have sometimes paid lip service to the inclusion of trans persons, it is nonetheless difficult to square this with the systemic failure in their policies which leads to the lack of protection for transgender persons. Singapore is a member of the United Nations, and in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it states simply and clearly that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Trans rights are human rights. Nothing more and nothing less." A spokesperson for Transgender SG added: "For a long time, the challenges and struggles facing the transgender community in Singapore have long gone unheard. With this report, we want to shed some light on these issues and how even small policy actions can go a long way in enabling trans people here to live safe, fulfilling lives that will benefit not just them but the rest of Singapore." Through the joint submission, the coalition hoped to bring greater attention to the multifaceted discrimination experienced by transgender residents of Singapore, and urged the government to take concrete measures to respect, protect and fulfill its human rights obligations towards trans persons.

Oogachaga and Pink Dot SG[]

A separate stakeholder report was jointly submitted by Oogachaga and Pink Dot SG on 15 October 2020. The full publication was scheduled for release in early 2021 and covered the following issues impacting Singapore's LGBT community[41]:

Oogachaga published the following series of comic strips to illustrate these issues on its Facebook page in March and April 2021[42],[43],[44],[45],[46],[47]

  • Former and current LGBTQ+ students report homophobic and transphobic bullying by students is still happening in schools. It is recommended that a National Action Plan be developed to specifically address LGBT+ bullying and mental health in schools, in collaboration with LGBT+ community and healthcare organisations, & to include clear reporting processes for victims. Illustrations by ayforandre[48] on Instagram[49]

OCUPR21-010.jpg OCUPR21-011.jpg OCUPR21-012.jpg OCUPR21-013.jpg

  • In Singapore, television programmes, films, radio, and advertising are regulated by the IMDA through its Content Codes. Information about and positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ issues, persons, and relationships in mainstream media continue to be restricted through these guidelines. It is recommended that all existing media guidelines that discriminate against positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ issues, persons and relationships be removed. Illustrations by tinybelpepper[50] on Instagram[51]

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  • The United Nations defines ‘conversion therapy’ as interventions based on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity (LGBTQ+ identities in particular) can and should be suppressed and changed. Such practices have been proven to have a severe, lasting negative effect on one’s physical and mental health. Yet various forms of this continue to be practised in Singapore by religious leaders, social service and healthcare professionals. It is recommended that all medical and social service professional associations to implement guidelines that explicitly prohibit all practices that seek to change one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Illustration by Heckin' Unicorn[52].

OCUPR21-005.png

  • It is recommended that the policy of refusing permits to LGBTQ+ assemblies and mass events outside of Hong Li Park on the basis that it is contrary to the national interest or public order be removed. Illustrations by Joy Ho[53].

OCUPR21-001.png OCUPR21-002.png OCUPR21-003.png OCUPR21-004.png

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UPR Pre-session 38[]

On Thursday, 25 March 2021, during UPR Pre-session 38 held at the United Nations Office at Geneva, which was a lead up to the actual 38th session of the UPR Working Group on 12 May 2021, the Permanent Mission of Singapore[58] from the Ministry of Home Affairs gave a brief update to other member states about the progress Singapore had made since the last UPR in 2016. The Pre-session offerred civil society groups a platform to directly advocate to state delegations ahead of the UPR session proper. Conversely, state delegations could ask civil society representatives clarifying questions.

Umej Bhatia, Singapore's Ambassador to the UN.

Singapore’s Pre-session opened with a five-minute long statement by Umej Bhatia, Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (sometimes called a "UN ambassador" or "ambassador to the UN"), laying out the nation’s general approach to human rights. It emphasised creating a “careful balance” between respect for “individual rights” and “social harmony” because of Singapore’s “unique” circumstances[59]. This was regarded by LGBT civil society groups as the usual spiel to justify the country's inaction regarding the criminalisation of male gay sex. A representative from one of the groups commented: "I would like to acknowledge the Ambassador for being here, and respond to his opening remarks. With all due respect, he appears to be suggesting that Singapore is the only country with 'unique circumstances'. Perhaps it would be useful to remember that most if not all UN member states also have unique circumstances, and many have no problems adhering to international human rights law."[60]

Singapore's report[]

Singapore released her third UPR report (soon after it had been made available as a downloadable PDF[61] on the UN Human Rights Council’s website[62]) to the media on Wednesday, 31 March 2021. Two days later, on Friday, 2 April 2021, the press publicly announced that the country had submitted a 27-page report to the UN in January 2021. The document covered a wide range of topics including Singapore's efforts to advance migrant worker wellbeing and protect women from discrimination[63],[64]. The Inter-Ministry Committee on Human Rights had conducted three rounds of consultations with civil society organisations on various human rights issues.

For the second time, the report also set out the country's stance on the LGBTI community. In late 2020, several LGBTI groups such as Sayoni and TransgenderSG had submitted their own report to the Human Rights Council for the review. The groups highlighted, amongst other things, discrimination faced by transgender students in schools. This issue came to the fore in January 2021 after several people staged a protest outside the Ministry of Education in response to allegations that the Ministry had interfered in a transgender student’s decision to go on feminising hormone therapy. A section of Singapore's UPR report stated that the country “firmly opposes discrimination and harassment”. It added that laws were in place to protect citizens from such acts and emphasised amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 2019 to widen its legislative scope. Under the changes, it was now an offence to knowingly urge violence against persons and groups on the grounds of religion or religious beliefs. This protection extended to non-religious groups as well, including the LGBTI community. "All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to pursue their activities in their private space," the submission stated.

Screen grab of paragraph 93 of Singapore's UPR report entitled "National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21"[65]:

SporeUPR21a.jpg


Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga, said his organisation was greatly encouraged that the Government had, for the second time, openly acknowledged the needs of the LGBTI community in its national report[66]. He noted, however, that the report stated that “all Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to pursue their activities in their private space”. While this may be true in practice, it was not the case under the country's laws, owing to the continued existence of Section 377A of the Penal Code. He pointed out: “The omission of its mention in the report is glaring.” Leow said that in addition to recommending the repeal of Section 377A, various stakeholders had identified other key issues that had an impact on Singapore’s LGBTI citizens. These included legal gender recognition for transgender persons, the lack of protection from employment discrimination for LGBTI persons, and violence and harassment faced by the community. He added: “Following the submission of the national report and stakeholder submissions, the next step of the Universal Periodic Review process is for other responsible UN member states to make specific recommendations on Singapore’s situation at the council session on May 12. It is hoped that the Government will not just note, but also accept, these recommendations, all in the best interests of all Singaporeans, including our LGBTI citizens.”

Third UPR Proper[]

Singapore's third UPR took place virtually during a worldwide surge in the incidence of infections of Covid-19 variants of concern via a hybrid format of both Zoom and pre-recorded video statements on Wednesday, 12 May 2021 at the UN Office at Geneva, Switzerland. Singapore’s delegation was headed by Ambassador-at-large Professor Chan Heng Chee and took part in a three-hour dialogue (3pm to 6pm, Singapore time) where other UN members provided their recommendations on how Singapore could improve her human rights record[67].

A total of 24 member states had submitted advance questions and/or made recommendations related to sexual orientation, gender identity and the LGBTQ+ community[68].

MemberStatesLGBTQuestions.jpg


Issues raised included:

  • Repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code
  • Anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBTQ+ persons
  • Media censorship of LGBTQ+ content
  • Legal gender recognition of transgender persons
  • Education and mental health of LGBTQ+ youth
  • LGBTQ+ conversion practices
  • Training of professionals to support LGBTQ+ persons
  • Registration of LGBTQ+ organisations

Some member states' specific advance questions on LGBT issues[69],[70]:

SpainUPRQuestion.jpg GermanyUPRQuestion.jpg SwedenUPRQuestion.jpg DenmarkUPRQuestion.jpg DenmarkUPRQuestion2.jpg BelgiumUPRQuestion.jpg

During the live streamed UPR itself, about a dozen UN members, especially the developed nations, recommended that Singapore eliminate all forms of discrimination against her LGBT citizens, in particular via the decriminalisation of same-sex relations between men[71]:


In reply, one of Singapore's delegates, Ang Bee Lian, Director of Social Services, said that LGBT people in Singapore had equal access to opportunities and support[72]:


Transcript:

Ang Bee Lian: "LGBT persons are valuable members of our society. We want to assure delegates from Sweden and Spain, who asked about protection of LGBT persons, that just like other Singaporeans, LGBT persons have equal access to opportunities and support, such as in education, jobs and healthcare - social services accessible to all without discrimination. We oppose violence, abuse, discrimination and harassment of all individuals, including those who are LGBT. Laws are in place to protect victims from domestic violence regardless of their sexual orientation. Madam President, we will continue to provide equal opportunities for all Singaporeans to flourish in their chosen fields. Thank you."

Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee concluded the session with a speech containing the following excerpt regarding LGBT concerns[73]:


Transcript:

Chan Heng Chee: "Finally, I will touch on the LGBT issue, which was raised by the United States, Sweden, countries from the European Union, Australia, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, and New Zealand, among others. Let me reiterate that for Singapore, the LGBT community are valuable members of our society. The Government does not tolerate violence, abuse, discrimination, and harassment against the community. An annual Pink Dot event in Singapore has been organised by the LGBT community for the past 12 years. While Section 377A of the Penal Code remains on the books, the Government has stated clearly that it is not enforced. In the context of Singapore, where attitudes towards homosexuality are still evolving, and various communities hold different views, any move by the Government must take into consideration the sentiments of all communities. We believe it is better to let the situation evolve gradually."

Reaction of LGBT community[]

On Thursday, 13 May 2021, Heckin' Unicorn posted the following message and graphic on its Facebook page[74]:

HeckinUnicornUPRResponse.png

"In yesterday’s (12 May) Universal Periodic Review (by United Nations United Nations Human Rights), many nations called on Singapore’s government (Gov.sg) to address LGBTQ+ issues in the country. In response, the Head of Delegation claimed that the government “does not tolerate violence, abuse, discrimination, and harassment against the community”.

We’re very disappointed with their response, because LGBTQ+ discrimination not only exists in our country, but is often institutionalised in many state-wide systems. We invite our government to get educated on the often institutionalised discrimination that they’ve seemingly “tolerated” for the past few decades.

We invite our government to read up on LGBTQ+ issues that we’ve written about in the past:

How can we claim to “not tolerate” LGBTQ+ discrimination when instances of such discrimination appear so abundant? We ask our government to do better."

On Monday, 17 May 2021, Pink Dot SG posted the following message and graphic on its Facebook page[75]:

PinkDotUPRResponse.jpg

"On 12th May, Singapore's Head of Delegation at Singapore's 3rd UPR, mentioned that the government does not tolerate discrimination, and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and even cited Pink Dot as an example that the LGBTQ community is not discriminated. We do not agree with what has been said."

Singapore supports 2 recommendations[]

In late September 2021, Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga uploaded a series of graphics to their Facebook pages informing the LGBT community that for the first time, Singapore had "supported" two LGBTQ+ specific recommendations made by UN Member States. These were Norway's recommendation to remove all obstacles to the registration of LGBTQ+ organisations and Malta's recommendation to implement training for healthcare professionals on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, with the aim of eliminating discrimination in healthcare access.

UPRProgress001.png UPRProgress002.png UPRProgress003.png UPRProgress004.png

Singapore rejects recommendations to repeal Section 377A[]

In a document meant for general distribution addressed to the Human Rights Council and entitled, "Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review" dated 10 September 2021, Singapore made the following statements with respect to LGBT rights:

Screenshot of the section on LGBT rights


Protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community

48. Singapore supports recommendation 59.182.

49. Singapore notes recommendations 59.74, 59.75, 59.76, 59.77, 59.78, 59.79, 59.80, 59.81, 59.82, 59.83, 59.84, 59.85, 59.86, 59.87, 59.88 and 59.89.

Although Section 377A of the Penal Code remains in our statute books, it is not enforced. All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to pursue their activities in their private space. We firmly oppose discrimination and harassment and have laws to protect all our citizens from such conduct. We will continue to manage the issue of LGBT rights in a sensitive and pragmatic way, so as to protect the vulnerable, uphold the family and preserve the common space for the diverse communities in Singapore.

During the 48th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council held on Thursday, 30 September 2021, the Government rejected all LGBT rights recommendations it received from UN member states on 12 May 2021[76],[77]:


Singapore's Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva, Ambassador Umej Bhatia said that while Section 377A remained in the laws, "the Government has stated clearly that it is not enforced".

"In the context of Singapore, where attitudes towards homosexuality are still evolving and various communities hold different views, any move on this issue must be made carefully and sensitively, taking into consideration the sentiments of all communities." He added that violence against and abuse, discrimination or harassment of any person "for any reason" was not condoned, and that "the law protects LGBT individuals the same as everyone else". Bhatia said that the Government did not support the registration of organisations "which advocate on sensitive issues in a socially divisive manner", including LGBT issues. "This position is applied equally to all applications, regardless of whether the organisation is advocating for or against the LGBT cause," he elaborated[78],[79].

See also[]

References[]

Acknowledgements[]

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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