Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
Singapore, a city-state of 3.6 million people, is a parliamentary republic in which politics is dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP), which has held power since Singapore gained autonomy from the United Kingdom in 1959. Following January 2 parliamentary elections, the PAP holds 81 of the Parliament's 83 elected seats. Goh Chok Tong completed his seventh year as Prime Minister. Lee Kuan Yew, who served as Prime Minister from independence in 1965 until 1990, remains active politically, holding the title of Senior Minister. The majority of the population is ethnic Chinese (77 percent), with Malays and Indians constituting substantial minorities. The judiciary is efficient and constitutionally independent. However, there is a perception it reflects the views of the executive in politically sensitive cases.
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.
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 approximately 7.5 percent in 1997, and the annual per capita gross domestic product is approximately $26,000. Wealth is distributed relatively equally in what is essentially a full-employment economy.
Although there were problems in some areas, the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. The Government stepped up its intimidation of the opposition in 1997, an election year. After the election, PAP leaders filed a number of potentially ruinous defamation suits against opposition parties and their leaders. The ruling party's continued use of the judicial system for political purposes highlights concerns about the independence of the judiciary in cases that affected members of the opposition, or that had political implications. 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 exercise these powers when it deemed that necessary in pursuit of its policy goals. The Government restricts freedom of speech and of the press and intimidates journalists into practicing self-censorship. The authorities have the technical capability to intrude on people's privacy and may do so in some politically sensitive cases. There is some legal discrimination against women, which affects only a small percentage of the population. The Government has moved actively to counter societal discrimination against women and minorities. While freedom of religion is generally respected, Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned since 1972 and the Unification Church since 1982.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture, and government leaders have stated that they oppose its use. However, there have been credible reports in past years of police mistreatment of detainees. Reliable reports indicate that police have sometimes employed sleep deprivation or interrogation of detainees in very cold rooms where the prisoners may be stripped of their clothes and doused with water. In 1993, the last year for which statistics are available, of the 94 complaints of police abuse investigated, 14 were substantiated.
The Penal Code mandates caning, in addition to imprisonment, as punishment for some 30 offenses involving the use of violence or threat of violence against a person, such as rape and robbery. The law also mandates caning for certain other offenses including vandalism, drug-trafficking, and violation of immigration laws.
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 courts do not always abide by these guidelines. Women are exempted from caning, as are men over 50, under 16, and those determined unfit by a medical officer. In 1993, the last year for which statistics are available, the courts included a caning sentence in 3,244 cases.
Prison conditions are generally good and meet minimum international standards. Some abuses have occurred and have been reported in the press. In March 1996, for example, three prison officials pleaded guilty to manslaughter for causing the death of a prisoner in August 1995. The Government had responded quickly to the abuse and publicly denounced all abuses of power by prison officials.
The Government does not allow human rights monitors to visit prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Internal Security Act (ISA), the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and the Undesirable Publications Act all have provisions for arrest without warrant. Those arrested must be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours. At that time, those detained under criminal charges may obtain legal counsel. A functioning system of bail exists for those charged.
The ISA, the CLA, and the MDA permit detention without trial. The Government reserves the right to use indefinite detention without trial to pressure detainees to "rehabilitate" themselves as well as to make admissions of wrongdoing. In the past, the Government has acknowledged that, in the case of detentions without trial under the CLA, the indefinite nature of the detentions served to pressure the detainees. Persons alleging mistreatment under detention may bring criminal charges against government officials who are alleged to have committed such acts, but they may be discouraged from making accusations by fear of official retaliation (see Section 1.e.).
In 1989 Parliament amended the Constitution and the ISA to eliminate judicial review of the substantive grounds for detentions under the ISA and subversion laws. This permits the Government to restrict, on vaguely defined national security grounds, the scope of certain fundamental liberties that had been provided for in the Constitution.
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 a detainee be held for up to 28 days longer. Once initial interrogation has been completed, the authorities have generally allowed ISA detainees access to lawyers and visits by relatives.
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. Although persons detained without trial under the ISA are entitled to counsel, they have no right through the courts to challenge the substantive basis for their detention. Instead, detainees may make representations to an advisory board that reviews each detainee's case periodically. The board may make nonbinding recommendations that a detainee be released prior to expiration of the detention order. If the Minister wishes to act contrary to a recommendation for release by the board, he must seek the agreement of the President.
No one has been jailed under formal ISA detention since 1990. However, the Government has maintained some restrictions on the rights of one former ISA detainee 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. He cannot issue public statements, attend public meetings, take part in political activity, or associate with other former detainees without ISD approval, but he was allowed to travel to Germany in the summer. Until November 1996, Chia had also been required to seek approval to be employed or travel abroad.
Persons detained without trial under the CLA are 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 CLA is used almost exclusively in cases involving narcotics and secret criminal societies and has not been used for political purposes. According to the Government, the cumulative number of persons currently detained under the CLA as of July 1995, the last period for which statistics are available, was 570, of whom 248 were for secret society activities and 322 for drug trafficking. Under the MDA, the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau may also commit--without trial--suspected drug users to a drug rehabilitation center for up to 6 months, with subsequent extensions, in cases of positive urinalysis tests.
The Constitution prohibits exile, and the Government respects the prohibition in practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the Government restricts the independence of the judiciary in practice through its control over the assignment of judges and through laws limiting judicial review. Many judicial officials, especially Supreme Court judges, have close ties to the ruling party and its leaders. The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice. The President also appoints subordinate court judges on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The term of appointment is determined by the Legal Service Commission of which the Chief Justice is the chairman. The 1989 constitutional amendments that eliminated judicial review of the objective grounds for detentions under the ISA and subversion laws allows the Government to restrict, or even eliminate, judicial review in such cases and thereby restrict, on vaguely defined national security grounds, the scope of certain fundamental liberties provided for in the Constitution.
The judicial system has two levels of courts: The Supreme Court, which includes the High Court and the Court of Appeal; and the subordinate courts. 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. If they wish, Supreme Court Justices 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 Constitution has a provision for the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice to convene a tribunal in order to remove a justice "on the ground of misbehavior or inability...to properly discharge the functions" of office, but it has never been used.
In February 1994, completing a transition begun in 1989, Parliament approved a bill abolishing all appeals to the Privy Council in London. The Court of Appeal therefore became the highest court of review.
The judicial system provides citizens with an efficient judicial process. In normal cases the Criminal Procedures Code provides that a charge against a defendant must be read and explained to him as soon as it is framed by the prosecution or the magistrate. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right of appeal, in most cases. They normally have the right to be present at their trials, to be represented by an attorney, to confront witnesses against them, to provide witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to review government-held evidence relevant to their cases.
The Constitution extends the above rights to all citizens. However, persons detained under the CLA are not entitled to a public trial. In addition, proceedings of the advisory board under the ISA are not public (see Section 1.d.). In all remaining cases, trials are public and by judge; there are no jury trials.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government can use its wide discretionary powers under the ISA if it determines that national security is threatened. In most cases, the law requires search warrants, normally issued by the magistrate's court, for intrusion into the home. Law enforcement officers may, however, search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide that searches are necessary to preserve evidence. The CLA and the MDA permit warrantless searches in dealing with drug- and secret society-related offenses. The courts may undertake judicial review of such searches at the request of the defendant.
Divisions of the Government's law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have wide networks for gathering information. The authorities have the capability to monitor telephone and other private conversations and conduct surveillance. It is believed that the authorities routinely monitor citizens' telephone conversations and use of the Internet. While there were no proven allegations that they did so in 1997, it is widely believed that the authorities routinely conduct surveillance on some opposition politicians and other critics of the Government.
The Government does not permit the import of newspapers from Malaysia, and bars the import of other publications (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution permits official restrictions on the freedom of expression, and, in practice, the Government restricts the freedoms of speech and the press and intimidates journalists into practicing self-censorship. The ISA permits the Government to prohibit or to place conditions on publications that incite violence, that counsel disobedience to the law, that might arouse tensions among the various classes (races, religions, and language groups), or that might threaten national interests, national security, or public order. The Government uses a broad definition of these laws to restrict political opposition and criticism. The Government does not tolerate discussions in the press of alleged government corruption, nepotism, or a compliant judiciary.
All general circulation newspapers in all four official languages--English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil--are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH), a private holding company that has close ties to the national leadership. 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 newspapers print a large and diverse selection of articles from domestic and foreign sources, editorials and coverage of domestic events closely mirror government policies and the opinions of government leaders. Government leaders often criticize what they call the "Western model" of journalism, in which the media are free to report the news as they see it. Government officials argue that the role of the domestic media is to act responsibly, which is generally understood to mean support for the goals of the elected leadership and preservation of social and religious harmony.
A wide range of international magazines and newspapers may be purchased uncensored, although newspapers printed in Malaysia may not be imported. A 1990 law requires foreign publications that report on politics and current events in Southeast Asia to register and post a bond the equivalent of $141,100, and name a person in Singapore to accept legal service. These requirements strengthen government control over foreign media. The Government may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and the Undesirable Publications Act. Under amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the Government may limit the circulation of foreign publications that it determines interfere in Singapore's domestic politics. It has done so on occasion in the past.
The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) are "gazetted" (limited in circulation). In July the Government relaxed restrictions, raising the weekly circulation limits for the FEER from 6,000 to 8,000 and for Asiaweek from 15,000 to 18,000. The limit for the AWSJ remained at 9,000 per issue. It further allowed the FEER to have a full-time Singapore correspondent.
Import of some publications is barred, and the authorities censor movies, television programs, video materials, and music. Censorship of materials and the decision to deny the importation of specific publications are based on a determination that such materials would undermine the stability of the State, are proCommunist, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The authorities say that there is strong public support for continued censorship of sex and violence in films.
The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), established in 1994 to regulate and promote the broadcasting industry, develops censorship standards with the help of an advisory panel whose membership represents a cross section of society. It also regulates access to material on the Internet. In 1996 the SBA introduced a framework of web site licenses to encourage accountability and responsible use of the Internet. Internet service providers responded by installing "proxy servers" through which local users must route their Internet connections and which act as a filter for objectionable content. While the Government does not classify regulation of the Internet as censorship, the SBA can direct service providers to block access to web pages which, in the Government's view, undermine public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, and public morals. In September 1996, the SBA order Internet service providers to block access to about a dozen sites deemed to violate these rules. Since then the number of prohibited sites has grown to around 100, almost all of which are pornographic in nature. The list of prohibited sites is not a matter of public record.
In response to recommendations by its advisory panel, the SBA announced in October a new Internet Code of Practice, which aims to clarify the SBA's policy on the regulation of Internet material. The SBA emphasized that its primary concern was to limit access to material that contains pornography or excessive violence or that incites racial or religious hatred. The SBA assured citizens that it does not monitor e-mail messages, chat groups, what sites people access, or what they download. According to the SBA, the new regulations are intended to address in greater detail what types of material are forbidden, and to better explain the responsibilities of Internet material and service providers.
As a practical matter, virtually all web sites are available on the Internet. The Government's regulatory scheme is primarily concerned with the downloading and proliferation of objectionable material and less with the purely private use of the Internet. Nevertheless, a 1996 Interpol case that led the Government to arrest and convict a Singaporean for downloading child pornography made all citizens keenly aware that, even if the Government does not regularly monitor their use of the Internet, it has the ability to do so.
The government-linked holding company, Singapore International Media PTE Ltd, has a near monopoly on broadcasting. Its 4 main subsidiaries operate all 4 free television channels and 10 of the 15 domestic radio stations. Of the five remaining radio stations, two are owned by the Singapore Armed Forces Reservists' Association (SAFRA) and two by the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which is closely affiliated with the Government. The only radio station not under government control is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, which is available 24 hours a day. In addition to the BBC, Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio broadcasts can be received. An expanded cable service with links to the Government began operation in June 1995 and offers more than 30 channels. Satellite dishes are banned with few exceptions.
Journalists from foreign publications are required by law to apply annually for renewal of the employment pass that allows them to operate in Singapore. The Government has limited the amount of time that some foreign correspondents could remain in the country by denying requests for renewal of their employment passes, usually beyond a period of 3 years. The Government has denied requests in the past from several major publications to station correspondents in Singapore.
Government leaders use defamation suits or the threat of such actions to discourage public criticism and intimidate the press. In 1995 Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his son, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, won a record defamation judgment of $678,000 against the International Herald Tribune (IHT) for an article, published in August 1994, allegedly suggesting that the younger Lee was appointed to his post on account of his father. The plaintiffs sought damages in addition to a printed apology, which appeared in the newspaper on August 31, 1994. During a widely publicized public hearing to determine the scope of the judgment against the IHT, all three plaintiffs testified that the IHT had not apologize in good faith and demanded aggravated damages for the harm caused to their reputations.
In January 1995, Dr. Christopher Lingle, an American academic who had been a visiting lecturer at the National University of Singapore, the IHT, and its Singapore printer were fined for contempt of court following the publication of an article about Asian governments by Lingle on October 7, 1994. Although Singapore was not mentioned in the article, the court interpreted the article's contention that some governments were "relying upon a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians or buying out enough of the opposition to take control democratically" as a reference to Singapore. Although the IHT published an apology for the article in December 1994, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew filed a civil libel suit. In November 1995, the IHT agreed to pay the Senior Minister $213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit. Lingle was separately ordered by the courts in April to pay $71,000 in damages, plus costs, to the Senior Minister. These two suits have had the effect of intimidating the press.
In August the Government demanded that the Foreign Correspondents Association cancel a speech by Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. The group's executive committee acceded to the Government's demand.
Faculty members at public institutions of higher education are government employees. A number of university lecturers are concurrently PAP Members of Parliament (M.P.'s). Academics sometimes criticize government policies, but they avoid public criticism of individual government leaders and sensitive social and economic policies because of possible sanctions. Publications by local academics and members of think tanks rarely deviate substantially from government views.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution grants citizens the freedom of peaceful assembly and association but permits Parliament to impose restrictions "as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore." The Government restricts these rights in practice. Assemblies of more than five persons in public, including political meetings and rallies, must have police permission. The Government closely monitors political gatherings regardless of the number present. Persons wishing to speak at a public function, excluding functions provided by or under the auspices of the Government, must obtain a public entertainment license from the police. Opposition politicians routinely experience delays of 3 to 4 weeks before being notified of the disposition of their applications.
Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members must be registered with the Government under the Societies Act. The Government denies registration to groups it believes likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order (see Section 2.c.). The Government has absolute discretion in applying this broad and vague language to register or dissolve societies. It prohibits organized political activities, except by organizations registered as political parties. This prohibition effectively limits opposition activities (see Section 3). It has less of an effect on the PAP, which uses ostensibly nonpolitical residential committees and neighborhood groups for political purposes.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution and the Government usually respected this right in practice. There is no state religion. The Government ensures that all residents of public housing have access to religious organizations traditionally associated with their ethnic groups. It provides some financial assistance to build and maintain mosques.
Missionaries are permitted to work and to publish religious texts. However, all religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and must be legally registered. The Government restricts some religious groups by application of the Societies Act and has banned others, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church. The Government banned the former in 1972 on the grounds that it opposes military service, and its roughly 2,000 members refuse to perform military service, salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the State. In July 1996, a 72-year-old grandmother was arrested and convicted for possession of banned Jehovah's Witness literature. She was sentenced to a $500 fine. She refused to pay and was ordered to jail for 7 days. She was first arrested in February 1995, along with 69 other suspected Jehovah's Witnesses, at which time the police seized books, magazines, periodicals, and other materials believed to be related to the group. Of the 69 persons arrested, 28 were tried and found guilty of holding a meeting of a "banned society" and were fined between $500 and $2,000.
The 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act made illegal what the Government deems to be the inappropriate involvement of religious groups and officials in political affairs. The act also prohibits judicial review of its enforcement or of any possible denial of rights arising from it.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution grants citizens the right to move freely throughout the country, though Parliament may pass laws restricting that right on the basis of "the security of Singapore...the public order, public health, or the punishment of offenders." The Government requires all citizens and permanent residents over the age of 12 to register and to carry identification cards. The Government may refuse to issue a passport and has done so in the case of former ISA detainees. In January the Government seized the passport of the wife of opposition leader Tang Liang Hong. Tang himself had left the country earlier that month. Her passport was returned to her in June (see Section 3).
The ISA allows the Ministers for Law and Home Affairs to suspend or revoke a detention order or to impose restrictions on former detainees' activities, places of residence, and travel abroad (see Section 1.d.). The right of voluntary repatriation is extended to holders of Singaporean passports. In 1985 Parliament provided for the loss of citizenship by Singaporeans who reside outside the country for more than 10 years consecutively. Action under this law is discretionary and has been taken in at least one case involving a well-known government opponent, Tan Wah Piaow.
After the completion of national service, former enlisted men are required to participate in reserve training until age 40 and former officers until age 50. Reservists who plan to travel overseas for less than 6 months must advise the Ministry of Defense; for trips longer than 6 months, reservists must obtain an exit permit. Beginning at age 11, boys passports are restricted to 6 months. Males who are eligible for national service must obtain an exit permit for travel outside Singapore of more than 6 months, with the exception of travel to peninsular Malaysia on a restricted passport.
The law stipulates that Singaporean former members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) residing outside the country must apply to the Government to be allowed to return. They must renounce communism, sever all organizational ties with the CPM, and pledge not to take part in activities prejudicial to the State's internal security. In addition, the law requires them to submit to interview by the ISD and to any restrictive conditions imposed on them.
Singapore neither accepted the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese seeking refugee status nor offered first asylum to refugees. Prior to 1991, the Government permitted Indochinese asylum seekers to disembark if a resettlement country promised to remove them within 90 days and if the rescuing vessel was in Singapore on a scheduled port of call. In June 1991, the Government halted disembarkation on the grounds that resettlement countries had not honored their guarantees of removal. Approximately 140 Vietnamese boat people were placed in an open camp in Singapore. All were interviewed to determine refugee status and a number were resettled in resettlement countries. Ninety-nine Vietnamese boat people were repatriated in 1996 under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation program. Five other Vietnamese asylum seekers have been allowed to remain in Singapore. The authorities permit persons of other nationalities who make claims for asylum to have their status determined by the UNHCR for possible resettlement elsewhere. There are no reports of a person having been returned to a country where they feared persecution.
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. However, the PAP, which has held power continuously for 3 decades, uses the Government's extensive powers to place formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents. It attempts to intimidate the members of the opposition through the threat of libel suits and the subsequent loss of their political future, since large judgments in libel suits can lead to bankruptcy, and under the law bankrupt persons are ineligible to sit in Parliament. The Government also intimidates the opposition through the threat of potential loss of employment or professional licenses. Opposition politicians report that potential employers are reluctant to hire them or their supporters. As a result, opposition parties have been unable seriously to challenge the PAP's domination of the political system since the late 1960's.
Parliamentary elections may be called at any time but must be held no later than 5 years from the date Parliament first sits. Following January 2 parliamentary elections, opposition politicians hold 2 of the 83 elected seats in the Parliament; the Singapore People's Party and the Workers' Party (WP) each hold 1 seat. In addition, the WP holds 1 "non-constituency" seat based on a law that assures at least 3 opposition members in Parliament, though this member's parliamentary voting rights are restricted. In addition to the 83 elected members, the President appoints "prominent citizens" to serve as nominated members for 2-year terms. The number of nominated members was raised from 6 to 9 for the current term of Parliament.
Singapore's economic success and generally honest, effective government under the PAP has strengthened the Party's leadership role. However, its grip on power has also been enhanced by: patronage; political control of the press and the courts; strong party discipline; restrictions on opposition political activities; and complete control of the political process. For example, during the campaign leading to the January elections, senior government officials pointedly warned voters that precincts that elected opposition candidates would have the lowest priority in government plans to upgrade public housing facilities. This heightened concerns among some observers about voters' genuine freedom of choice.
Although political parties are legally free to organize, the authorities impose strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability. Government regulations also hinder attempts by opposition parties to rent office space in government housing or to establish community foundations. In 1996 the Government denied an opposition party request to produce and distribute video tapes on the grounds that visual images can be used to evoke emotional rather than rational responses. Moreover, according to the Government, the use of videos could allow political parties to sensationalize or distort information to capture the maximum attention of the viewer.
Opposition political figures claim that such impediments are the root cause of the weakness of the opposition parties. The PAP claims that the lack of an effective opposition is due to disorganization, lack of leadership, and lack of alternative policy programs.
Another example of the PAP's manipulation of the political process was the 1993 selection of candidates to be Singapore's first elected president, who has some powers over civil service appointments, government and statutory board budgets, and internal security affairs. By law, a Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) must certify the suitability of potential candidates on the basis of integrity, character, reputation, ability, and experience in managing the financial affairs of a large institution. The PEC is 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. Eligibility for the presidency 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. Using these criteria, the committee rejected the applications of two opposition figures--Secretary General of the WP J.B. Jeyaretnam, and another WP member--for not satisfying the eligibility criteria regarding character and financial expertise.
In addition, the Government directly or indirectly controls institutions supposedly outside its orbit, including academia, community service organizations, and nearly all other nongovernmental organizations. While the PAP Government enjoys the support of these ostensibly nonpolitical organizations, it has used its broad discretionary powers to hinder the creation of comparable support organizations for opposition parties.
The threat of civil libel or slander suits continues to discourage criticism or challenges by opposition leaders. The Legal Code also provides for criminal defamation offenses, but these provisions are seldom used.
In the wake of the January elections, a group of senior PAP leaders--Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and nine other current or former M.P.'s--sued defeated WP candidate Tang Liang Hong for defamation. Most of the suits arose from responses Tang had made to the PAP leaders' claim, made during and after the election, that he was an "anti-Christian, anti-English-educated, Chinese-language chauvinist." Immediately after the election, Tang fled Singapore, citing death threats, and has yet to return. In May the Singapore High Court ordered Tang to pay the PAP leaders a record $5.77 million in damages.
Also in May, revenue authorities charged Tang with 33 counts of criminal tax evasion. In addition, the Government had seized the passport of Tang's wife when she attempted to leave Singapore in late January, ostensibly because her name is included on some of Tang's tax documents. Her passport was later returned and she was eventually allowed to leave the country in June.
In January the same PAP leaders who had sued Tang also filed defamation claims against Tang's WP colleague, Party Secretary General and non-constituency M.P. J.B. Jeyaretnam. The plaintiffs claimed that Jeyaretnam defamed them by implying that they were guilty of a serious crime when he told a rally on January 1 that Tang had filed police reports against "Goh Chok Tong and his people."
Yet another recent example of the use of libel or slander suits by government entities to intimidate prominent opposition politicians was that of Chee Soon Juan, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore and Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee was dismissed from his teaching position in March 1993 for alleged irregularities involving his use of research funds and sued by his department chairman, S. Vasoo, a PAP M.P., for making allegedly defamatory remarks. Chee was ordered to pay $200,000 in damages to Vasoo and two other university employees as compensation.
The Government also uses parliamentary censure or the threat of censure to humiliate or intimidate opposition leaders. For example, Parliament censured Chee Soon Juan and the SDP in November 1995 for allegedly endorsing attacks on the judiciary made by Chee's fellow panelists, dissident Francis Seow and academic Christopher Lingle, at a forum held in the United States in September 1995. The Government did not attribute any statement directly attacking the judiciary or endorsing the views of Seow and Lingle to Chee or the SDP. Rather, government parliamentary leaders said that the failure of Chee and other SDP leaders to contradict the attacks made by Seow and Lingle constituted positive assent by "clever omission." In addition, in December 1996 Parliament levied fines in excess of $36,000 against Chee and three other SDP members, claiming that they had committed perjury and other offenses during the proceedings of a special parliamentary committee examining government health care subsidies. Parliament accused the SDP of fabricating statistics about the extent of these subsidies in a written submission and subsequent testimony to the committee. Chee and his colleagues claimed that they had submitted some incorrect figures to the committee in error but that they had not intended to mislead anyone.
Although there is no legal bar to the participation of women in politics, they are underrepresented in Parliament. There are no female ministers. The highest ranking woman in the Government is a senior minister of state. Only 4 of the 83 elected parliamentary seats are occupied by women. From 1994-96, two of the six M.P.'s then sitting as nominated Members were women.
There is no restriction in law or practice against minorities voting or participating in politics. Malays, 14 percent of the general population, currently hold 13 percent of the seats in Parliament. Indians make up 7 percent of the general population and hold 10 percent of the seats in Parliament. Minority representation in Parliament is in part the result of laws requiring a minority representative in selected group constituencies.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no nongovernmental organizations, with the exception of the opposition political parties, that actively and openly monitor alleged human rights violations. While the Government does not formally prohibit them, efforts by any independent organizations to investigate and criticize publicly government human rights policies would face the same obstacles as those faced by political parties. In the past, the Government denied that international organizations had any competence whatsoever to look into human rights matters in Singapore. For years Amnesty International had not been allowed to visit Singapore. However, in August the Government allowed observers from both Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists to observe the proceedings in the defamation suits brought against WP Secretary General J.B. Jeyaretnam (see Section 3).
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution contains no explicit provision providing equal rights for women and minorities; instead, it states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. Mindful of Singapore's history of intercommunal tension, the Government takes affirmative measures to ensure racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural nondiscrimination. Social, economic, and cultural facilities are available to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. Minorities actively participate in the political process, and are well represented throughout the Government, except in sensitive military positions.
There is no evidence of any widespread practice of violence or abuse against women. Laws such as the Penal Code and the Women's Charter protect women against domestic violence and sexual or physical harassment. A battered wife can obtain court orders barring the spouse from the home until the court is satisfied that he will stop his aggressive behavior. The Penal Code prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum imprisonment of 2 years for conviction on a charge of "outraging modesty" that causes the victim fear of death or injury.
Women enjoy the same legal rights as men in most areas, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. The Women's Charter, enacted in 1961, gives women, among other rights, the right to own property, conduct trade, and receive divorce settlements. Muslim women enjoy most of the rights and protections of the Women's Charter. Muslim men may practice polygyny; they also may divorce unilaterally, whereas Muslim women may not. Polygyny occurred in 106 of 4,121 marriages registered in 1996.
Women make up 41 percent of the labor force and are well represented in many professional fields, but they still hold the preponderance of low-wage jobs such as clerks and secretaries. As a result, their average salary levels are only 78 percent those of men. Women hold few leadership positions in the private sector. In 1962 the Government instituted the principle of equal pay for equal work in the civil service and abolished separate salary scales in 1965.
Some areas of discrimination remain. Children born overseas to female citizens are not granted citizenship automatically, while those of male citizens are. Female civil service employees who are married do not receive health benefits for their spouses and dependents as do male government employees. Noncitizen spouses of female citizens are unable to obtain full residency rights, but the Prime Minister in his August National Day speech indicated that the Government would review this policy.
The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. Access to public education and medical care is equal for all children in society. In 1993 the Government updated and reenacted the Children and Young Persons Act. This revised act establishes protective services for those children who are orphaned, abused, disabled, or refractory, and it creates a juvenile court system. The Ministry of Community Development works closely with the National Council for Social Services to oversee children's welfare cases. Voluntary organizations operate most of the homes for children, while the Government funds up to 50 percent of all child costs, which includes normal living expenses and overhead, as well as expenses for special schooling, health care, or supervisory needs. There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.
People With Disabilities
The Government implemented a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility in 1990, which established standards for facilities for the physically disabled in all new buildings and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. Although there is no legislation that addresses the issue of equal opportunities for the disabled in education or employment, the National Council of Social Services, in conjunction with various voluntary associations, provides an extensive job training and placement program for the disabled. Informal provisions in education have permitted university matriculation for visually impaired, deaf, and physically disabled students. The Government allows the equivalent of a $2,400 tax deduction for families with a disabled person.
The Indian and Eurasian communities have achieved economic and educational success rates on a par with the majority Chinese. Malay citizens, however, still have a lower standard of living, although the gap has diminished in recent years. Malays remain underrepresented at the uppermost rungs of the corporate ladder, and, some have claimed, in certain sectors of government and the military, a reflection of their historically lower education and economic position, but also a result of employment discrimination. Advertisements sometimes specify ethnicity and gender requirements or require fluent Mandarin speakers.
The Constitution acknowledges the "special position of Malays as the indigenous people of Singapore" and charges the Government to support and promote their "political, educational, religious, economic, social, and cultural interests." A Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills to ensure that they are not disadvantageous to a particular group. It also reports to the Government on matters affecting any racial or religious community and investigates complaints.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides all citizens with the right to form associations, including trade unions. Parliament may, however, impose restrictions based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The right of association is delimited by the Societies Act and by labor and education laws and regulations. Under these laws any group consisting of 10 or more persons is required to register with the Government. The Trade Unions Act authorizes the formation of unions with broad rights, albeit with some narrow restrictions, such as prohibitions on the unionization of uniformed employees. The national labor force comprises about 1.8 million employees, more than 255,020 of whom are organized into 83 employee unions. Seventy-five of these unions, representing almost 73 percent of all unionized workers, are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization that has a close relationship with the Government.
The NTUC unabashedly acknowledges that its interests are closely linked with those of the ruling PAP, a relationship often described by both as "symbiotic." For example, President Ong Teng Cheong served simultaneously as NTUC Secretary General and Second Deputy Prime Minister before assuming his current position as President in 1993. His successor at the NTUC, Lim Boon Heng, was formerly Second Minister for Trade and Industry. He continues as Minister without Portfolio, and also now has a seat on the board of Singapore Airlines. 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 high economic growth rates, labor shortages in recent years that have sustained regular wage increases, the popular conviction that strikes would undermine Singapore's attractiveness to investors, and a cultural aversion to confrontation.
The NTUC is free to associate regionally and internationally.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is a normal part of management-labor relations, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Agreements between management and labor are renewed every 2 to 3 years, although wage increases are negotiated annually. Collective bargaining agreements generally follow the guidelines issued by the National Wages Council, a group composed of labor, management, and government representatives, that makes annual recommendations regarding salary and bonus packages. The Industrial Relations Act makes it an offense to discriminate against anyone who is or proposes to become a member or an officer of a trade union. The offense is punishable by a fine equivalent to $1,414 and/or a 12-month prison sentence. Labor laws and regulations are enforced uniformly.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor and enforces this provision effectively (see Section 6.d.). Under sections of the Destitute Persons Act, any indigent person may be required to reside in a welfare home and engage in suitable work. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the coercive terms of this act, which includes penal sanctions, as not in compliance with the ILO Convention on Forced Labor, ratified by Singapore in 1965. The Government maintains that the act is social legislation providing for the shelter, care, and protection of destitute persons; and that work programs are designed to reintegrate individuals into society.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Government enforces the Employment Act, which prohibits the employment of children under age 12. A child over age 12 and under age 14 must receive written permission from the Commissioner for Labor for "light work suited to his capacity in a nonindustrial undertaking." 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 low, and abuses are almost nonexistent. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor and enforces this provision effectively (see Section 6.c.).
Ministry of Labor regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between the ages of 14 and 16 to no more than 7 hours a day. Children may not work on commercial vessels, with any machinery in motion, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job. The Ministry of Labor effectively enforces these laws and regulations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There are no laws or regulations on minimum wages or unemployment compensation. The labor market offers relatively high wages and good working conditions. The Employment Act sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours and provides for one 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 a domestic labor shortage, approximately 400,000 foreign workers (according to government statistics) are employed legally, 20 percent of the total work force. There are no reliable estimates of the number of foreigners working illegally. Most foreign workers are unskilled laborers and household servants from other Asian countries. Foreign workers face no legal wage discrimination. However, they are concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs and are often required to work long hours. Foreign construction workers often live in substandard housing on construction sites. There are about 90,000 foreign maids, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Maids, foreign or domestic, are not covered under the Employment Act. Most work 6 days per week from very early morning until late in the evening. Many contracts allow only 1 day off per month. Contracts often stipulate that, even when she is ostensibly not working, a maid must remain on the premises except for official duties or on her day off. According to Ministry of Labor statistics, wages average around $230 per month (not including free room and board). Maids must often put aside most or all of their wages for the first several months of employment to reimburse their placement agents. Work permits for low-wage workers stipulate the cancellation of such permits if workers apply to marry or marry a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. Maids only occasionally complain since they find the wages and working conditions to be generally acceptable. Although many lower paid workers not covered under the Employment Act are ineligible for the limited free legal assistance that is available to citizens, the Ministry of Labor also offers mediation services for all employees, foreign or local. The Government allows complainants to seek legal redress and takes a firm stand against employers who abuse their domestic servants. The authorities have fined or imprisoned employers who have abused domestics, often with great publicity.
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