In a report submitted by the Singapore government to the UN in October this year, but which was released yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Singapore government explained its decision to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code. S377A bans sex between men.

According to the report, the decision to retain that law was a “carefully considered and finely balanced decision” as the LGBT issue is a sensitive one in its multi-religious society, where segments “continue to hold strong views against homosexuality for various reasons, including religious convictions and moral values”.

The Singapore government says its approach is to “accommodate the sensitivities of different communities so that there is room for all to exist harmoniously together”. It noted that the statute is not proactively enforced, and all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to lead their lives and pursue their activities in their private space without fear or violence or personal insecurity.

Taking a jab at the international pressure placed on the government by Western nations, the report added: “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.”

The report was submitted to the UN under a Human Rights Council mechanism created in 2006 called Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Once every 4 and a half years, the UPR reviews the human-rights situation in all 193 UN Member States. Singapore’s second UPR is scheduled for 27th January next year.

Stating that Singapore will “take a practical, not an ideological, approach to the realisation of human rights”, the report argued that “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.”

It highlighted examples of steps it has taken to strengthen social protection for different segments of society, such as the lower-income, women, children, persons with disabilities and migrant workers. The report also described the ways the Government has sought to preserve social harmony, including the abolition of the mandatory death-penalty regime and the enactment of anti-harassment laws to tackle the growing concern.

The Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in November last year, provides civil recourse to victims of harassment, ranging from sexual harassment, stalking, to bullying in schools or in cyberspace.

As a counter to the Singapore government report, 10 civil society organizations have submitted their own damning report of the country’s human rights regime. The group, Alliance of Like-Minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS), includes well known civil society groups such as the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) and The Online Citizen (TOC).

Among the areas for improvement cited by ALMOS’ report, one of their calls for is for the repeal of Section 377A, a review of the practice of deporting and blacklisting pregnant foreign domestic workers, and a review of laws that restrict freedom speech.

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