This is part of a process known as Universal Periodic Review (UPR), established by the United Nations in 2006, which at the same time, also set up the Human Rights Council (HRC).
Under this process, member states of the UN are assessed for their human rights records and compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other treaties that they have signed, every four years. Singapore’s first appearance at review will be in 2011.
In accordance with a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council in 2007, the UPR process is open to participation by “all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions”. Representatives from the OHCHR stated clearly in the briefing made earlier this year that the process is one where even groups which states have refused to register are considered relevant and legitimate groups, from whom submissions are welcome.
The UPR process’ chief features are:
1. Three reports are produced for consideration: (a) a National Report submitted by the government of the country under review, (b) a compilation by the OHCHR of UN information about that state, and (c) a summary compiled by OHCHR of submissions sent in by civil society groups and other stakeholders. People Like Us’ submission is meant to flow into (c).
2. An interactive dialogue based on these documents takes place between a working group from the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the state under review, in Geneva. In Singapore’s case, this three-hour session is scheduled for 6 May 2011.
3. The working group and the HRC adopt an “outcome document”.
4. The state under review follows up with a report about how it has implemented the recommendations contained in the outcome document.
PLU’s submission concludes with six recommendations:
• Repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code;
• Review its censorship policies and sexuality education guidelines with a view to removing discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints;
• Register LGBT-related groups under the Societies Act without onerous conditions;
• Be more flexible about coding sex on identity cards, taking into account the preferred gender presentation of the person involved;
• Enact an anti-discrimination law with scope that includes sexual orientation and gender identity;
• Repeal Section 12(1) of the Women’s Charter and permit registration of same-sex marriages.
It will be interesting to see if these make it through into the summary prepared by the OHCHR, and whether the interlocutors from the working group take up these points in the Geneva dialogue session.
As a gesture of courtesy, PLU sent a copy of its submission to the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, to enable the ministry to take into account and address the issues raised by PLU when formulating Singapore’s National Report to the Human Rights Council.
COSINGO’s joint report
People Like Us also participated in and signed a joint report prepared by COSINGO – the Coalition of Singapore NGOs. This overview report covers many areas of human rights shortcomings in Singapore, grouped into three broad sections:
Civil and political rights: freedom of expression, defamation lawsuits that impose a chilling effect on speech, freedom of assembly, registration of societies (the case of PLU cited), detention without trial, death penalty, free and fair elections, etc;
Social and cultural rights: discrimination against persons with disabilities, migrant workers, persons with HIV, homosexual persons, ethnic quotas, etc;
Economic rights: adequate standard of living, elderly persons, social security, universal health insurance, etc.
Like PLU’s submission, the joint submission by COSINGO is also intended to flow into the summary report to be prepared by the OHCHR.