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11 groups raise concerns about Pofma, S377A and the death penalty in report to UN

Report filed as Singapore prepares for interactive dialogue with Human Rights Council scheduled for 2021

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Singapore — Eleven local civil society groups have raised concerns over laws like the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) and the mandatory penalty in a joint report submitted to the United Nations (UN) this week.

The report was filed as Singapore prepares for its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled for 2021. The UPR consists of an interactive dialogue between the Human Rights Council and member states about steps taken to advance human rights in their respective societies.

Civil society organisations are welcome to submit their own information on relevant human rights issues, which can be referenced by any of the states taking part in the review.

Among those contributing to the report are Aware, Freedom Of Information Singapore, Humanitarian Organization For Migration Economics, Sayoni, SG Climate Rally, We Believe In Second Chances, We Who Witness and Women And Law In Islam.

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Each of these members contributed insights and recommendations based on their areas of expertise, while Function 8, New Naratif and 350 Singapore also signed the report.

In a press statement published by Aware, the coalition said the Government has enacted recommendations that were made in the last UPR in 2016, including the repeal of marital immunity for rape, the introduction of the Vulnerable Adults Act, the enhancement of protection to 18-year-olds under the Children and Young Persons Act, and the expansion of healthcare subsidies to more segments of the population.

The coalition, however, registered concern that “there has been little to no movement in other areas, especially pertaining to civil and political rights” and that the situation in certain areas has worsened.

The 11 groups called on the Government to review or repeal Pofma, introduce a Freedom Of Information Act, abolish the death penalty and repeal Section 377A.

It also called on the authorities to take on a comprehensive national anti-discrimination legislation, include gender-based violence and consent topics in sexuality education programmes, and update the definition of disability in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The coalition further took issue with what it considered an “inadequate” response to climate change and highlighted “insubstantial climate pledges, a lack of comprehensive environmental and climate legislation, and a lack of community representation in policy-making”.

It proposed establishing absolute emissions targets in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations, and giving members of the public and vulnerable communities appropriate representation within decision-making bodies.

It raised concerns over the “violation of economic rights”, specifically those of migrant workers and proposed a review of the practice of wage discrimination by nationality, the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers, and the protection of domestic workers by the Employment Act.

Aware Executive Director Corinna Lim said: “While Singapore has certainly made some encouraging progress since 2016, we cannot remain stagnant or, worse, take steps backwards when it comes to fundamental human rights.”

“This is a society that values justice, compassion and the safety of all individuals; we must design policy to reflect these ideals,” she added.

Pointing out that the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the need for transparency and accountability from the authorities, Freedom of Information Singapore co-founder Ariffin Sha said:

“The ongoing pandemic has made clear the need for government transparency, accountability and strong social and human rights protections. We hope that civil society can continue to work together with a shared vision for a fairer and more just society.”

Emmy Charissa, a representative of We Who Witness, said: “Civil and political rights are necessary if we are to effectively address the issues confronting marginalised groups and the problem of climate change.

“Solidarity across movements also strengthens the causes of all marginalised people. In contributing to and signing on to this joint report, we are showing our recognition of these ideas, and demonstrating that we won’t allow ourselves to be divided.” /TISG

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