Human Rights Watch report made false assertions: Ministry of Law

Singapore’s Law Ministry has refuted claims in an annual report released on Monday by U.S.-based human rights group Human Rights Watch, saying it made “false assertions”.

The report had claimed, among other things, that Singapore’s government has been making “lame excuses” to “(violate) fundamental free expression rights”, adding that it rejected and contested the premises of recommendations for improvements in civil and political rights made by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May last year.

[Read the full report here.]

The response, issued by the press secretary to Law Minister K Shanmugam, is reproduced in full here:

We refer to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) January 2012 country report for Singapore (Report) and the comments of its deputy director Phil Robertson, as quoted on Yahoo! News Singapore.

The Report dismisses Singapore’s Submissions to the Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review, without dealing with the Submissions. Readers are encouraged to read the Submissions and judge for themselves.

HRW also made false assertions. For example, contrary to assertions in its news article1, capital punishment is not prohibited by international law. A large number of countries, including many modern, developed countries (like the US) impose the punishment. In Singapore, capital punishment has contributed to low rates of crime and drug use; and is overwhelmingly supported by Singaporeans.

Statements in HRW’s Report relating to detentions, freedom of speech and association, and the civil rights, as reported in your article, are likewise inaccurate. Singapore’s Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly. The Shadrake trial, which your article mentions, was fully reported by local, international and alternative media. Mr Shadrake was charged because he had alleged, among other things, that the Singapore courts conspired with State agencies to suppress material evidence. Such a statement would be considered to be in contempt of court in several countries.

HRW’s casual approach towards research and analysis, has been criticised by none other than its founder, Robert Bernstein, who has said that HRW “often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage”.

The Singapore government is committed to creating and defending an environment where Singaporeans are secure, where their well-being is ensured, and where everyone can realise his or her full potential. Every society strikes its own balance between the rights of the individual and the society. National issues are openly debated in Parliament. Elections to Parliament are free and fair, and contested fiercely. Singapore’s stability, public healthcare, education and security have made it one of the most livable cities in the world: Singaporeans enjoy dignity, welfare and security – much more so than many cities and countries which HRW seems to be happier with.

Ms Chong Wan Yieng
Press Secretary to Minister for Law