This year, Pink Dot and Oogachaga collaborated on a joint stakeholder submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Singapore’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review. The submission outlined the key issues impacting Singapore’s LGBTQ community, and can be downloaded via the link at the bottom of the page.
PART 1: WHAT IS THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW?
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a United Nations Human Rights Council mechanism aimed at improving the human rights situation in each of the 193 UN Member States. Under this unique mechanism, each Member State undergoes a review of its human rights record approximately every 5 years.
For the Member State under review, the UPR process is as follows:
- Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) prepare and make stakeholder submissions to the United Nations.
- The stakeholder submissions are made available to all Member States, including the Member State under review, and the UN Human Rights Council publishes a summary of all stakeholder submissions.
- The Member State under review releases its National Report and other Member States file advance questions and recommendations with the UN.
- During the UPR, the Member State under review appears before the UPR Working Group and engages in dialogue with other Member States. Media and NGOs may observe, but not participate in, the proceedings.
- After the UPR, the Member State under review will examine the recommendations it received and reply on whether it accepts or notes these recommendations.
To date, Singapore has undergone 3 UPR cycles, which occurred in 2011, 2016 and 2021. Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee represented the Singapore delegation at the UPR which took place on 12 May 2021 in Geneva. The summary of stakeholder submissions and Singapore’s National Report can be accessed here: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/SGindex.aspx.
PART 2: HOW WAS PINK DOT SG INVOLVED IN THE UPR?
In 2016 and 2021, Pink Dot SG collaborated with Oogachaga to create a joint stakeholder submission on the key issues impacting Singapore’s LGBTQ community and commissioned local artists to create comic strips to promote awareness about the issues covered in the stakeholder submission.
In its 2021 joint stakeholder submission, Pink Dot SG covered the following issues:
- Section 377A of the Penal Code;
- Restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of association for the LGBTQ community;
- Recognising gender identity;
- LGBTQ media guidelines and censorship;
- Education and well-being of LGBTQ youth;
- Employment discrimination towards LGBTQ persons;
- Housing for LGBTQ persons; and
- Healthcare and social services for LGBTQ persons.
Examples of recommendations made by Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga to the Singapore government include:
- Repeal Section 377A.
- Remove all existing obstacles for registration of LGBT+ organisations.
- Provide a path for transgender Singaporeans to change their legal sex without the need for medical or surgical requirements.
- Remove all guidelines in the Codes of Practice that discriminate against the positive portrayal of LGBTI people.
- Implement official policies on supporting LGBTQ+ students in a way that fosters their well-being, safety, dignity, privacy, personal bodily autonomy and equal access to the same learning opportunities as other students.
- Explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression as protected characteristics under the TAFEP guidelines.
- Impose statutory penalties on landlords for rental discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
- Require all professional associations to implement guidelines that explicitly prohibit all clinical practices that seek to change one’s sexual orientation and/ or gender identity, and any practices that are discriminatory towards LGBTQ persons.
Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga’s joint stakeholder submission can be downloaded here.
PART 3: WHAT HAPPENED AT THE UPR
At the 3rd UPR cycle, Singapore received a total of 24 recommendations relating to LGBTQ issues. This was an increase in comparison to the number of LGBTQ-related recommendations made by other Member States in previous years.
The advance questions and recommendations which Singapore received include:
- Sweden: What policies have been implemented to ensure that LGBTI-students are able to complete their education, safely, with dignity and without discrimination of any kind?
- Germany: How does Singapore plan to better protect LGBTI minors and vulnerable adults from psychological violence, including conversion practices?
- Australia: Repeal Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code, remove restrictions on LGBTI-related content, and enact anti-discrimination legislation.
- Denmark: Incorporate the principle of non-discrimination into domestic legislation, including on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
During the UPR session, Ang Bee Lian, Director-General of Social Welfare, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), said that:
“LGBT persons are valuable members of our society. We want to assure delegates … about the protection of LGBT persons, that just like other Singaporeans, LGBT persons have equal access to opportunities and support, such as in education, jobs and healthcare. Social services are accessible to all without discrimination. We oppose violence, abuse, discrimination, and harassment of all individuals, including those who are LGBT. Laws are in place to protect victims of domestic violence, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
In her closing remarks, Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee said that:
“I’d like to touch on the LGBT issue, which was raised by [lists member states]. Let me reiterate, that for Singapore, the LGBT community are valuable members of our society. The government does not tolerate violence, abuse, discrimination, and harassment against the community. An annual Pink Dot event in Singapore has been organised by the LGBT community for the past 12 years. While section 377A of the Penal Code remains on the books, the Government has stated clearly that it is not enforced. In the context of Singapore, where attitudes towards homosexuality are still evolving, and various communities hold different views, any move by the government must take into consideration the sentiments of all communities. We believe it is better to let the situation evolve gradually.”
PART 4: SINGAPORE’S RESPONSE
To recapitulate, member states under review can only “support” (i.e., accept) or “note” (i.e., acknowledge) other member states’ recommendations. There is no option to reject recommendations.
After considering all of the questions and recommendations made by other member states, the Singapore government submitted its advance reply to the UN on 10 September 2021.
The good news is, Singapore supported the following recommendations:
- From Norway: Remove all existing obstacles to the registration of LGTBQ organisations.
- From Malta: Implement training for healthcare professionals on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, with the aim of eliminating discrimination in healthcare access.
The not-so-good news is, Singapore noted the following recommendations:
- Repeal or amend Section 377A to decriminalise homosexual relations between consenting male adults.
- Pass legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Remove restrictions on LGBTQ-related content.
Additionally, Singapore provided the following explanation:
Although Section 377A of the Penal Code remains in our statute books, it is not enforced. All Singapore citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, are free to pursue their activities in their private space. We firmly oppose discrimination and harassment and have laws to protect all our citizens from such conduct. We will continue to manage the issue of LGBT rights in a sensitive and pragmatic way, so as to protect the vulnerable, uphold the family and preserve the common space for the diverse communities in Singapore.
Singapore will present its final response at the United Nations on 30 September 2021.
Pink Dot SG and Oogachaga’s joint stakeholder submission can be downloaded here.