Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

Singapore, a city-state of about 2.7 million people, has a
republican form of government based on the Westminster
parliamentary system. The majority (75 percent) of the
population is ethnic Chinese, with Malays (15 percent) and
Indians (7 percent) constituting substantial minorities.
Politics have been dominated by the People's Action Party
(PAP), which has held power since Singapore gained autonomy
from Great Britain in 1959. In November Lee Kuan Yew formally
stepped down as Prime Minister after 25 years, handing the
office to his chosen successor, Goh Chok Tong. Lee remains
active politically, holding the formal title of Senior
Minister and, more importantly, serving as Secretary General
of the PAP. Thirty years of social stability and spectacular
economic success have provided a continuing basis of political
support for the PAP. Extensive political control has also
helped limit the growth of an effective opposition. In the
September 1988 general election, the PAP received 61.9 percent
of the ballots cast and won 80 of the 81 parliamentary seats.
The Government maintains active internal security and military
forces to counter perceived threats to the nation's security.
The Government has frequently used security legislation to
control a broad range of activity. The police force is well
trained. All young males are subject to national service
(mostly in the military) and receive nationalistic
indoctrination similar to the credos held by the PAP. The
Internal Security Department (ISD) is responsible for
enforcement of the Internal Security Act (ISA), including its
provisions for detention without trial.
Singapore's economic system is one of the most open in the
world. The economy in recent years has made impressive
.economic gains—gross domestic product grew by 8 . 3 percent in
1990. Singaporeans enjoy the third highest per capita income
in Asia after Japan and Brunei. Individual ownership of
housing, mostly government built, is enjoyed by over 8 5
percent of Singaporean families. Wealth is distributed
relatively equally in what is essentially a full employment
Major human rights developments in 1990 were the conditional
release of the two remaining ISA detainees, the broadening of
legal controls on the foreign press, the continuation of legal
actions taken against opposition figures and foreign
publications, and new restrictive legislation on religious
activities that, in the Government's discretionary
determination, disrupt religious harmony or intrude into
politics. The erosion of judicial review continued, with the
courts now without authority to review government actions on
maintaining religious harmony in addition to the prior bar on
judicial review of government actions taken under the ISA.
Opposition and potential opposition groups continued to face
formidable obstacles imposed by the Government in organizing
themselves. The growth of government discretionary authority
increased, as reflected in the new legislation on the foreign
press by which the Government without explanation can deny
permits for circulation.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no known instances of such killings.
      b. Disappearance
There were no known instances of politically motivated
abduction, secret arrests, or clandestine detentions by either
the Government or the opposition.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture is prohibited by law under sections 330 and 331 of the
Penal Code, and government leaders have stated that they
oppose its use. Credible reports of recent mistreatment,
including in 1990, exist.
A number of persons detained under the ISA in 1987 or
redetained in 1988 made credible allegations in 1988 of having
been placed in an extremely cold room, deprived of sleep,
subjected to prolonged interrogation, and, in one case,
physically assaulted by an Internal Security Department (ISD)
officer. Affidavits by some of the detainees also said that
they were coerced or intimidated into signing admissions of
involvement in a "Marxist conspiracy." The Government denied
mistreatment by ISD officers, and, further, redetained five
persons in 1988 for recanting their previous admissions. The
Government then released sworn statements, made by the five
while under indefinite detention, in which they reaffirmed
their previous recantations.
In addition, there also were credible reports that in 1990 the
Government continued to use the indefinite length of
confinement to pressure detainees to "rehabilitate" themselves
as well as to make admissions of wrongdoing. The last two ISA
detainees, released in 1990, were kept in isolation and
reportedly subjected to government suggestions that they would
not be released unless they demonstrated a proper degree of
"rehabilitation" by not legally challenging their detentions
and by admitting their participation in the "Marxist
conspiracy." The Government has acknowledged that, in the
case of detentions without trial under the Criminal Act, the
indef initeness of the detentions served to pressure
detainees. Although the Government has never said this in the
case of political detentions, one Cabinet minister publicly
acknowledged in 1988 that "psychological pressure" was used in
ISA detention cases.
Theoretically, persons alleging mistreatment under detention
may bring criminal charges against those in the Government who
are alleged to have committed such acts. In practice, the
Government does not respond to such claims. The fear of
government retaliation, as in the redetention of ISA detainees
in 1988 for making charges of mistreatment, also might have
dissuaded the making of similar allegations.
The Penal Code mandates caning in addition to imprisonment as
punishment for certain offenses, including rape, theft,
robbery, extortion, housebreaking, and vehicle theft. The
courts routinely order caning for convictions for these
offenses. As of 1989, illegally working aliens and their
employers are subject to the same punishment (see Section
6.e.), although no one has been caned under this provision.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arrest without warrant is legally permitted under section 43
of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Misuse of
Drugs Act, and sections 8 and 65 of the ISA. Those arrested
must be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours. At that
time, those detained under criminal charges may obtain legal
counsel. There is a functioning system of bail for those
charged. No abuses of this system were reported in 1990.
Detention without trial is authorized under sections 8 and 74
of the ISA as well as under the Criminal Law (Temporary
Provisions) Act. This latter act is used almost exclusively
in cases involving narcotics and secret criminal societies and
is not used for political purposes. The Director of the
Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) can also commit suspected drug
users to a 6-month term in a drug rehabilitation center in
cases of positive urinalysis tests. Singapore law does not
treat involuntary commitment for drug rehabilitation as a
criminal matter, but suspected drug abusers have a legal right
to challenge the finding through the court system. Those
persons detained without trial under the ISA and the Criminal
Law Act are entitled to counsel but have no legal recourse
through the courts to challenge the substantive basis for
their detention.
Section 8 of the ISA permits the Minister of Home Affairs to
order detention if the President determines that the person
poses a threat to national security. The Government has in
the past interpreted threats to national security to include
acts of political opposition. The President may authorize
detention for up to 2 years. After 2 years, the President
must redetermine whether the detainee should be held and may
so order for up to 2 more years. There is no limitation on
the number of times a detention order may be renewed. A
detainee's case is reviewed periodically by an advisory board,
to which the detainee may make representations. The board can
make nonbinding recommendations that a detainee be released
prior to expiration of the detention order. Persons are
released when the Minister for Home Affairs determines they no
longer pose a threat to national security and are unlikely to
resume subversive activity. The Minister may also revoke the
order for release. Under section 74 of the ISA, police may
detain a person for up to 48 hours; the Minister of Home
Affairs can then order the detainee to be held for up to 28
days longer. ISA detainees are normally allowed access to
lawyers and visits by relatives once initial interrogation has
been completed (after 7 and 10 days respectively in the cases
of the 1987 and 1988 ISA detainees).
The two remaining ISA detainees, Vincent Cheng and Teo Soh
Lung, were released in June. Cheng was released only after
admitting to his role in a Marxist conspiracy and promising
not to engage in subversive acts. As with other former ISA
detainees, the Government imposed restrictions on their rights
to travel, to make public statements, and to associate with
former detainees.
Chia Thye Poh, a former Member of Parliament (M.P.) released
in 1989 after 23 years of preventive detention under the ISA,
was originally allowed freedom only on a small island adjacent
to Singapore, from which he could not leave without permission
from the ISD. In September 1990, the Government relaxed the
restriction, granting Ghia permission to visit Singapore
proper from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Chia can be employed,
subject to approval by the ISD. According to the Government,
1,181 persons were in detention under the Criminal Law
(Temporary Provisions) Act as of December 31, 1990. Sixty
percent of these were being held on narcotics-related charges;
the remaining 40 percent are held on secret society and other
criminal charges.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Singapore judiciary system is based on the British model.
There are two levels of courts: the Supreme Court, which
includes the High Court and the Appellate Courts, and the
subordinate courts. In normal cases, the Criminal Procedures
Code provides that a charge against a defendant must be read
and explained to him as soon as it is framed by the
magistrate. The accused has the right to be represented by an
attorney. Trial is by judge rather than by jury.
Persons detained under the ISA and the Criminal Law (Temporary
Provisions) Act are not entitled to a public trial, which is
accorded in all other cases. In 1989 the Government amended
the Constitution and the ISA to eliminate any judicial review
of the objective grounds for detentions made under the ISA.
The constitutional amendment also prevents the courts from
reviewing the constitutionality of any law passed by
Parliament to prevent subversion and allows such statutes to
restrict, or even eliminate, judicial review in cases of
alleged subversion. This constitutional amendment became
valid retroactive to 1971. The ISA amendment placed ISA
detentions outside of the purview of judicial review, except
with respect to compliance with procedural requirements of the
act. These amendments in essence put the executive in charge
of delimiting, on vaguely defined national security grounds,
the scope of certain fundamental liberties provided for by the
Singapore Constitution. In 1989 a Singapore High Court judge
ruled that no legal challenge to these amendments can be
The tendency to expand the discretionary powers of the
Government, with judicial review limited to examination of
adherence to procedures, continued in 1990. For example, the
amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act allow the
Government to deny permits to circulate periodicals without
explanation (see Section 2. a. below), and the Religious
Harmony Act removes judicial review from Government decisions
on inappropriate religious activity (see Section 2.c. below).
Judges are appointed by the President on the recommendation of
the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice.
Subordinate court judges (magistrates) and public prosecutors
are civil servants and may be transferred from the judiciary
to other government service. Judicial officials, especially
in the Supreme and Appellate courts, are older and well
entrenched in the Singapore establishment and have close ties
to the Government and its leaders. In 1990 Chief Justice Wee
Chong Jin retired after serving as the Republic's only Chief
Justice since independence.
In 1989 Parliament greatly restricted appeals to the judicial
committee of the Privy Council in London. This made
Singapore's appellate courts the final courts of appeal in
most cases. The legislation was passed in response to a Privy
Council decision reinstating prominent oppositionist J.B.
Jeyaretnam to the Singapore bar and strongly criticizing the
miscarriage of justice perpetrated against him. At the
discretion of the courts, Commonwealth Queen's Counsels (QC)
are allowed to argue cases in Singapore. Following habeas
corpus hearings on an ISA case in 1989, however, the
Government barred the QC representing the petitioner on
grounds that he had involved himself in Singapore's domestic
politics by championing his client's cause outside of the
In September Singapore's lawyers were encouraged by Lee Kuan
Yew to develop greater business-related expertise and to place
the interests of society over those of individuals. This was
taken by many attorneys as a government suggestion to stay out
of dissident politics and human rights work, a view supported
by the Government's record of using ISA detentions and
politically related court proceedings against such prominent
opposition lawyers as J.B. Jeyaretnam, Francis Seow, and Teo
Soh Lung.
The stripping away of judicial review in the ISA and religious
harmony laws further reduced the scope of the judiciary to act
as a check on the Government. Government leaders continued
their unbeaten string of libel or slander suits against
domestic opposition defendants (Lee Kuan Yew v. J.B.
Jeyaretnam) and foreign publications (see Section 2. a.
below). In August Lee Kuan Yew was awarded $260,000 plus
court costs in his slander suit against opposition leader
Jeyaretnam. The suit was brought in connection with an 1988
speech in which Jeyaretnam questioned the lack of an official
inquiry into the alleged suicide of a government official
under investigation for corruption. The court refused to
postpone payment of the award during Jeyaretnam 's appeal, and
in an unusual move added interest payments retroactive to
September 1, 1988. The Government also confiscated donations
collected for Jeyaretnam' s defense and launched a "commercial
crimes" investigation.
Judges are beholden to the Government for their appointments,
and are easily transferred. Rather than responding in a
constructive manner to outside criticism, including the Privy
Council's criticism of the Singapore judiciary's behavior in
the Jeyaretnam case and the contempt of court proceedings
against the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) (see Section
3.a.), the Government issued sharply critical statements and
acted to limit the role of the courts still further.
      f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government frequently uses its wide discretionary powers
in cases of perceived threat to the security of the nation.
In most cases, search warrants are required for intrusion into
the home. Law enforcement officers may, however, search a
person, home, or property without a warrant, if they decide
searches are necessary to preserve evidence. Warrantless
searches can also be conducted under the Criminal Law
(Temporary Provisions) Act in dealing with drug- and secret
society-related offenses. Judicial review of such searches
can be undertaken by the courts at the request of the
defendant but it is not automatic.
Divisions of the law enforcement agencies, including the
Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices
Investigation Board (CPIB), have wide networks for gathering
information. There are credible allegations that the
authorities monitor telephone and other private
conversations. In 1988 and 1989, the Government also hired
private investigators to monitor the movements of well-known
opposition figure, Francis Seow, while he was in the United
States. In 1990 credible reports continued to surface of
surveillance of opposition or dissident figures as well as
some religious leaders. In addition, there was substantial
evidence that the authorities conduct clandestine searches of
the baggage of opposition figures in the airport baggage
handling area.
The Government is actively involved in many aspects of family
life, including who can buy a house and in what neighborhood,
who should have children, and who may travel to neighboring
Malaysia. The Government encouraged university-educated
families to have as many children as they can afford by
increasing tax breaks for families with children. At the same
time, the Government used pamphlets and other materials to
encourage couples with only primary or secondary educations to
limit the number of children they have. The Government did
not use coercive means in pursuing population policies.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution permits official restrictions on the freedom
of expression, and in practice, freedom of speech and press is
circumscribed. The law forbids statements which might arouse
tensions among the various races and religions or which might
threaten national security or public order. The Government
has in some cases applied a broad definition of these laws to
restrict political opposition and criticism of the
Government. Inflammatory discussion of race, religion, and
language is illegal. The Government-owned Singapore
Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) has a monopoly on domestic
radio and television broadcasting and follows government
guidelines. Television broadcasts from Malaysia and radio
broadcasts from Malaysia and Indonesia can be received
uncensored in Singapore; the British Broadcasting Corporation
world service also broadcasts locally on the FM band. An
official board of film censors reviews motion pictures, as
well as video cassettes and television programs. Such
censorship is aimed at material which the Government believes
would undermine morals, advocate excessive permissiveness,
promote drug abuse, or increase social tension. Literature
and films featuring explicit sexual or drug-related themes are
banned. Satellite dishes are not permitted, but in 1990
members of the ruling PAP began public discussions on whether
to allow such dishes. The Government has not taken any final
Newspapers are published by private firms with close ties to
the national leadership. Printing of all domestic newspapers
is monopolized by a government-controlled company. The
Newspaper and Printing Presses Act creates two classes of
stock for the newspaper companies—ordinary shares which are
freely traded, and management shares whqse ownership is
restricted to those approved by the Government. In essence,
the controlling interest in management shares of all newspaper
companies is in the hands of government nominees, who can be
removed at the Government's discretion. Hence, while
Singaporean newspapers, especially the English- language
Straits Times, print a large and diverse selection of articles
from a variety of foreign sources, their editorials and
coverage of domestic events closely parallel government
policies and opinions of government leaders. In 1990, as in
the past, the Government used vaguely worded statutes on the
press and defamation actions to deter and punish critics.
Faculty members at Singapore public institutions of higher
education are government employees. A number of university
lecturers are concurrently PAP M.P.'s. Academics sometimes
criticize government policies, but criticism of individual
government leaders and authoritarianism is infrequent because
of possible sanctions. Tenure and renewal of appointments can
be, and have been, refused to academics whose work deviates
substantially from government views. Published social science
and think tank works generally support government policies.
A wide range of international magazines and newspapers can be
purchased uncensored in Singapore, although newspapers printed
in Malaysia are not circulated. However, Singapore's
longstanding dispute with certain foreign publications,
including Asiaweek, the AWSJ, and the Far Eastern Economic
Review (FEER) reached a new zenith in 1990 with the passage of
amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act that
further strengthened governmental control mechanisms over the
foreign press.
Foreign publications that, by the Government's broad
determination, interfere in the domestic affairs of Singapore
may be restricted in circulation. Asiaweek, the FEER, and the
ASWJ all were, and still are, restricted on this basis. The
Government prints and distributes in Singapore a limited
number of unauthorized photocopy editions of the FEER without
advertising, while a prescribed number of copies of Asiaweek
(10,000) is allowed to be distributed in full. The AWSJ, in
response to newly acted amendments to the press laws (see
below) voluntarily ceased publication in Singapore. Neither
the FEER nor the AWSJ has been allowed to post a correspondent
in Singapore since 1987. In addition to these restrictions,
Lee Kuan Yew won a $125,000 libel judgment against the FEER in
November 1989, which led to a December 1989 article in the
AWSJ suggesting that the Singapore courts had not acted
impartially. The Government then instituted contempt of court
proceedings against the AWSJ; these had not been heard by
year ' s end.
Officials of Dow Jones, the U.S. parent of both the FEER and
the AWSJ, met with then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok
Tong in April 1990 and began to correspond with the Government
in an attempt to resolve the dispute, in part so that the FEER
and the AWSJ could cover the July 1990 Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting held in Singapore.
Their exchange of letters, subsequently released by the
Government, revealed that Dow Jones accepted the Government's
propositions that foreign publications circulate in. Singapore
as a matter of privilege and not of right and that they should
not interfere in the domestic affairs of Singapore. In its
letter, the Government noted that Article 14 of the
Constitution on freedom of press applies only to Singapore
citizens. The Government, in breaking off the discussions,
cited Dow Jones' intentions to appeal "the FEER verdict and
alleged difficulties in serving process in the AWSJ contempt
of court case as proof that Dow Jones did not in fact accept
these propositions. Visa applications of PEER and AWSJ
journalists to cover the APEC conference were denied.
Parliament in inid-1990 enacted amendments to the Newspaper and
Printing Presses Act to strengthen the Government's
restrictions on the foreign press. The amended Act provides
that the Government may require permits for the distribution
of foreign periodicals with a circulation of 300 copies or
more. The Government may deny or revoke the permits without
explanation. The Government also determines the number of
copies that may be circulated and m.ay change that number at
its discretion, without explanation. The publications must
appoint an agent in Singapore who is authorized to accept
service of process, and the publications are required to post
a bond in an amount determined by the Government to cover
potential damages in slander, libel, or other legal actions.
While the legislation was aimed at "old adversaries" such as
the Dow Jones publications, the clear intent of the Government
was to warn all foreign periodicals that now circulate in
Singapore, or will later do so, to be wary of their reporting
on Singapore lest they cross the vaguely drawn line of
"interfering" in Singapore's "domestic affairs," thereby
making themselves subject to the restrictions of the Act. The
Government required three foreign publications to obtain
circulation permits and post bonds in excess of $100,000, but
for the time being exempted 11 others from these requirements.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Assemblies of more than five people in public, including
political meetings and rallies, must have police permission.
The Government closely monitors political gatherings
regardless of the number present.
Associations, societies, clubs, churches, and other
organizations with more than 10 members must be registered
with the Government under the Societies Act. The Government
denies registration to societies believed likely to be used
for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public
peace, welfare, or public order. The Government has absolute
discretion in applying this broad and vague language to
register or dissolve societies. The Government prohibits
organized political activities, except by organizations
registered as political parties. This prohibition extends to
the opposition, but it is not clear that it applies to the
PAP, which enjoys the support of residential committees and
neighborhood groups ostensibly organized for nonpolitical
purposes but whose leadership contains many grass-roots PAP
members (see Section 3 also).
      c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and
usually respected in practice. However, all religious groups
are subject to government scrutiny and must be legally
registered. The Government restricts some religious sects by
application of the Societies Act and has banned others. A
Presidential Council on Minority Rights exists to ensure that
legislation does not infringe upon the rights of ethnic or
religious minorities. There is no state religion. The
Government has, however, provided financial assistance to
build and maintain mosques. There is no religious test for
employment in the Government or for membership in the PAP.
Missionaries are permitted to work and to publish religious
The major development in this area was the passage in November
1990 of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. The Act
makes it illegal to proselytize in a manner that could inflame
religious enmity and also proscribes what the Government deems
to be the inappropriate involvement of religious groups and
officers in political affairs. By the terms of the Act, the
Minister of Home Affairs, after hearing the opinion of the
Presidential Council on religious harmony, is authorized to
warn and issue a prohibition order against those violating the
provisions. The Government admitted during hearings on the
Act that there is no clear line that can be drawn between
religious and political acts, but asserted that the
Government, with the Presidential Council, can make the
determination. Finally, the Religious Harmony Act explicitly
denies the judiciary the competence to review possible denial
of rights which could arise from the application of the Act,
and specifically denies judicial review of the enforcement of
the Act.
The Government justified the Act by citing two sets of
problems that allegedly might trigger ethnic or religious
conflict. The first set dealt with overzealous proselytizing
by religious groups or persons that would be offensive to
members of another religion. The second set dealt with the
mixing of political and religious activities, akin to the 1987
"Marxist conspiracy" wherein "Marxists" allegedly infiltrated
Catholic lay organizations in an attempt to politicize them
against the Government. The Government made it explicit that
it disapproved of what it perceived as political activity
disguised as religious activity, but suggested that the Act
was a more benign way of handling this problem than use of the
ISA. Singaporean witnesses at hearings on the Act agreed that
the Government has a role to play in preventing racial and
religious conflict, but some also criticized the overly vague
provisions and the lack of safeguards against governmental
abuse. Even government officials admitted that most religious
creeds call for believers to be socially if not sometimes
politically active. The Government insisted that sufficient
safeguards exist and that it could determine when political
activity by religious groups or persons overstepped the line.
There is substantial evidence that the Government action is
partially directed against the growth in recent years of
charismatic Christian organizers which do not recognize the
unofficial agreement among establishment religious
organizations about not proselytizing those of a different
faith. For example. Reverend Rick Seaward and his church were
the only Christian organization cited by name, in a government
white paper on religious harmony, as promoting the concept of
active Christian proselytizing among the Malay Muslim
community. Seaward denied that his church was doing so, but
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew then also cited Seaward by name
and called his activities an example of what the Government
needed to head off. Seaward and other members of his church
were indicted for criminal breach of trust (fraud) in a still
pending case involving the purchase of sound equipment by the
church from a Los Angeles religious organization with which
Seaward's church is affiliated.. Although the amounts
involved were not large, the Straits Times gave the
indictments front-page coverage, highlighting Seaward's
religious beliefs.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
All Singapore citizens and permanent residents over the age of
13 are required to register with the Government and carry an
identification card. The Government may, at its discretion,
deny a passport and it frequently does so in the case of
released detainees, one of many devices that seem to inhibit
such persons from resuming opposition to or criticism of the
The ISA allows the Minister for Law and Home Affairs to
suspend or revoke a detention order or impose restrictions on
former detainees' activities, place of residence, and travel
abroad. Chia Thye Poh is restricted in his movements within
Singapore, while foreign travel of others formerly detained
under the ISA is subject to approval by the ISD.
The right of voluntary repatriation is extended to holders of
Singaporean passports. In 1985 Parliament provided for the
loss of citizenship by Singaporeans who reside outside
Singapore for more than 10 years consecutively. Action under
this law is discretionary and has been taken in at least one
case involving a well-known government opponent. Tan Wah
Piaow. There is considerable evidence that the legislation
was a bill of attainder, aimed specifically at Tan, but with
current application to others at the Government's discretion.
Singapore does not offer first asylum to persons seeking
refuge there. Government policy permits Vietnamese asylum
seekers rescued at sea to disembark and remain for up to 90
days only if Singapore is the rescuing vessel's next scheduled
port of call, and if a resettlement country provides a
resettlement or removal guarantee. The Government has agreed
to permit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) to screen such persons for refugee status in
accordance with the Comprehensive Plan of Action adopted in
Geneva at the June 1989 International Conference on
Indochinese Refugees. However, asylum seekers must still
depart Singapore within 90 days. In practice, Singapore
halted disembarkation of rescued Vietnamese in July 1990 in
cases where removal of these persons within 90 days could not
be guaranteed. As of September 30, there were 143 asylum
seekers at Singapore's camp (Hawkins Road) which has a
capacity of approximately 1,000 persons.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Singaporeans have the theoretical right to change their
government peacefully. The voting and vote-counting system in
elections is generally fair, accurate, and free from
tampering. However, the Government has used its extensive
powers to place formidable obstacles in the path of current
and would-be opponents. The PAP currently holds 80 of the 81
popularly elected seats in Parliament, with the Singapore
Democratic Party (SDP) holding the remaining seat. One
Workers' Party (WP) representative, among the three highest
vote-getters among losing opposition candidates in the
September 1988 elections, is a "Non-Constituency Member of
Parliament" (NCMP), allowed to participate in debate but not
to vote on constitutional amendments, motions of no-confidence,
the budget, and other key issues.
While opposition parties have contested every election, none
has been able seriously to challenge the PAP since the late
1960 's. The PAP attributes the lack of effective opposition
to disorganization, lack of leadership, and lack of
alternative policy programs. Political parties, while legally
free to organize, are subject to strict regulations on party
constitution, fund-raising, and accountability. While the PAP
has been able to enjoy the support of ostensibly nonpolitical
organizations, the Government has used its broad discretionary
powers to hinder the creation of support organizations for the
opposition parties. Government actions, such as the arrest of
the "Marxist conspirators" in 1987 and the Maintenance of
Religious Harmony Act in 1990, reinforce the Government's
ability to hinder the effectiveness of opposition parties.
For three decades, under the authoritarian leadership of Lee
Kuan Yew, the PAP has dominated politics in Singapore. The
PAP'S grip on power has been enhanced by patronage; political
control of the press, courts, and religion; and strong party
discipline and performance. Under its leadership, Singapore
has achieved rapid economic growth, enabling the Government to
provide a wide array of public services. The PAP ' s broad base
includes representatives from all racial communities in
Singapore and is rooted in neighborhood, youth, and labor
associations. National servicemen receive indoctrination
based on ideas derived from the PAP. The still-forming
national ideology is replete with PAP themes. National
holidays are usually celebrated with PAP members in
highlighted roles. PAP members regularly preside at
dedications and ribbon-cuttings.
Lee Kuan Yew stepped down in November, after serving as Prime
Minister since 1959. His chosen successor, Goh Chok Tong,
replaced Lee, but the former Prime Minister remains in the
Cabinet as a senior minister. More importantly, he rem.ains
Secretary General of the PAP. The party strategy enunciated
by Lee Kuan Yew is to occupy as much of the middle ground of
society as possible, leaving only the fringes to the
opposition. Each MP, regardless of rank, is expected to be in
regular touch with his or her constituency in order to be
entitled to continuing party support. The media are uniformly
supportive of the PAP. Town councils, ostensibly politically
neutral, are filled with PAP activists as an element of
political patronage, except in the single oppositioncontrolled
Former President Devon Nair, an old Lee Kuan Yew ally turned
critic, departed Singapore after a campaign of personal
insults and a libel suit. Former Solicitor General Francis
Seow also departed the country after one period of detention
under the ISA. He was subjected to sharp attacks on his
character by the PAP during the 1988 general elections in
which he stood as a Workers' Party candidate. A score of
indictments on tax evasion charges were filed against him;
they involved relatively small amounts of money and were the
result of a very minute examination of his" accounts by the
Ostensibly in response to calls for some alternative voices in
Parliament to provide debate and checks on government action,
the Parliament in 1990 enacted legislation providing for a
system of Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) who would
enjoy restricted privileges similar to those of a NCMP. As
theoretically independent voices, the NMP ' s would presumably
channel off some of the popular desire for a larger non-PAP
presence in the legislature. Not incidentally, this might
also reduce political support for opposition parties, which
derive some of their electoral support from voters who are
anti-PAP but not pro-opposition. Two NMP ' s were appointed in
December. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong publicly proclaimed
that his administration would not change substantively from
that of Lee Kuan Yew but that the style of the new government
would feature greater consultation and openness. Because Goh
assumed office only in November, there is an insufficient
record upon which to evaluate his administration; however, he
and the members of his Cabinet advocated and supported all the
changes in human rights related law and policy carved out over
time by Lee Kuan Yew.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Governmental bodies, such as the presidentially appointed
Minority Rights Council, monitor alleged violations of
minority rights, primarily any concerning the Malay minority.
There are, however, no nongovernmental organizations, with the
exception of the opposition political parties, which actively
and openly monitor alleged human rights violations, owing at
least in part to fear of various forms of governmental
pressure or reprisal that could be brought to bear. The
Government rejects the concept that international
organizations have any competence whatsoever to look into
human rights matters in Singapore. Visa regulations do not
recognize monitoring human rights as a "business purpose" in
visiting Singapore, but neither is such activity regarded as a
"social visit." Amnesty International is not allowed to
operate in Singapore, but in 1989 the Government allowed a
closely scrutinized group of observers from a foreign human
rights group to attend the habeas corpus hearings of ISA
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Because of Singapore's history of intercommunal tension, the
Government takes affirmative measures to ensure racial,
ethnic, religious, and cultural nondiscrimination. Social,
economic, and cultural facilities are available to all
citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. Minorities are
constitutionally afforded equal rights and actively
participate in the political process.
The Singapore Constitution acknowledges the "special position"
of Malays as the indigenous people of Singapore and charges
the Government to support and promote their "political,
educational, religious, economic, social, and cultural
interests." The Government has concentrated on creating
equality of opportunity, especially in education, and does not
promote the concept of equality in result, instead leaving it
up to the ethnic communities, individual initiative, and the
marketplace to determine economic success.
While precise statistics are not readily available, government
officials acknowledge that Malay Singaporeans are represented
disproportionately in the bottom quarter of Singapore's
economy. De facto employment discrimination against Malays
and Indians exists. Job advertisements often specify the
ethnicity and sex required of applicants.
Equal pay for equal work is practiced. Women have the same
rights as men in employment, education, childcare and custody,
and in the running of a household, but do not have equal
rights with men in the transmission of citizenship to their
children or in the right to residence of a foreign spouse in
Singapore. Muslim women's rights are protected by the
provisions of the 1957 Administration of Muslim Law Act, which
permits Muslim women to apply for divorce and to hold and
dispose of property. Women can vote and hold any public
office. Although the political and business elite is still
overwhelmingly male, women are found throughout the rest of
the job spectrum, enjoying eq[ual pay for equal work.
There is no evidence of any widespread practice of violence or
abuse against women. Singapore's laws protect women against
domestic violence and against sexual or physical harassment.
Domestic violence can be dealt with under either the penal
code or the Women's Charter. The Women's Charter, enacted in
1961, abolished arranged marriages and gave husband and wife
equal rights with respect to property ownership and divorce.
Muslim women are not covered by the Women's Charter, but enjoy
the same rights and protections under other laws, except that
Muslim men may divorce unilaterally whereas Muslim women may
not. The Government enforces the Women's Charter as a
fundamental aspect of the Republic's family law. Through the
latter, a battered wife can obtain court orders barring the
spouse from the home until the court is satisfied that he will
stop his aggressive behavior. The penal code prescribes
mandatory caning and a minimum imprisonment of 2 years for
conviction on a charge of outraging modesty so as to cause the
victim fear of death or injury.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Singapore's Constitution gives all citizens the right to form
associations, including trade unions. Parliament may,
however, impose restrictions based on security, public order,
or morality grounds. The right of association is delimited by
the Societies Act and labor and education laws and
regulations. In practice. Communist labor unions are not
permitted. The Trades Union Act authorizes the formation of
unions with broad rights, albeit with some narrow
restrictions—such as prohibitions on the unionization of
uniformed employees and the holding of union office by persons
with criminal records. The national work force comprises
about 1.2 million workers, of whom some 210,000 are organized
into about 90 trade unions. Some 70 of these, which represent
about 98 percent of the unionized workers, are affiliated with
the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) , an umbrella
organization with a close relationship to the Government.
Several unions have been founded outside of the NTUC,
including unions for the catering staff and pilots of
Singapore Airlines and for Chinese-language teachers.
The NTUC unabashedly acknowledges that its interests are
closely linked with those of the ruling PAP. The Second
Deputy Prime Minister, a PAP member, serves as NTUC Secretary
General, and several NTUC officials are PAP M.P.'s. NTUC
policy prohibits unionists who actively support opposition
parties from holding office in affiliated unions. While the
NTUC is financially independent of the PAP, they share the
same ideology. NTUC officials maintain that their
organization benefits from its close ties with the PAP.
Workers have the legal right to strike but rarely do so—the
most recent strike took place in 1986. Reasons given include
a cultural aversion to confrontation, concern about
maintaining Singapore's attractiveness to investors, a labor
shortage that has produced higher wages, and economic success
that has allowed employers to pay more.
The NTUC is a member of the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions (ICFTU); the Asian and Pacific Regional
Organization (APRO) of the ICFTU has its headqxiarters in
Singapore. Singapore is a member of the International Labor
Organization (ILO). It has not ratified Convention 87 on
Freedom of Association.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is a normal part of management-labor
relations particularly in the manufacturing sector. On the
average, collective bargaining agreements are renewed every 2
to 3 years. A National Wages Council (NWC) brings business,
labor, and government representatives together to establish
guidelines for annual wage packages. Collective agreements
negotiated between labor and management generally follow the
wage guidelines issued annually by the NWC. For the last 2
years, the NWC issued its guidelines in the form of
qualitative recommendations rather than the quantitative form
used before. The NWC continued to recommend in 199 that
employers follow a "flexiwage" system wherein the annual
increase in the fixed portion of employee income (the wages)
is kept small with greater emphasis on varying the amount of
bonuses based on employee performance.
This system—the NWC fostering cooperation between the NTUC
and employer organizations—allows management to reward
workers for performance and sacrifices made during bad times,
yet allows those in sectors experiencing downturns to let
wages reflect such circumstances. The NWC also recommended
that the rate of compensation increases be less than the
increase of the rate of productivity, in order to curb
inflation and keep salaries in line with productivity.
Section 80 of the Industrial Relations Act makes it an offense
to discriminate against anyone who is or proposes to become a
member or an officer of a trade union. The offense is
punishable by a fine equivalent to about $1,200 and/or a
12-month prison sentence. There are no export processing
zones, nor are special concessions given to firms producing
for export. Labor laws and regulations are enforced uniformly.
'c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Singapore law forbids the use of forced or compulsory labor,
and such labor is not found in Singapore.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Government enforces the Employment Act, which sets the
minimum age for the employment of children at age 12.
Children under age 14 are not allowed to work in any
"industrial undertaking." Industrial employers must notify
the Ministry of Labor within 30 days of hiring a child between
the ages of 14 to 16.
Ministry of Labor regulations prohibit night employment of
children and restrict industrial work to no more that 7 hours
a day. Children cannot work on commercial vessels, with any
live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in
any underground job. These laws and regulations are
effectively enforced by the Ministry of Education.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Singapore labor market offers relatively high wages and
working conditions consistent with accepted international
standards. Singapore, however, has no minimum wage or
unemployment compensation. Because of a continuing labor
shortage, wages have generally risen steadily, and
unemployment has stayed below 3 percent. In 1990 the
Government continued implementation of a flexible wage program
wherein labor and management in private firms agree to set
bonuses based on a company's annual performance. Because of
Singapore's booming economy in 1990, and the consequent high
demand for labor, the "flexiwage" system has not resulted in a
loss of real income for workers. The standard legal workweek
under the Employment Act (Section 38) is 44 hours. Laws and
regulations establishing working conditions are effectively
enforced by the Ministry of Education.
The Ministry of Education enforces comprehensive occupational
safety and health laws. Enforcement procedures, coupled with
the promotion of educational and training programs, have
reduced the freqnjency of job-related accidents by a third over
the past decade. The average severity of occupational
accidents has also been reduced.
Because of the domestic labor shortage, more than 250,000
foreign workers are employed legally in Singapore. Most are
unskilled laborers and household servants from other Asian
countries. The Government controls the numbers of foreign
workers directly through immigration regulations and
indirectly through levies on firms and individuals hiring
foreign workers. Social insurance and safety regulations are
applied without discrimination with respect to foreign
workers. Foreign workers face no legal wage discrimination;
however, they are concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs.
Many foreign workers are members of labor unions, particularly
in electronics and shipbuilding. The large number of foreign
workers in the construction industry remain unorganized,
because, the NTUC says, of the nature of the industry with its
many subcontractors and rapidly changing work venues. Some
30,000 Filipina maids are employed in Singapore, and there
have been occasional complaints of abuse or poor working
conditions. The Government does not bar complainants from
seeking legal redress, and there are reports that employers
who have abused domestic servants have been fined or
The Government acknowledged the problem of illegal aliens
working in Singapore by passing a law in 1989 imposing a
caning penalty on aliens who overstay in Singapore by more
than 90 days. Parliament has passed a law to impose a caning
sentence and fines on businessmen who employ more than 5
workers illegally. No one has been caned under either law.