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Singapore Human Rights Practice and Legal Policy: Of Pragmatism and Principle, Rights, Rhetoric and Realism

Singapore Academy of Law Journal
Volume 21 Issue 1 (Mar 2009)

Abstract: This third in the series of three lectures was delivered on 7 July 2008 at the invitation of Law Society President Michael Hwang SC under the auspices of the Law Society Public and International Law Committee. This article is a modified version of the public lecture. The subject of today's final lecture concerns Singapore's human rights obligations, which implicates law, culture and politics. Singapore appears to be entering a stage in her history marking the end of the "allergy" towards human rights. In times past, the Singapore government was reticent towards using "human rights" terminology, preferring the language of human welfare or dignity. I shall elaborate upon this after establishing a few baselines. Firstly, the present Government has stated clearly it has no problems with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights ("UDHR"); the Attorney-General reiterated this at the first lecture. We have a minimum core of human rights standards upon which to engage in human rights discourse. Secondly, a minor sea change occurred when Singapore acceded to three United Nations ("UN") human rights treaties shortly after attending the 1993 Vienna World Conference on human rights; it is party to more than 20 International Labour Organisation ("ILO") treaties, including Convention No 100 on Equal Remuneration for Equal Work, ratified in 2002. Thirdly, the Government has altered its stance from ignoring or shutting down its detractors to engaging with its critics to some degree, sometimes through point by point rebuttal.4 However, there has not been a glad embrace of human rights, more a cautious hand-shake. This is reflected in the Societies Act regime which confers automatic registration on voluntary welfare organisations engaged in social welfare and charity, but not upon groups wishing to discuss civil-political rights which is defined as including human rights, environmental rights and animal rights. More caution is directed towards the latter. In the 21st century, there is a wealth of human rights norms; what continues to remain disputed are questions of interpretation and appropriate enforcement methods.

To cite this article: Thio, Li-Ann. Singapore Human Rights Practice and Legal Policy: Of Pragmatism and Principle, Rights, Rhetoric and Realism [online]. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1, Mar 2009: 326-362. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=661315136919065;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 0218-2009. [cited 01 May 16].

Personal Author: Thio, Li-Ann; Source: Singapore Academy of Law Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1, Mar 2009: 326-362 Document Type: Journal Article ISSN: 0218-2009 Subject: Human rights; Political science; Human rights--Government policy; Peer Reviewed: Yes Affiliation: (1) Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore

Database: Humanities & Social Sciences Collection