Published: 23 November 2022
Home Team Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am delighted to join you to honour our officers’ contributions and celebrate your achievements. I would like to share with you that Minister Shanmugam would have very much liked to be here – he had planned for it, and in fact, he prepared in advance, a very incisive speech. It is a pity he is not here to deliver it. I have discussed it with him that the content is very relevant to our work, and so I shall attempt to deliver it on his behalf.
2. Today, we celebrate the achievements of around 900 officers who are receiving National Day Awards.
3. All of us have a common mission – to keep Singapore safe and secure. It is not an easy task.
4. We have heard elsewhere about the challenges in keeping Singapore safe, domestically. For example, how crime is evolving, the need to stay at the cutting edge of technology, the importance of upholding public trust, the threat of radicalisation and terrorism, and so on.
5. But what has not been discussed as much, are the international pressures and challenges that affect the work we do in the Home Team on a daily basis.
6. I will share a bit more about this today, in the context of the death penalty.
International Pressure on Death Penalty
7. For a long time, our tough stance against drug trafficking, and the hard work, and the effective enforcement by our agencies, have allowed our children to grow up relatively free from the harm of drugs.
8. We have heard at many different fora about the clear evidence for the deterrent effect of the death penalty, based on academic studies and our own experience. The death penalty has actually saved many more lives in Singapore.
9. The vast majority of Singaporeans understand as well as support our position. Consistently, the surveys show that more than 70% of Singaporeans support our application of the death penalty. Even the Leader of the Opposition agrees that in Singapore, the application of the death penalty is necessary.
10. But there is a continuing effort to chip away at this.
11. Some international organisations and anti-death penalty activists have been trying to change our position by pressuring us from a foreign perspective.
12. What does this look like?
13. There are some human rights groups in key international organisations, influenced by the West. They include United Nations bodies, like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures, as well as other organisations like the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the International Commission of Jurists.
14. They focus on advancing and protecting human rights, such as the rights of children, helping those in extreme poverty, and the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as slavery, and so on.
15. Let us be clear – these are noble causes in themselves.
16. But most of these groups are dominated by the Europeans and the West. Their staff overwhelmingly come from European backgrounds, with very skewed representation.
17. And “human rights” is often a useful cover for these Western states to export their values, selectively advocate causes that fit their ideals, and apply pressure on the countries that do not hold these views.
18. One issue that they focus on is the death penalty.
19. They are driven by ideology that the death penalty is against human dignity. The evidence that it can actually save more lives does not matter.
20. They push this view as if it is a “universal” truth, ignoring the fact that there is no universal agreement on this.
21. The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Volker Turk has made it clear that abolition of the death penalty is a key priority for him. He even outlined a full strategy to do so, and he has declared that he will strive to make the death penalty “a relic of the past”.
22. These international bodies are supported by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
23. NGOs that fit the views of these international bodies are given prominence, while those that do not, including those with more balanced positions, are side-lined and turned away.
24. There is a chorus of such NGOs that feed and broadcast misleading information about Singapore on the death penalty. For example, Human Rights Watch, the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Amnesty International, and the International Drug Policy Consortium, among others.
25. They push out sensational falsehoods, to try to pressure us to abolish the death penalty. For example, they claim that Singapore executes intellectually disabled people, that Singapore harasses lawyers of those facing capital charges, that Singapore executes people without fair trials, that Singapore executes people “in secret”, and that it is usually minorities who are policed for drug use in Singapore.
26. These are the same falsehoods that have been clearly and thoroughly debunked, in public as well as in Court.
27. The local activists in Singapore who are the source of much of this misinformation push it out there to tarnish Singapore’s reputation internationally.
28. And the international bodies take what they write, sometimes, basically wholesale, and write reports, send appeals to pressure Singapore.
UNGA Resolution on Moratorium on the Death Penalty
29. Every two years, at the UN General Assembly – which is the main policy and deliberative organ of the UN, the Western countries table a resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
30. Each time it is tabled, since 2016, Singapore, supported by about 40 other member states, introduces a paragraph, to say that every country has a sovereign right to determine its own legal system, including appropriate legal penalties, in accordance with our international law obligations.
31. Each time, it is successfully adopted by a clear majority of member states, affirming the global recognition of the sovereignty of each country to have its own laws.
32. However, each time the resolution is tabled again every two years, the Western proponents of the resolution unilaterally delete the paragraph, removing it completely from the draft, calling it “hostile”, among other things.
33. They disregard the views of the majority of the member states, that were reiterated clearly multiple times through the votes in each of the previous years.
34. It is then an uphill battle each year to re-introduce the amendment, to stand firm on the sovereign right of countries to have our own laws, depending on what works for each of us.
35. It is an uphill battle, because these European delegations aggressively lobby other UN member states to oppose the amendment – essentially, to strike out the paragraph that was affirmed in previous years.
36. Despite this, this year, a few weeks ago, the amendment was successfully re-introduced again. 103 countries voted yes, and 68 countries voted against.
37. I share this so that you know what is happening at international bodies like the UN, what the international climate is like. And how some, particularly in the West, are insistent on pushing their views and values, on the rest of the world.
38. This, of course, creates challenges for us. But we must continue to make our decisions based on what is right for us. And by and large, Singaporeans have supported our stand.
A Strong Force
39. We have kept Singapore safe and secure thus far because we stand firm on these principles, and because of our committed and competent Home Team.
40. We have officers here today who have dedicated much of their lives to upholding the mission of keeping Singapore stable, and safe.
41. For example, there are over 600 officers here who have served for 25 years or more. I think they deserve a round of applause. Recognising them through a Long Service Award is the least we can do. But behind that Long Service Award, we know of the blood, sweat, and tears they have shed, we know of the support of their families, and we say, from the bottom of our hearts – thank you so much.
42. We thank them for their many years of service.
43. Let me also say that there are others here who are also receiving the Commendation Medals and the Efficiency Medals for the exceptional contribution that you have made in your duty.
44. Thank you and congratulations to all, as well as the other Home Team officers for your hard work in keeping Singapore safe and secure.
45. It is only with this commitment and agility, nimbleness, wisdom, and good judgement, that we can deliver on our mission, to keep our home safe for all Singaporeans, for years to come.
46. Thank you very much.