Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about human rights recently. Singapore had the highest death penalty sentencing of any country in the 90s. So let's take a look at the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which is binding for all UN members. Singapore is recognized as the 117th UN nation, and, to be fair, we'll compare the record against the 1st member, the United States.

The first article states that all humans should act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood. We're all entitled freedom and dignity.

Well, neither is exactly top scoring for brotherhood, but they aren't slavers (anymore) and maintain some dignity, each. I guess they'd be about even.

The second states that all the rights are to applied to all human beings without any distinction of any kind, regardless of the statehood of the person.

Until we look at the specific rights we're okay. If, however, either country treats anyone as a second-tier citizen, then they will fail this most basic injunction.

Third: life, liberty and security of person.

Liberty, security of person, okay. "Right to life" is a bit of a stickler. Does this mean that capital punishment isn't allowed? In that case both are guilty. But if it means arbitrary killing... well, it's still sticky.

The UN's fourth right allows no slavery.

In reality there is slavery in both countries. However it is not officially endorsed in either. So I guess they're okay.

Fifth, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Do we define the death penalty as a cruel punishment? If someone innocent is sent to the gallows, then definitely. It requires little empathy to put oneself in the horrific mind frame of an innocent man or woman headed to the hangman. Since we have plenty of examples of this I would condemn the death penalty as cruel: it is irrevocable and can be misapplied. The US is especially guilty here, since our fighting forces recently were torturing Iraqis.

Sixth article: Everyone has the right to be recognized before the law.

Again, the US with it's secret prisons...

Article the seventh states that all persons get equal protection under the law.

I think Singapore has some difficulty with this one. The judiciary is too buddy buddy with the executive branch - they defend the government against the people without hesitation.

Eight states: "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law."

If the US violates in constitution then the US people have the right to a national tribunal, as does Singapore. Who knew?

The ninth article disallows arbitrary arrest, exile, or detention.

Both fail. The US has Bush-era detainees and Singapore has three acts by which detainees may be arrested without warrants.

The tenth article is right to a fair and impartial public trial with jury.

Singapore does not have a jury system. All decisions are made solely by those judges who are buddy buddy with the executive. So, no.

Eleventh: innocent until proven guilty.

I guess they both hold up to this. Some laws are presumptive, like Singapore assuming intent to deal if you have a certain amount of drugs on you (which leads to the death penalty).

Number twelve declares a legal protection of the right of privacy.

Again, Singapore has three laws that circumvent this. In the Bush years the US did, too, but this illegal aberration ended with Obama.

Article thirteen guarantees freedom to move around your country, as well as reentry upon leaving.

I think we're both good here. Unless it means you can't deport or exile people. In that case both have issues.

The fourteenth grants asylum in another country, so long as the person isn't be prosecuted for non-political criminal charges.

While not claiming to know too much about this, I think both are okay.

Fifteen ensures the right of nationality to all people.


Sixteen better be quoted: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." It goes on to require mutual consent in marriage and legal protection of families.

It doesn't say that men and women have the right to marry each other. It just says that all men and women have the right to marry. I take this, in conjunction with the second article stating no one is to be discriminated against, as legal entitlement to gay marriage along with heterosexual unions. If this is the case then the US has a mixed record, and Singapore, which outlaws male homosexuality, is worse.

The seventeenth requires that all have a right to security of property.

There are no problems with this in either state that I know of.

Next, the eighteenth allows freedom of thought, conscience and religion, with all the latter implies regarding practice.

Singapore fails here. Jehovah's Witnesses (who, really, seem like a nice-ish lot) are banned from practicing their religion, distributing materials, or worshipping in Singapore. Why, you may well ask? JW's refuse to serve an army, and in Singapore there is compulsory service for males, age 18.

Article nineteen: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Singapore fails again. The two media outlets are run by, and censored by, the government. They have a bureau of censorship which edits and bans materials. Historically they are one of the worst nations in the world (last year ranking in the 130s) for free speech.

The twentieth necessitates right to peaceful assembly and safety from compulsion to join assemblies.

Are we counting permits as a restriction, here? I doubt it, although in Singapore, in league with the above, you can't assemble if your intentions are deemed to be bad.

Twenty-one insists that all people have a right to participate in government, either through voting or office, and that "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."

I think the US does a decent job of this, although campaign finance may be seen as a prohibitive factor. Regardless Singapore fails. In the most recent election individuals were barred from running at the discretion of the government in power at the time. As such the will of the Singaporean people was not exercised.

The twenty-second article protects social security.

Who knew? Both have a decent record here. For now.

The twenty-third and twenty-fourth are worker's rights: choice of job, equal pay for equal work, choice to join trade unions. The latter ensures rest and leisure time, and reasonable working hours.

The role of unions in both countries is a bit delicate, to put it nicely. As for equal pay for equal work the US fails since women are still payed .75 on the dollar for equivalent male work. I'm not sure if there's a discrepancy in Singapore.

Then again both countries probably have illegal labor, most countries do. But, again, both governments make a serious effort to crack down on sweatshop conditions.

Number twenty-five maintains an adequate state of living, including medical care, along with guaranteeing disability and other protections for those who are unable to provide for themselves. Kids born out of wedlock still are entitled to all basic rights.

Both Singapore and the US do a good job with these provisions.

Article twenty-six demands a free, elementary compulsory education, of the parent's choice. Interestingly this education must: "promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace."

I'm guessing both would have passed until you get to the latter part. I know there are schools in the US where conservative teachers badmouth the UN. I'm glad to know that they should be fired. As for Singapore I don't know what their relation to the UN is. I'd imagine it's a little strained, given their human rights abuses.

Number twenty-seven is a little odd to me. It guarantees cultural rights, such as the enjoyment of the arts. The second part, however, protects "right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author."

I'm not sure if any author on earth actually has the moral rights of their work. Material, sure. Moral? How do enforce that? At any rate both countries are fine, excepting, of course, Singapore's ban on free speech and self-censoring journalists.

Twenty-eighth, to me, is repetitive. It entitles all people to having a social order wherein these rights are observed.

However, now that we've seen what the rights are, I'd say the Singaporean people, and to a lesser extent the citizens of America, are being failed on these counts. So far the US is currently in breach of 5 points they've sworn to uphold, whereas Singapore has violated the international agreement in 9 places.

Penultimately, the twenty-ninth declares that in league with the ideals of the UN "In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society." In other words, 'your rights end where my rights begin' in a democratic society.

Both countries are democracies of limited functioning status(the US system allows only the wealthy the run and Singapore is setting up dangerous precedents of a future dictatorship by barring candidates). If we ignore this, then we must ask whether both uphold morality, public order, and general welfare. Here I'm again wary: whose morality do we uphold? But the UN has anticipated this: it clearly states that it must be in accordance to the principles of the UN. In this case both fail. Neither country insists upon a morality that is consistent with the UN's ideals. If they did there'd be no social conservatives in either state.

Lastly, article thirty wisely points out that no one at any level can interpret any of the above articles as allowing for the destruction of the rights and freedoms the declaration has set forth to advance.

The US and Singapore both are guilty and innocent of this. They are both guilty in that neither has upheld more than roughly 2/3 of the articles. Both are innocent of the specific charge, however, since they don't interpret the articles in the manner described.

Rather both openly and defiantly flaunt their choices to not uphold the most important and inspirational humanist document ever written. Singapore doesn't give a damn that it's people aren't free to speak their mind, while a cowardly un-democratic government hides behind 'security' as the vicious stand-by for ensuring compliance through a biased judiciary. The US is slightly better, now that Bush's human right's violations are the stuff of nightmares past. But still the democratic system is replete with corruption and gerrymandering, not to mention being too influenced by wealth. Neither country treats gays as less than second-hand citizens. Both have the death penalty.

So there you have it, with a final score of US with 7 atrocities and Singapore with 10 affronts to humanity. Almost makes you feel proud.

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