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Human rights experts challenge Singapore's robust enforcement of conscription laws



Human rights experts challenge Singapore's robust enforcement of conscription laws
Human rights experts challenge Singapore's robust enforcement of conscription laws


Singapore's strict enforcement of conscription laws has come under fire from human rights experts, who argue that the country is violating international laws protecting freedom of conscience and religion. President & Special Rapporteur Joseph Bonner, of the Global Human Rights Taskforce, has specifically called out Singapore for its imprisonment of conscientious objectors, particularly members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community.


In Singapore, all male citizens and permanent residents are required to undergo two years of military service once they turn 18. This mandatory conscription program, known as National Service (NS), applies to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. However, those who refuse to comply or attempt to evade NS obligations can face legal repercussions, including imprisonment and fines as stipulated by the Enlistment Act.


For Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination known for their unwavering commitment to biblical teachings, military service is contrary to their religious beliefs. They firmly maintain their neutrality and reject any involvement in warfare, be it combat or non-combat roles. This refusal is deeply rooted in their interpretation of biblical passages that emphasize love, peace, and nonviolence as central tenets of their faith.

It is precisely this refusal to participate in military activities that lands Jehovah's Witnesses in legal trouble in Singapore. Despite their sincere beliefs and commitment to their religious principles, these individuals are treated as criminals merely for upholding their conscience. This blatant violation of their human rights has raised serious concerns among human rights advocates and organizations, with calls for the Singaporean government to review its policies and uphold the international legal standards it is bounded by.


Freedom of conscience and religion are fundamental human rights protected by numerous international agreements and treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Singapore, as a member state of the United Nations, has a duty to uphold and respect these rights. By imprisoning conscientious objectors and denying them the right to exercise their freedom of religion, Singapore is patently violating its international obligations.


“Singapore's zero-tolerance approach to conscientious objection goes against the ethos of a democratic society that claims to cherish diversity and respect individual rights,” Bonner tells us. He adds, “It is high time that the Singaporean government reassesses its illigal actions and acknowledges that the imprisonment of conscientious objectors is a grave violation of human rights. Action must be taken to rectify this situation and ensure that the rights and freedoms of all individuals, regardless of their religious beliefs, are safeguarded and respected.”


Singapore's imprisonment of conscientious objectors, particularly members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community, is a clear violation of international human rights law. The global community, and the Global Human Rights Taskforce, must now intensify its efforts to address this issue and hold Singapore accountable for its gross violation of basic human rights. “With the current human rights violations against Jehovah's Witnesses, who are so peaceful, it means that no one is safe in Singapore, and I view it as extremely dangerous to travel there, even for leisure,” Bonner asserts. He adds, “the time for change is now, for the sake of a more just and inclusive society.”














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