Human Rights in Singapore - Transgressions of the Dominant Western Concept of Human Rights

27 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2001

See all articles by Katja Funken

Katja Funken

University of Munich School of Law

Date Written: January 2001


This essay analyses the Singaporean view of human rights and its tenability in the context of the city-state's ethnic background, culture and economic development. After a brief description of the dominant Western view of human rights and Singapore's attitude towards human rights treaties, it examines individual practices in Singapore that have been criticized for transgressing human rights.

Next this essay elaborates on the government arguments that allegedly justify those practises. These arguments are the need for cultural relativism and the Trade-Off Hypothesis. Although cultural relativism is generally acceptable, it will be contended that neither the government's reference to Asian values nor to Confucianism can justify its Authoritarian rule. With respect to the Trade-Off-Hypothesis, it will be shown that this theory lacks a sustainable economic basis.

Accordingly, this paper will conclude that the government's justifications for its approach towards human rights are insufficient. It will therefore be recommended that the Singaporean government relax its authoritarian rule and consider the selective incorporation of international human rights standards. Selective incorporation will allow the country to retain its national identity and cultural values while maintaining prosperous relations with the West.

Suggested Citation

Funken, Katja, Human Rights in Singapore - Transgressions of the Dominant Western Concept of Human Rights (January 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Katja Funken (Contact Author)

University of Munich School of Law ( email )

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Institute of International Law
Munich, 80539
+49 89 2180 - 3331 (Phone)
+49 89 2180 - 3796 (Fax)

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