67 Ms Sylvia Lim asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he can elaborate on the considerations that led to Singapore recording an abstention on the United Nations General Assembly vote on 7 April 2022 concerning the suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has undermined the global order. It subverts the basic rules and norms for how all countries, big or small, interact with one another. This flagrant violation of the United Nations (UN) Charter is dangerous for all countries, but especially for small states like Singapore.
Our very existence as a sovereign state, with territorial integrity and independence to chart our own destiny, will be threatened if the international rule of law can be abandoned or obstructed so cavalierly. A UN Security Council Resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had failed to pass because of a Russian veto. The dangerous precedent that ‘might makes right’ is not a theoretical but an existential issue for a small state like Singapore.
That is why Singapore has taken a strong stand to condemn the invasion and imposed targeted sanctions on Russia. We co-sponsored and voted in support of two UN General Assembly Resolutions on the “Aggression against Ukraine”, and the “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine”. We also co-sponsored a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution on the “Situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”, which was adopted by an overwhelming majority on 4 March 2022.
Ms Sylvia Lim has asked why we abstained at the subsequent UN General Assembly vote on 7 April 2022 concerning the suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the HRC.
We abstained because of the need to comply with due process at the UN. A key outcome of the HRC Resolution that Singapore co-sponsored was to establish an Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine. On 30 March 2022, the President of the HRC appointed three experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia and Norway to serve on the Commission initially for a year. Headed by the international jurist from Norway, the Commission will conduct investigations and make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures. The Commission will report its initial findings to the HRC and UN General Assembly at their 51st and 77th Sessions respectively beginning in September 2022. Singapore supports the Commission, and we expect accountability for any gross and systematic human rights violations committed during the war in Ukraine.
We would have preferred for a decision on the Russian Federation’s membership of the HRC to be made after the Commission reports its findings. Procedurally, this would set the proper precedent in terms of independent fact-gathering and support for the findings of a UN HRC-mandated Commission. This is consistent with Singapore’s longstanding support for the rules-based multilateral system and the UN, and the due application of its mechanisms and procedures. Our abstention was thus a principled one. It is consistent with our position throughout this crisis not to take sides, but to take a stand based on principles, international law and the UN Charter.
Let me take this opportunity to say that we are very concerned about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We are especially disturbed and distressed by media reports of indiscriminate destruction of civilian infrastructure, the killing of civilians especially children and the discovery of mass graves in some cities of Ukraine. I call on all parties, and this includes the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian authorities, to fully cooperate with the independent UN HRC Commission and to allow full and unhindered access for it to conduct its work. The unhindered work of this Commission is crucial for the credibility and effectiveness of the HRC and the UN.
I also want to express Singapore’s full support for the work of the UN and its agencies to provide humanitarian support and to find a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in New York in March 2022 where he met UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and received an update on the situation in Ukraine. He expressed our support for the work of the UN and the Secretary-General. We also welcome the recent visits to Moscow and to Kyiv by the Secretary-General. We believe that the good offices of the Secretary-General will be crucial in this crisis, especially in facilitating the creation of humanitarian corridors and in delivering much needed assistance to the people of Ukraine.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
9 May 2022