Expatriates continue to rank Singapore as the top place to live in Asia, above Hong Kong and many other cities. The city-state is economically strong and environmentally safe, when compared with many other cities in Asia. But when it comes to rights issues, Singapore lags behind in a number of areas. Naomi Martig reports on how Singapore has managed to attract its expatriate population, despite its restrictions on some civil liberties.
Singapore's reputation as one of Asia's best economic performers continues to attract a large number of foreigners to it shores. Nearly one-third of its 4.6 million residents were born in other countries.
The country's economy grew 7.5 percent in 2007. Its financial service sector is strong, its education system is considered among the best in the world and it is regularly ranked as a favorite among expatriates living in Asia.
A new report by ECA International, the world's largest organization for international human resource professionals, says Singapore maintains the highest quality of life for foreigners in Asia.
Lee Quane is general manager of ECA International in Hong Kong. He says the group's annual report compared living standards in 254 locations, globally.
"Singapore comes in as number one because of the fact, unlike other Asian cities where we indicate their infrastructure levels are of a developing status and they score quite poorly in some areas such a health care, such as infrastructure and such as pollution levels. Singapore, on the other hand, scored exceptionally well in all of these locations, comparable to many Western cities," said Quane.
Since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago, the city's economy has outperformed its rival, Hong Kong. It now holds one of the highest per capita gross domestic product in the world.
Quane says another major factor that makes Singapore attractive is its very low level of social unrest.
"It has very low crime rates, a complete absence of social and political tensions, which makes it very good location for Asian expatriates to reside in," added Quane.
However, having an absence of social and political tensions does not necessarily mean Singapore is free from human rights concerns.
In the ECA report, Singapore was outscored in one respect. Quane says, in terms of the media, cities such as Hong Kong far outranked Singapore.
There are tight limits on freedom of expression in Singapore. In 2007, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 141st out of 167 nations in its Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The government restricts public protests and censors films and television shows. And, critics of the government often find themselves facing tough libel lawsuits and other restrictions on their comments.
Homayoun Alizadeh is the regional representative for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights in Thailand. He says Singapore's effort to sustain social stability has often led to excessive censorship.
"Last year, for example, when the World Bank had its international conference in Singapore, some of the Singaporean civil society organizations intended to carry out a demonstration, express their views. But, of course, they were not allowed to have these kinds of activities," said Alizadeh.
Analysts say, for most expatriates living in Singapore, these sorts of rights issues are not a concern, because the problems have not yet reached a point where they severely affects their lives.
Alizadeh says Singapore is trying to improve its rights record. For example, he says officials in the country were instrumental in establishing a human rights commission within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"Singapore played a major role, especially when the charter was signed in [on] 20th November 2007 in Singapore, in convincing countries like Burma, Myanmar, to ensure that the ASEAN Charter is signed, especially in regards to the provision Article 14 regarding the commitment of ASEAN member states to establish an ASEAN human rights body," continued Alizadeh.
Several rights groups argue that the new human rights body does not do enough to address concerns in the region. But Alizadeh says Singapore's push to create the commission is significant, because the country's officials realize that making progress on human rights is key for long-term stability. And, the Singapore government considers stability as essential for building a safe and economically prosperous city.