All Countries Singapore

2020 RLLR 150

Citation: 2020 RLLR 150
Tribunal: Refugee Protection Division
Date of Decision: January 23, 2020
Panel: Daniel Carens-Nedelsky
Counsel for the Claimant(s): (no information available)
Country: Singapore
RPD Number: MB9-04322
Associated RPD Number(s): N/A
ATIP Number: A-2022-00210
ATIP Pages: 000075-000082

[1]       MEMBER: This is the decision in the claim for refugee protection of XXXX(ph.) XXXX XXXX XXXX under file MB9-04322 and I note for the record that the claimant’s name in her passport is XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX. The claimant is a transgender woman and prefers to go by XXXX. So, that is how I identified her, but wanted to clarify that distinction. And you are claiming to be a citizen of Singapore and are claiming refugee protection pursuant to s. 96 and s. 97 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.


[2]       Your full allegations are set out in your basis of claim form and attached narrative. In brief, you fear the treatment you would receive in military detention due to your failure to report for mandatory military service. You also (inaudible) the treatment you would receive during the military service after your detention and your narrative briefly talks also about your fear in general of the treatment you would face by society at large as a transgender woman.


[3]       I find that you are a Convention refugee for the following reasons.


[4]       I find that you have established your personal identity and your nationality, on a balance of probabilities, through your documentary evidence – in particular, your Singaporean passport – as well through your credible testimony.


[5]       I find that you have a nexus to the Convention as a member of a particular social group, specifically as a transgender woman fearing persecution due to your gender identity.


[6]       You testified in a spontaneous and forthcoming manner without any inconsistencies or omissions and I therefore accept as true what you have alleged here today and in your basis of claim form.

[7]       You credibly testified about your experience transitioning here in Canada and this was consistent with the story you provided in your basis of claim form. You talked about the depression you felt prior to your transition, your first time disclosing that you were transgender to a woman you were dating in high school, about talking with a counsellor and beginning hormone therapy for your transition and how this improved your mood, as well as about your family situation. And you supported this with documents, including two letters from XXXX XXXX XXXX (ph.) that discuss the medical treatments you have received as well as from your counsellor, XXXX XXXX (ph.), describing the improvement in your XXXX health throughout your transition. And both of these individuals speak to their fear of your worsening XXXX situation if you were to return to Singapore.

[8]       And based on your credible testimony, I find that you have a subjective fear of returning too Singapore.

Objective Basis

[9]       Your most significant fear that you identified was the fear of the treatment you would receive if you were to return and were forced into detention for having failed to appear for the mandatory military service as required. And I find that this fear is supported in the documentary evidence.

[10]     And so, I turn first to the question of whether you would in fact be considered a deserter. And here, you submitted evidence, C-6, a document from XXXX XXXX XXXX (ph.), a Singaporean native who is a professor at XXXX XXXX in China, and he states – sorry, I jumped forward. The first question is whether you would in fact be required to engage in mandatory military service, which is required of all men in Singapore. And so, the letter from XXXX XXXX XXXX that I just began states that,

“Singapore legally recognises the sex change that post-op transgender individuals have gone through.”

[11]     And so, then he writes that the treatment that you would likely face depends on whether you are classified as female or male, and that if you are still considered by the Singaporean government as male, you would continue to be obligated to enlist and serve your mandatory time in the military. And this is also supported by the quick response for information that I disclosed that was a research undertaken by the IRB. It cites a 2016 Guardian article from the United Kingdom that states that,

“A transgender woman who had not undergone reassignment surgery was expected to continue to participate in military service, although that those who had undergone reassignment were not.”

[12]     And the same quite response includes a document from what I understand to be a Singaporean Transgender Support website. It’s not an official documentation, but nonetheless evidence that states that in order to legally change your sex in Singapore, you have to get a medical examination report form, filled by a medical expert, that says that you have “completely changed your genitalia from male to female or vice versa. And, again, not the most reliable of documents, but I found that was generally consistent with the rest of the information in the package regarding how Singaporean society and official institutions approach the issue of transgender individuals.

[13]     And in your case, you credibly testified and provided documentary evidence to state that you had started hormone therapy and transitioning socially, but that you have not had any gender affirmation surgery.

[14]     And so, I therefore do find that, on a balance of probabilities, you would legally be considered a man by the Singaporean military and would be forced to enlist.

[15]     And so, this now turns to the second question of whether you would likely face detention or jail time as a result of your failure to enlist. And a 2015 Response to Information Request at Tab 8.2 of the National Documentation Package references a 2012 statement by the Ministry of Defence that states that Ministry will “‘press for … custodial sentence[s] on … defaulter[s]’ based on the length of the default period…” And in this case, you would refer – meet the situation set in there as a shorter jail sentence for someone who has defaulted in a period in excess of two years but is young enough to serve your full operational service.

[16]     The same RIR is somewhat unclear on the total number of individuals who in fact do serve time. It references a number of deserters in the low hundreds, then references another news article that says only five individuals are facing it. It references a further one that states nineteen conscientious objectors, who are all Jehovah’s Witnesses, are in fact in jail for failing to doit.

[17]     I asked you about this document and you very credibly testified that your experience growing up in Singapore was that your sense is that individuals who did evade their service were in fact often prosecuted and were forced into jail times [sic]. I note that the same RIR references two specific cases where individuals were sentenced to jail time and successfully appealed and the Court overturned it and substituted a fine.

[18]     I note that XXXX XXXX XXXX letter at C-16, as well as some of the other documents, do suggest that the default rule would in fact be jail time served for failing to enlist.

[19]     And so, considering all of this evidence as a whole and that the Ministry of Defence itself has indicated that their approach is in fact to prosecute and push for jail time for those who have avoided enlisting for more than two years, a situation you find yourself in now, I find that there is a serious possibility that you would be forced to serve as a result of your failure to enlist as required.

[20]     And so, I now tum to the treatment that you fear you would receive if you were to serve (inaudible) and there is limited information based on the experience of transgender individuals in Singapore. In fact, the Quick Response contains no information on this, saying that it [sic] just could not find any information. And I note that a partial explanation for that is in the quick response itself that states – it cites an article that states that the Singaporean government does not keep official statistics on transgender people, which makes it hard to categorise precisely the harms that they face. And so, this is, to my understanding, a very clear reason why it’ s hard to get specific information of this.

[21]     But your counsel put forward a number of harms that you specifically fear would happen if you were to go to prison and these include being forced to shave your hair, be referred to by your male name, be forced to wear male clothes, be refused the hormones you are currently being provided, a significant risk of harm to your psychological well-being, as well as a significant risk of mistreatment by fellow inmates as well as guards.

[22]     In support of the first three risks, your counsel pointed to XXXX XXXX XXXX letter as well as Document C-7, that XXXX XXXX XXXX refers to, titled “Life in the Barracks: What You Can Expect,” and this is from the Criminal Justice Club at the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore. Again, although not a perfect source, it is the best evidence I have available and it discusses exactly those harms that counsel alluded to as to the treatment that you would expect for failing to enlist, including having to shave your head, having to share a small cell with two other cisgender men.

[23]     In support of your XXXX well-being, I have the letters from XXXX XXXX XXXX and your counsellor that discuss the extremely harmful effect the situation would have as well as I have your own credible testimony about how you feel that such a situation would affect you if you were forced to shave your head, if you were force to spend time in the situation.

[24]     And regarding the mistreatment from fellow inmates, you have submitted documents from the US at C-8, from the UK at C-9, and from Australia at C-12, that all discuss the situation of transgender individuals and, more specifically, often transgender women in prison. And these documents all discuss the very high risk of physical and sexual violence that transgender women face in prison from fellow inmates as well as from the guards. And, I’ve noted, there is no evidence of this directly in the documentary evidence for the Quick Response.

[25]     And I now refer to the report by Ben Lee Yee (ph.), Invisible, Yet Visible. In the Quick Response, it states that there are no official statistics on transgender people. That makes collecting the data on the situation of trans individuals very difficult. And I appreciate there is a significant cultural difference between generally Western societies and Singapore. Nonetheless, I find these articles highly persuasive in terms of what the situation could reasonably be expected to be.

[26]     And furthermore, the risk of mistreatment is supported by the pervasive negative attitudes in Singapore towards LGBT individuals. And in support of this is C-14, a letter from Professor Yu (ph.), which references a recent report that states that only 11 per cent of Singaporeans approve of same-sex relationships, and this is a significant increase from an earlier report, but still a very low number.

[27]     As well as the claimant’s document at C-12, a 2012 report regarding LGBTQ individuals in Singapore – and it notes – that report consistently finds that trans women, of all LGBTQ individuals, faced the highest incidence of harassment and discrimination against an already marginalised group.

[28]     And so, considering all of these documents together, the specific standard rules that you would be forced to follow, the documentary evidence that Singapore is a very by-the-book and rules oriented society that very rarely is able to make exemptions for individuals who don’t fit the specific neat boxes, thus you would be forced to follow all these situations.

[29]     The very significant psychological and emotional harm that these incidences would put you through as well as the very real risk of physical and sexual violence that such a situation would put you in – I find that, overall, there is a serious possibility of persecution and therefore that there is an objective basis to your claim.

State Protection

[30]     The harm that you fear is by the State of Singapore itself and, as discussed above in the documents, that it is in fact often the prison authorities are unable or unwilling or active persecutors of trans women in prison. And I find, on a balance of probabilities, that adequate State protection would not be available to you if you were to return.

Internal Flight Alternative

[31]     Singapore is a very small country and its laws are in effect across the whole country. And so, I find that you would face a serious possibility of persecution throughout Singapore and therefore that you do not have an internal flight alternative available to you.


[32]     I find that you face a serious possibility of persecution as a result of being a transgender woman and being forced to enlist in military service and the treatment you would receive, likely receive, in the detention centre.

[33]     As I found that you face a serious possibility of persecution for those reasons, I have not considered the risk that you would face in serving in the military or from society at large after.

[34]     And, overall, your claim is accepted.

— Decision concluded