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(Hong Kong: 9
December 2003) The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor is disappointed by
the Chief Executive’s appointment of Mrs. Patricia CHU YEUNG
Pak-yu, the former Deputy Director of Social Welfare, as the new
Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), contrary to
the strongly held views of non-government organizations (NGOs).
including the Human Rights Monitor, have expressed the view that the
new EOC Chairperson should have a strong background in human rights
work. We also oppose the appointing of a retired civil servant for
One of the EOC’s functions is to combat discrimination and handle related complaints. As the key public policy maker and the largest employer in Hong Kong, the Government is a key target for the EOC to monitor. Retired government officials have deep and long-term relationships with the Government and its officials, and close relationship with policies and government measures. It is therefore inevitable for the public to ask whether the EOC could monitor the Government independently and impartially when the chairperson is a retired civil servant. We are therefore extremely doubtful that a former official can remain independent and impartial while monitoring the works of the Government. It is even worse to appoint a retired senior civil servant to head the EOC when the public suspects that the Government is attempting to undermine the activism in the EOC developed in those days under the leadership of its ex-chairperson Ms. Anna WU.
In discussing how to maintain independence of human rights watchdogs such as the EOC, the authors of the Paris Principles have expressed great reservations in allowing government officials to serve in such bodies. These principles stress that if government representatives are appointed, they can only “participate in the deliberations only in an advisory capacity”1. Although the Principles are silent on ex-civil servants, it is obvious that appointing those who have strong ties with the Government is definitely not in the interest of maintaining the independence of the relevant watchdogs. The watchword of the Paris Principles is “independence”, as reinforced by the UN General Assembly’s words reaffirming “the importance of developing, in accordance with national legislation, effective national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights and of ensuring the pluralism of their membership and their independence.”2
Mrs. CHU worked at the Social Welfare Department (SWD) for 34 years. During her time at the SWD, Mrs. CHU did not do anything significant to promote and defend minority rights, nor does she have any strong human rights background or training. Therefore, the Human Rights Monitor openly urges Mrs. CHU to show us her commitment to equal opportunities and human rights by concrete actions. The Monitor also urges Mrs. CHU to meet with NGOs as soon as possible to share her vision as the new EOC Chairperson and her work plan for the coming year.
In recent years, the Government has repeatedly appointed incumbent and retired civil servants to head independent watchdogs. Shortly before appointing Mrs. Patricia CHU as the EOC Chairperson, the Chief Executive appointed Mr. Benjamin TANG Kwok-bun, former Commissioner of Insurance, to be the Director of Audit. The appointment has triggered serious criticisms from the Legislative Council for much the same reasons as noted above: He lacked the expertise required for the new post and had too close a relationship with the Government as a former civil servant. These problematic appointments cast doubts as to the Government’s determination to maintain the independence of watchdog bodies, and in fact foster the impression that the Government’s aim is to undermine the independence of such bodies and to emasculate the functions of them.
The Monitor urges the Legislative Council to inquire into the structure and the operations of the EOC and to come up with recommendations in line with the Paris Principles after consulting NGOs and other interested parties. We hope such reviews will lead to reforms to enhance the independence of the EOC and pluralism of its membership, to the formulation and publication of proper criteria for selection of its chairperson and members, to an open and fair recruitment process, and to a transparent mode of operation which is accountable to the public, thus avoiding the “black box” phenomenon as demonstrated by the appointment and brief tenure of office by the retired Mr. Justice Michael WONG.
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1 G.A. Res. 48, 85th Plenary Meeting, U.N. Doc. A/RES/48/134 (1993); http://www.hkhrm.org.hk/database/english/assembly.html
2 Id. See, preamble (emphasis added).