Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Campaign for Legislation against Racial Discrimination

Twenty-nine and a half years ago, the United Kingdom extended the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to Hong Kong. It requires all State Parties to "condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all forms and promoting understanding among all races." The Government is bound by the CERD to legislate against racial discrimination.

The Government has consistently failed to do anything to legislate against this. It often uses the excuse that it will be promoting public education on racial discrimination. However, when Legislative Councillor, Christine Loh, tabled a question asking the Government, (in respect of public education on racial discrimination), whether any programmes are going to be launched during the year 1999-2000, what the funds allocated or to be allocated to these programmes amounted to, and what funds were available for the application by non-government organizations for implementing such public education programmes, Acting Secretary for Home Affairs, Peter Lo, indicated in his written reply that they would be formulating a suitable programme of activities for implementation in 1999/2000, and they would be looking into funding arrangements, meaning that up till now no funding has been planned for the coming year.

Another justification for not legislating as reiterated time and again by Peter Lo, is that the Home Affairs Bureau has for the past twelve months embarked on a series of district consultations, and that the overall message is that the human rights situation in Hong Kong is not serious and basically there is no need for legislation. One of the staff members of Human Rights Monitor attended one of these district consultations, along with a social worker from the Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service who also wanted to attend the district consultation in her district but was repeatedly put off by the Home Affairs Bureau until it was too late. The district consultation was held on November 10th 1998 in the Wan Chai District. One of the first things that was noticeable was that most people there knew each other, and as it later turned out, they were part of the Wan Chai District Committee with only one Korean businessman who seemed impartial. Vocal members in Wan Chai who formed the Movement Against Discrimination were deliberately not invited.

The comments made at that meeting were certainly disgraceful. Two members said that they belonged to an Incorporated Owner's Committee in a building and said that most of the time complaints did not constitute discrimination. It was just that sometimes the Filipinos were too noisy, so it was more a case of dislike of their attitude. The only foreigner on the panel, the Korean man, said he felt that there was no discrimination since he employed Nepalese as well as Filipinos in his company at the same rate as the local Chinese, so there was no problem at all. When the Chairperson of the consultation was asked where the representation of this meeting was, she replied that there was the staff member from Human Rights Monitor as well as the social worker from the Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service. This is indeed laughable, since these exact two people repeatedly insisted on attending one of these district consultations, and it was not until Peter Lo was confronted that they were allowed to join in.

Besides, Human Rights Monitor learns that in at least one of the districts apart from Wan Chai, a government official was told to invite individuals who were likely to be favourable to the government stance to attend the consultation.

In view of the lack of action on the part of the Government, Human Rights Monitor has joined forces with other non-governmental organizations to press the issue of racial discrimination. The joint group is called Hong Kong Against Racial Discrimination (HARD). This joint group includes groups such as the Indian Resources Group, United Muslim Association of HK, Far East Overseas Nepalese Association, Friends of Thai in Hong Kong, United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Movement Against Discrimination, Bethune Migrant Women's Refuge Centre, Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service and a Sri Lankan group. This diverse group along with Legislative Councillor Christine Loh have united to highlight and lobby for the implementation of a law to prohibit racial discrimination. A high-profile campaign was seen to be needed along with the lobbying of the various Chambers of Commerce and the Chief Secretary Mrs. Anson Chan who was rumoured to be opposed to the idea of legislating. HARD, an anti-racism alliance, has been formed to fight what activists say is a rising tide of discrimination. The leaders of 12 social, political and religious groups got together to inaugurate the group on the 19th January 1999. HARD launched itself with a couple of case examples to highlight the fact that racial discrimination does exist and is serious, and that something needs to be done.

One of the cases used was that of a Filipino domestic helper who was hired by a family on the recommendation of a friend's helper. But a day after she was employed she was sacked. The employer told her it was because the family's four-year-old son did not like her, but asked the friend's helper why the woman she had recommended had such dark skin. "Are you sure she is Filipino, or is she an Indian or Sri Lankan?", the employer asked. When another helper was recommended and hired, the employer again complained about the darkness of her skin but kept her on when the friend's helper threatened to quit.

Another case involved a social worker who helped some Nepalese ladies to look for cleaning or dish-washing jobs. Many seemed keen to take them on or at least to interview them, but withdrew their offers or hung up the phone as soon as they learnt that they were Nepalese.

Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong continue to face difficulties and there is no change in the attitude and behaviour in Hong Kong. Without laws to outlaw discrimination, they have no recourse to justice. Pretending that the problem does not exist will not make it go away. HARD will continue to push for victims to come forward and to "tell their story" and make it known that racial discrimination is not just a figment of the imagination.

1999 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor