Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Japanese Tourists Need Rights Protection

Recent reports that Japanese tourists are being charged inflated prices by Hong Kong hotels highlight a gap in the law about which Human Rights Monitor has often condemned the Hong Kong Government.

Doubling some-one's hotel bill because they are Japanese (or Chinese, or British, or any other particular nationality or race), is unjust, immoral and racist. However, as the law stands now in Hong Kong it is not illegal, and the person victimised has absolutely no legal redress, unless the hotel happens to be owned or run by a public authority.

This illogical situation has arisen because of the refusal of successive Hong Kong Governments to enact a law outlawing racial discrimination in the private sector.

Under Hong Kong's Bill of Rights the law "shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (Bill of Rights, Article 22)."

However, Section 7 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance states that the Bill of Rights Ordinance (which contains the Bill of Rights) only binds "the Government and all public authorities, and any person acting on behalf of the Government or a public authority."

In the case of Tam Hing Yee v Wu Tai-Wai the Hong Kong Court of Appeal held that the meaning of Section 7 was that private individuals were not bound by the Bill of Rights.

Discrimination of grounds of sex has been largely outlawed by the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, brought into force last year. This makes it an offence to treat a person less favourably than another person on grounds of sex (save for specified limited exceptions).

However the Government has repeatedly refused to enact a similar law outlawing discrimination on grounds of race. It has ignored repeated criticisms from the United Nations and others. This is despite the fact that Hong Kong acceded over 23 years ago to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which requires signatories to eliminate discrimination on grounds of nationality race or ethnic origin. Most countries which are serious about their obligations under this agreement discharge their responsibilities through legislation.

An attempt was made to reverse the decision in Tam Hing Yee by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (Amendment) Ordinance passed on 30 June 1997. However the Hong Kong Government has suspended this ordinance and plans to restore the previous legal position, which leaves the private sector free to discriminate on grounds of race as much as it likes.

Recent reports about racial discrimination by Hong Kong hotels have shown how short-sighted the Government's policy is. These reports will certainly further damage Hong Kong's tourist industry, already in a serious recession, unless the Government takes effective steps to show Japanese and other visitors that this kind of discrimination will no longer be tolerated.

We call on the government to re-think its policies, and to make it both an offence and a civil wrong to treat a person less favourably on grounds of race or nationality when providing them with goods and services.

1998 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor