Press Release on Racial Discrimination

Press Release

30 October 1998

Representatives from Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor questioned the sincerity of the Hong Kong Government in the elimination of racial discrimination in a meeting with senior officials from the Home Affairs Bureau, the policy branch in charge of policies relating to human rights. Human Rights Monitor was surprised by Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Peter Lo's readiness in refusing all the proposals made by Human Rights Monitor.

Not only had the senior official refused to legislate as United Nations treaty bodies had recommended, he even rejected the proposal to require government funded schools and agencies to adopt and to adhere to the Code of Practice Against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Racial Discrimination, a non-legally binding document drafted and published by the Home Affairs Bureau.

"What's the point of issuing the Code of Practice to the private sector when the Bureau does not see it fit to require schools funded by public monies to adhere to the Code of Practice. This refusal is particularly objectionable in that the Government has for many years confidently held schools as an integral part of human rights education in Hong Kong but now finds it difficult to require educational institutions not to discriminate on the ground of race," said Law Yuk Kai, director of Human Rights Monitor. "This demonstrates the lack of commitment by the Government to combat racial discrimination whether by legislation or by education," said Law Yuk Kai.

Human Rights Monitor recommended the Government to require in its subsidy agreements with schools, social services agencies, and other employers receiving government subsidies to follow the Code of Practice. Similar conditions should be included in all government contracts that they enter into with private contractors, requiring the latter to adhere and follow the Code. Penalties should be enforced against violators of the Code. The MTR, KCR, etc., should also demonstrate their commitment to non-discrimination policy by adopting those rules and promote themselves as equal opportunity organizations. The Government should take advantage of its position as the sole owner of the railway companies, etc. and holders of quite a substantial portion of shares in companies like the Hong Kong Bank, to persuade these corporations to become equal opportunity organizations and adopt the Code.

"The Code has no legal force and its adoption by the private sector is purely voluntary. Mr. Lo's refusal to include it in government contracts and subsidy agreements has shown the Government's lack of real intention for its adoption by the private sector. The Code of Practice is nothing but a sham to deceive United Nations treaty bodies," criticized Law Yuk Kai.

Human Rights Monitor was amused to learn of Mr. Lo's confusion on the applicability of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance to private contractors working for the government. The Ordinance binds only the Government and public authorities and persons acting on their behalf, but not private contractors providing the Government with goods or services or engaging in public works. Human Rights Monitor deplored the lack of appreciation of the legal effect of the Bill of Rights Ordinance by the Deputy Secretary responsible for human rights.

Another important proposal raised by Human Rights Monitor was the need to legislate to prohibit acts of racial discrimination. Human Rights Monitor urged the Government to affirm its commitment to the obligations under various international human rights treaties, and pointed out that the Government has an obligation under international law to prohibit racial discrimination. In a society committed to the rule of law, in order to prohibit people to discriminate, there is no alternative but to legislate for such prohibition.

In response to Mr. Lo's defence that the Bill of Rights Ordinance has already prohibited the Government and public authorities to discriminate on the grounds of the race, Human Rights Monitor highlighted the United Nations Human Rights Committee's emphasis that under the international human rights covenant (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) "a State Party does not only have an obligation to protect individuals against violations by Government officials but also by private parties." The Committee has expressed its "deep concern" on "the absence of legislation providing effective protection against violations of Covenant rights by non-governmental actors."

Human Rights Monitor asked the Government to seek legal opinion on its obligation if it has any doubt as to its legal obligation, but reminded the Government that it is these UN treaty bodies which were the highest authorities of the obligation of the Government.

Human Rights Monitor realizes that the law alone cannot totally eliminate racial discrimination. But this is no excuse for allowing acts of gross and overt discrimination which the law can prevent or tackle. Human Rights Monitor found in the Government's unfounded argument that such equal opportunity legislation would lead to racial disharmony particularly objectionable. No existing equal opportunity legislation has ever led to disruption in social harmony. Similar predictions by the Government made in opposing the equal opportunity legislation in respect of sex, disability and family status have been defeated by actual experience.

1999 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

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