Government against all forms of discrimination
I refer to your editorial of November 22, headlined, 'Far from equality'.
The Government is committed to the promotion of equal opportunities for all and is opposed to all forms of discrimination. We think racial discrimination is more effectively addressed through educational and administrative means than through legislation. We have explained this publicly on many occasions and, more recently, did so in detail in our report to the United Nations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which we published in mid-October.
Hong Kong does have legislation against all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination, in the form of the Bill of Rights Ordinance: this applies to the Government and to all public bodies. Indeed, we are one of the relatively few jurisdictions that have a written Bill of Rights. Other provisions in the ordinance and elsewhere also establish the principle of racial equality.
It is true that we have so far not legislated against discrimination between private parties. But the countries that introduced such laws at an early stage were, to a large extent, facing the more serious forms of racism that have never been a problem in Hong Kong.
Those problems are still with them today. None of them have emerged here. Overseas experience shows that whatever the merits of legislation, it is clearly not a panacea.
In Hong Kong, the issue was thoroughly and publicly debated in June 1997 when the Legislative Council voted to reject the Equal Opportunities (Race) Bill.
The results of public consultations have indicated no general support for legislation in this area, though they have indicated unanimous support for the use of educational means to address the issues.
Follow-up exercises have indicated the climate of public opinion remains largely unchanged.
The fact remains that Hong Kong, one of the world's most compact communities, is a tolerant and cosmopolitan society where persons of every race, colour and nationality live together in a remarkable degree of harmony. Racial discrimination is not a significant problem here. Nevertheless, our minds are not closed and we shall keep the situation in view.
Pending any significant change of circumstances, we will persist with our efforts to raise public consciousness of the issues and, through continuing administrative measures and educational initiatives, to foster a culture of mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.
Acting Secretary for Home Affairs