UN rights body hits out at SAR over poverty

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2001, 12:00am

Poverty in Hong Kong and the Government's lack of a strategy to tackle it has drawn concern from a UN human rights watchdog.

In its first report since the handover, the UN Committee on the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also said the Government's failure to outlaw racial discrimination was a breach of the covenant. It also regretted that some judgments of the High Court had expressed the opinion that the covenant was 'promotional' or 'aspirational' in nature, emphasising that such opinions were based on a mistaken understanding of the legal obligations of the covenant.

The Government was asked to produce another report in 2003.

The committee compiled its report after a hearing attended by Hong Kong Government officials in Geneva last month.

It expressed concern at a lack of a strategy to tackle 'widespread and unacceptable incidences of poverty'.

'The committee is deeply concerned that the HKSAR lacks adequate, institutional arrangements to ensure the formulation and implementation of comprehensive, integrated, consistent and effective anti-poverty strategies.'

It called on the Government to establish an inter-departmental or independent commission to formulate strategies and policies to help the poor.

And it urged more social security spending, with Comprehensive Social Security Assistance being raised.

Particular attention was drawn to people living in squatter areas, rooftop huts and cage homes.

The Mandatory Provident Fund scheme was inadequate in providing retirement protection for everyone, the report said. It said housewives, the self-employed, elderly people and those with disabilities should be protected under a wider pension scheme.

The committee also expressed regret at the absence of action on recommendations made in its last report in 1996, which called on the colonial government to ban discrimination based on sexulo orientation and age, to set up a human rights body and to provide greater protection to the labour force.

However, it expressed satisfaction at the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1996 and the Women's Commission in January.

Yesterday, a spokesman said the Government would consider the committee's recommendations and take action to prepare another report.

It was not unusual for the committee to ask for a report out of its normal five-year cycle, he said. The move coincided with obligations laid on China, which has to ratify the covenant on June 27. An initial report has to be submitted two years after ratification.

But the director of the Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, said it was rare for the committee to use such strong wording in commenting on the Government's failure to outlaw racial discrimination.

Democrat James To Kun-sun believed the strong response by the committee would pressure the Government to follow up on its recommendations. Emily Lau Wai-hing, of The Frontier, called for more resources to implement the suggestions.