Let's draw a clear line in the law on race bias

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 December, 1993, 12:00am

I REFER to recent coverage of incidents of apparent discrimination against one of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities. With a growing number of foreigners finding employment in Hong Kong, it is time the Government reviewed its policy on racial discrimination.

Hong Kong is bound by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The Government's Twelfth Report on implementation of the Convention states: ''The Government, satisfied that racial discrimination is not a problem in Hong Kong, has not considered it necessary to introduce any law aimed at eradicating racially discriminatory behaviour and practices.'' The Government is bound by Royal Instructions from giving assent to any bill subjecting persons of non-European birth to liabilities to which those of European birth would not be subject. The operative understanding of the Government is thus, that discrimination is a matter between Europeans and Asians.

The Hong Kong Bill of Rights assures everyone equality before the law, But CERD calls on parties to the Convention to enact a general legal framework in which racial discrimination is defined. So far, the Government has failed to do this.

What the Government is overlooking is that the problem of racial discrimination is not limited to bias between Europeans and Asians but can be just as much a problem between other ethnic groups that make up Hong Kong's population.

The Twelfth Report acknowledges, for example, the large number of Filipino overseas contract workers now living among us. It states that they are given the same employment protections as local workers. Yet it fails to address other areas in which Filipinos and other migrants have been unfairly treated.

Racial discrimination goes beyond the economic level and usually masquerades in the guise of regular processes of decision-making. It can be justified by any number of innocent-sounding and perfectly reasonable concerns. Indeed, it may not even be intended. What we need to realise is that some policies, though not discriminatory in their intentions, may have the effect of curbing the freedoms of a particular ethnic group. In this case, they become discriminatory, regardless of their expressed good intentions.

Racial discrimination is generally so insidious that, in order to be rooted out effectively, it must be brought to light by deliberate action. Current Government policy is out of date, as it is based on an understanding of discrimination that, while significant, affects very few people day-to-day. Real circumstances have changed. Therefore, most Government action on this issue is overdue and it is time to implement CERD by enacting legislation defining and prescribing racial discrimination. SIMON S.

O. IPLegislative Councillor CERTAIN sectors of our community appear to have lost all semblance of rational thinking and objectivity.

Pray, tell me, where is the racism in a certain category of people being asked to comply with a certain requirement? Maids consist of various nationalities, it so happens the Filipinas dominate.

There are exclusive clubs in this city where maids are designated certain areas and quite clear notices are put up to this effect. Will the indignant do-gooders next suggest that the maids now be allowed to sip Gins and Tonic in the Members' Bar? In Hong Kong, they are employed as maids and so, what is all this indignation about asking servants - yes, that's what they are and that does not make their contribution any less valuable in their own right - from being asked to use the service lift? Themaids are not, and ought not to be, part of the employer's family.

It is pathetic that some indignant socialites have declared elsewhere in the South China Morning Post (December 9) ''what if they really go back? I am totally reliant on my maid, I wouldn't know what to do without her''. Well, horror, we may have to revert to the ''old-fashioned'' family values where parents had their priorities right and actually brought up their children.

It is a sad state of affairs that some employers choose to make their maids surrogate ''everything-else-except-maids''. Experienced colonials, unlike the nouveau-expatriates, knew how to employ staff and treat them well, without going overboard.

It is even more sad where Hong Kong in the last few years has become such a scrap heap of so-called cosmopolitanism that there is a very real danger of it losing - if it has not already done so - its very ''Chineseness''. Because, in the final analysis, it is a Chinese city and anyone who does not respect the Chinese way, or understand a colonial lifestyle, really ought to leave, without even being told to do so. MINA KAYE Mid-Levels