Legal experts have every right to comment on political reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2007, 12:00am

The notion that legal arguments are irrelevant to the discussion of political reform as espoused by Alex Chan ('Legal experts should steer clear of politics', October 27) is plain wrong.

The green paper on constitutional reform has a chapter, 'Constitutional Basis of Development and Principles of Design of the Political Structure' and reiterates that any political reform must conform to the Basic Law.

What is the Basic Law if not law?

In addition to the specific provisions of Article 45 and 68 of the Basic Law, there is the imperative in Article 39 of the Basic Law which incorporates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that restrictions on the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents under the ICCPR shall not contravene the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the authoritative elected body which was set up to monitor compliance with the ICCPR by states which ratify it.

Accession and ratification is voluntary but once done, states can hardly say with any credibility that they reject the views and recommendations of the very body established under the treaty to ensure that they comply with their obligations in the ICCPR. The process of the committee commenting on the states' periodic reports is what they sign up for when they ratify the ICCPR.

The government has omitted from the green paper any mention of the fact that the UNHRC has more than once stated unequivocally that Hong Kong's system of functional constituency elections to the Legislative Council does not comply with the ICCPR and that the reservation on which the government seeks to rely no longer applies.

Legal experts in the field of human rights law and in particular, existing or former members of the UNHRC most certainly do have a role to play in stating what complies and does not comply with the ICCPR.

If Alex Chan wishes to enlighten himself, he could read the UNHRC's General Comment on Article 25 of the ICCPR which sets out the principles of universal and equal suffrage.

Perhaps, then he would understand what the role of the law is in the discussion of political reform.

Gladys Li, Central