UN presses city over racism bill

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am

The clock is ticking for the government to account for its controversial Race Discrimination Bill and make revisions to any inadequacies, after the United Nations set a deadline for the administration to deliver its report.

In a letter sent last Friday to China's permanent mission to the UN, Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, chairwoman of the international body's Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, requested a report on Hong Kong's race bill to be submitted by July 1.

The letter also requested 'that a revision of the provisions that are not in line with requirements of the convention [for the elimination of racial discrimination] be initiated before July 19', the final date by which bills can be passed in the present legislative term.

The letter warned that if no report was received, its own 2009 report would be made purely based on the submissions of non-governmental organisations.

The letter comes in the wake of a visit to Geneva this month by NGOs, the Bar Association, and Legislative Council Bills Committee chairwoman Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who briefed UN officials on what they perceived as failings of the bill.

One of the controversial issues had been the government's decision to exempt itself from provisions of the bill. Last week, it said it would amend the bill to state that 'this ordinance binds the government'.

But the government has also stated that it does not intend to subject all its functions to the scrutiny of law, since this would render it vulnerable to litigation and divert resources unnecessarily.

Critics say such reasoning is an acknowledgement that its policies are discriminatory and that it wishes to continue discriminating.

In the letter, the UN committee noted 'the narrow definition of indirect discrimination in the bill and its limited applicability to actions of the public authorities and institutions, including immigration services and detention facilities'.

'The committee is also concerned about the omission from the bill of provisions on discrimination on the basis of nationality and residency status, which rules out the recognition of discrimination against immigrants newly arrived from the Chinese mainland, and the omission of provisions on indirect discrimination on the basis of language.'

A Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau spokesman said: 'The provisions are in line with our obligations under [the convention].'

Democratic Party member Yeung Sum urged the government to give a swift response to prevent any further action by the UN, such as being put on a watch list.

Yesterday, lawmakers slammed Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung for introducing an amendment - to state 'this ordinance binds the government' - that had no real effect.

But Mr Lam said that with the amendment, the binding effect of the future law would be clearer.