Cautionary lesson in human rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am


Since the subject of liberal studies was introduced for the diploma of secondary education two years ago it has been taught under rather liberal guidelines without a fixed syllabus. That flexibility need not be a bad thing, given the nature of the course, which contains elements of science, the humanities and liberal arts, and its aim - to ensure that students develop an understanding of major social issues and learn critical thinking skills needed to make informed judgments about them.

Privately, teachers are entitled to their own views. In the classroom, however, we expect them to be mindful of Hong Kong's core values, enshrined in the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights, and two human rights conventions which Hong Kong has long since signed and ratified - one against torture and similar abuses, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which also rules out torture. The reason is that a survey of nearly 800 liberal studies teachers by the Institute of Education found that 35 per cent said it was acceptable for police to use torture to obtain evidence, while half said they were willing to give up personal liberties for social stability. Both the chairman of the Professional Teachers Union, Fung Wai-wah, and the leader of the survey, Leung Yan-wing, called the results shocking, with the latter expressing concern for the rights awareness of generations to come.

To be fair, good teachers can keep such views to themselves and teach liberal studies effectively. If they do not, their students could always start an interesting discussion by asking whether the teacher would expect a fair hearing if brought before a court, and how he or she would feel about being judged on admissions made during secret torture to avoid further torture. Hopefully, it would dawn on him or her that such evidence ought not to be relied on. As for giving up personal liberties for social stability, Leung observed that there are conservative teachers who believe in authoritarianism, or the 'mainland way'. The lesson of all this is that society can never relax its vigilance if it is to safeguard the fundamental values of democracy and human rights.