I refer to Amnesty's open letter to the Secretary for Education and Manpower ('Society cannot teach enshrined human rights', October 6) which took issue with the decision to commission the Society for Truth and Light to provide human-rights education for school teachers.
I agree with Amnesty that human- rights education is fundamental in the promotion and protection of basic human rights. That is why we have commissioned this introductory course to enhance teachers' general understanding and awareness of human-rights issues.
The course is designed to emphasise the adoption of an impartial stance and multiple perspectives to study human rights. The service provider is required to offer courses which promote a balanced point of view without imposing its own stance on human-rights issues.
Let me emphasise that bigotry and prejudices have no place in a modern society. The Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) has adopted an open tendering process in selecting a human-rights education provider. Existing tendering procedures require that tenders should be evaluated on the basis of the course design, the expertise of the speakers and the experience of the organiser. The tender that meets the requirements and has the lowest asking price will be selected.
The values and political orientation of the tenderers do not come into the equation and should not be subjectively judged. I believe Amnesty would agree that this is an important principle that we must uphold to ensure open and fair competition in all tendering exercises. After all, the society has been critical of some government policies in the past.
We have clearly stipulated in the tender document and the service contract that the training provider must be impartial in conducting the course, and present multiple perspectives in discussing controversial human-rights issues. Furthermore, to safeguard the quality of the programmes delivered:
The training provider has to submit the course outline to the EMB for its endorsement before the commencement of teaching;
EMB staff will observe every lesson to ensure that the course is delivered in an impartial manner with critical analysis of issues from multiple perspectives; and
Course participants will evaluate the quality of the programme and the speakers.
I am puzzled by Amnesty's concern over the awarding of the contract to a service provider, which has in the past called for the limiting of 'excessive' human rights in society. I hope this does not mean that human rights should be absolute and not subject to any overriding consideration, such as social order. The best way to develop empathy for any entity is for a person with a strong opinion to articulate the opposite point of view. Seen from this perspective, I hope Amnesty would welcome the EMB's decision to commission the society to run the human-rights education course.
DR CATHERINE CHAN for the secretary for education and manpower
Stop illegal radio
I read with disgust that certain individuals have threatened to break the law and illegally operate a radio station, misrepresenting the venture by using the name, People's Radio ('Radio rebels face probe after illegal broadcast', October 5).
The Office of the Telecommunications Authority should end this challenge and prosecute the culprits with the full force of the law. A 'trial radio broadcast' is a nonsense that must not be allowed on air, even for a minute. The authority should jam this signal.
The Ombudsman's Office must stay on top of this matter and ensure that the authority is doing its job, promptly and efficiently.
ROBERT POON, Quarry Bay
Limits to sexual rights
Does society's emphasis on individual and human rights extend to the granting of one person the 'right' to infect another with Aids?
Virtually no one would uphold such a right. Still, most people back away from considering any restraint to so-called sexual rights. Even the suggestion that people should modify their sexual habits runs the risk of one being labelled 'discriminatory' or 'retrogressive', in spite of serious concerns for health.
The Department of Health worries over the unnecessarily high numbers of people contracting sexually transmitted diseases. In modern, educated Hong Kong, why are adults making 22,000 'mistakes' a year? In September, the department launched a programme with a song on radio and television, and advertising in bus shelters. A special website directed users to some 123 locations where people could go anonymously and pick up free condoms. It said many, especially the young, are too shy, or too embarrassed, to buy condoms at stores. But if so, how will this condom giveaway change attitudes? Temporarily raising the number of condoms available is unlikely to be a long-term solution to the problem. Everyone knows that a person can only get a sexually transmitted disease from someone who already has one. But condom use does not always prevent infection, for a variety of reasons.
Would young people not be better served by a campaign that informs them that the only surefire way to avoid contracting a sexual disease is to have sex only with an uninfected partner? Why trust condoms which fail, are misused or forgotten at times? When we begin to truly value and care for others and ourselves, we will have found the basic answer to reducing the number of sexual infections.
The irresponsibility of some, acting out of sexual fantasies, has led to the hard reality of sexual diseases. Yet even the most foolish and damaging of sexual actions seeks justification that it is in some way a 'human-rights' issue. But there is no right to participate in sexual damage.
GORDON TRUSCOTT, Yuen Long
The letter 'List smoking's lawyers' (October 7), by J. Garner, is a shocking example of how extreme political correctness can mutate into totalitarianism.
The proposition appears to be that lawyers ought not to act for tobacco companies. This is extraordinary given that tobacco is not yet an illegal product, and even if it were, its purveyors, like any other criminal, would be entitled to representation.
It is dangerous when the 'rule of law', a term for the cornerstone of Hong Kong's special status and commensurate freedoms, is so wholly misunderstood and misused. If tobacco is evil, then by all means stamp it out. But while it remains a lawful though restricted product, what possible basis is there for limiting or denying the tobacco industry access to lawyers (a fundamental right under Article 35 of the Basic Law)?
I suppose that by the same 'logic', the letter-writer would have other blacklists compiled of advertising agencies, publishers and packaging companies, who also do work for the tobacco industry.
I wonder why the zeal of health fundamentalists seems targeted more on tobacco than the environment, when we are all breathing excessive pollutants without having had any choice about it.
PAUL CAROLAN, Central
Miners ignore danger
I refer to the article '34 miners killed in Henan blast' (October 4).
The mine owners should take 30 per cent of the responsibility for the safety of the miners. The government should accept 20 per cent, because it should supervise the mine owners through safety regulations.
However, 50 per cent of the responsibility should be the miners'.
It is obvious that owners' pursuit of profits without caring about the miners' lives is wrong and inhuman, but who can save the miners if they ignore danger signs themselves?
In the United States, miners will stop work if they sense any danger because they value their lives. In such a situation, Chinese miners keep on digging without considering their safety.
KELLY LAU KA-YAN, Sha Tin
I would like the chief executive to restore benefits under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance to the full level before the 11 per cent cut was imposed. Now that the government's budget has improved, there is no reason it cannot help the poor and elderly.
ANNA NAIDU, Mid-Levels