HK's screening process criticised

THE screening process in Hongkong for Vietnamese asylum seekers has been criticised in the 1993 Amnesty annual report, which otherwise shows a trend towards improvement of human rights in the territory.

The report suggests having an appeal process in which asylum-seekers do not have the right to appeal in person is an abuse of human rights.

''Amnesty has certain guidelines for how refugee status should be defined, which includes an oral hearing at appeal stage,'' Amnesty spokeswoman in Hongkong, Robyn Kilpatrick, said.

''Having an oral appeal rather than relying on written submissions gives protection to making sure the genuine refugees are found.'' The acting chairman for the Appeal Board, Patrick Hase, said he was confident all procedures carried out by the board ''are legal, and in accordance with natural justice''.

''It is not an abuse of human rights; it would be an abuse if they were denied status without interviews at any stage, but the screening process itself includes several interviews.'' Mr Hase said about one quarter of asylum-seekers who appealed were called for interviews, and he doubted more would win their appeals if they had the right to appear in person.

The Hongkong part of the report was not altogether negative, Amnesty said.

''The good news this year is the death penalty has been removed from the statute book,'' Ms Kilpatrick said.

However, the report's omission of some recent advances in human rights legislation was seen as ''disappointing'' by a legal expert.

Professor Raymond Wacks, head of the Hongkong University's Law Department, said: ''In broad terms it is disappointing: it completely ignores the Bill of Rights, which has made quite significant steps forward over the last year.

''This is admittedly a brief sketch of the situation in 1992, but by neglecting the developments in the freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and rights to a speedy trial in Hongkong, it becomes a rather lop-sided analysis.'' Amnesty International's head of the Asia and Pacific region, Derek Evans, defended the report as a summary of the specific concerns about human rights in the territory.

''This should not be taken as Amnesty disregarding the importance of the Bill of Rights in Hongkong.

We see it as central.''