New Hong Kong rights head says torture claimants should be put in camp – then backtracks

Alfred Chan, who takes over as Equal Opportunities Commission boss on April 11, also faces criticism over his comments on sexual minorities

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 8:01am

Incoming Equal Opportunities Commission chief Alfred Chan Cheung-ming backtracked on his statement about putting torture claimants in a detention camp, a day after causing a storm of criticism when he sided with lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee’s proposal.

The gerontology professor courted controversy not only with his comments over asylum seekers, but also for saying in a media interview that legislating against discrimination involving sexual minorities was not his “number one priority” – a statement which angered LGBT rights activists.

‘I hope to bring in negotiation and understanding,’ says Hong Kong’s new top man on equal opportunities, Alfred Chan Cheung-ming

Chan does not start his term until April 11.

Speaking to the Post, Chan clarified that he didn’t mean he wanted asylum seekers put in a detention camp, but was trying to distinguish the rights of local ethnic minorities from those who were seeking asylum.

“I wanted to differentiate local ethnic minorities from torture claimants – that the issues are different,” explained Chan of his comments made in an interview with Cable TV.

Chan’s comments came after the commission released a review of the four discrimination laws on Tuesday, which suggested the government would amend the Race Discrimination Ordinance so it was no longer exempted from the law’s provisions.

Current chairman York Chow Yat-ngok had said that the ordinance did not deal directly with asylum seekers, but was a law to protect all people – irrespective of their status – from racial discrimination.

Racial discrimination has caused non-Chinese Hongkongers – especially those with darker skin – to be treated unequally in daily life, which Chan said needed to be addressed. “Torture claimants are a different matter,” he said.

Gay rights still on the agenda, says new Hong Kong equality chief Alfred Chan

In the Cable TV interview, Chan sided with Ip’s suggestion of putting claimants in camps as happened with Vietnamese asylum seekers in the 1980s. But he later backtracked, saying instead that what he meant was that torture claimants should be given temporary living quarters while waiting for further arrangements.

“I think the word ‘camp’ is misleading ... What I meant was a place which would take them in – temporary living quarters,” he said.

Chan admitted that in the same interview, he had a slip of the tongue, calling homosexuals a Cantonese slang term which meant “drug addict”. He said it was his mistake.

He also stressed that education was more important than legislation in offering protection to sexual minorities in an interview with the Ming Pao newspaper.

But Chan elaborated on his statement and told the Post: “I am not saying that I won’t put priority on dealing with discrimination against sexual minorities, but I’d want to raise the priorities of other issues to the same level. Ethnic minorities and disabled rights deserve attention as well.”

Chan said he would work with the commission and follow up with the government on all the recommendations made in the report.