Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Judge criticises Hong Kong’s human trafficking regime after officials ignored forced labour victim

A 32-year-old Pakistani man spent three years in the city working an unrelenting schedule, without pay, before he was sent home to Pakistan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 8:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 12:53pm

A High Court judge on Friday weighed in on the city’s efforts to combat human trafficking while ruling in favour of a Pakistani forced labour victim who was given the cold-shoulder by local authorities.

Handing down his decision, Justice Kevin Zervos said while Hong Kong had laws that prohibit certain acts under the umbrella of human trafficking – from prostitution to assault – it did not have legislation specifically targeting human trafficking itself.

“As a report card, it (Hong Kong law) seems to suffer by what it does not say, compared to what it does actually say,” Zervos said on Friday.

“If this case is an example of the effectiveness of Hong Kong’s regime in tackling human trafficking and forced labour, then it has failed to achieve even the most basic objectives.”

He was ruling on the case filed by 32-year-old Pakistani man, who was named Zn in court for legal reasons. Zn sued the Immigration Department, Hong Kong Police Force and the Labour Department for ignoring his complaints that he was a human trafficking victim.

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Zn was tricked into coming to the city under a valid domestic worker’s visa and then placed into forced labour, which has yet to be made a criminal offence. He worked in Hong Kong between 2007 and 2010, was subject to beating, threats and an endless work schedule under a boss who never paid him.

He testified that he was sent home at the end of his tenure, but later found his way back to the city illegally to knock on the doors of the three authorities that turned him away.

After he served six months in jail for illegal entry to the city, Zn sued the authorities for ignoring his complaints and for failing in their obligations as stated in the Basic Law. He argued the city lacked a legislative framework to prevent human trafficking.

The judge on Friday said the government had an obligation to stop forced labour under Article 4 of the Basic Law, which states the city shall prohibit slavery, servitude and forced labour.

While noting forced labour was not a criminal offence, Zervos said it seemed that “trafficking a person for forced or compulsory labour is with the ambit of criminal liability”.

Lawyers representing the government had previously invited Zervos to recuse himself because he had made comments relating to human trafficking prior to joining the judiciary’s bench, while the head of prosecutors.

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But Zervos turned down the request, ruling it unnecessary.

Despite the departments claiming they had no record of Zn filing complaints, the judge ruled Zn’s testimony was credible.

He said Zn’s case was clearly one offorced labour and the departmental officers who were alerted to his situation, failed to appreciate his claims sufficiently.

“On its face, this warranted investigation,” he said, adding that some officers had done their duty but still required additional training, which pointed to a lack of an effective framework.

Zn’s solicitor Patricia Ho said her client was happy with the decision.

She echoed the judge’s view, saying the lack of legislation had led to the government’s failure to implement policies to tackle human trafficking.

A government spokesman said: “We are studying the judgment carefully and shall seek legal advice as necessary before deciding on the way forward.”