Human rights

Hong Kong autonomy, oath-taking saga among issues NGO delegation will raise at meeting with UN committee on racism

Despite the panel’s focus on racism, group says political rights are inseparable from human rights, and events effecting Hongkongers’ basic freedoms should be “flagged” first

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 7:00am

Beijing’s increasing pressure on Hong Kong’s autonomy and the disqualification of six lawmakers over an oath-taking saga will be among the issues raised by an NGO delegation when it meets members of a UN committee on racial discrimination in Geneva next week.

The group explained on Wednesday that political rights were inseparable from human rights, and thus, events that had affected Hongkongers’ basic freedoms since the city’s last update to the committee in 2008 should be “flagged” first.

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“When advocates hold a political viewpoint but are unable to secure a position of influence through elections or other democratic processes, then you know human rights are likely to be casualties,” said associate law professor Puja Kapai, a member of the delegation.

Kapai, of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), pointed to how Hong Kong had a law to punish racial discrimination and a mini-constitution, the Basic Law, that set out residents’ rights and freedoms.

“[But] how valuable is it if the Basic Law can be interpreted at anytime? There’s no regard to the inbuilt constitutional protection of ‘one country, two systems’,” she said, referring to the model of governance under which China assured Hong Kong of a high degree of autonomy.

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The legal scholar, who was joined by representatives of 11 NGOs at a press briefing, raised the example of the top Chinese legislative body’s interpretation of the Basic Law in 2016 that forced the disqualification of six pan-democrat lawmakers. The move has since influenced decisions by local election officials to bar certain candidates from taking part in polls.

A 55-page written submission to the committee, co-signed by 54 civic and political groups in the city, warned that “China has been threatening the high degree of autonomy promised to Hong Kong” and said Beijing should respect “delineation of responsibilities between the HKSAR Government and the Chinese Government”.

One example in the submission was the joint checkpoint arrangement where mainland laws would apply at a Hong Kong terminus of a cross-border rail link.

The UN committee, made up of human rights experts, will hold hearings on August 10 and 13 to assess how Hong Kong has implemented provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The NGO delegation said members would also argue that little progress had been made by city’s government in fighting racial discrimination and human trafficking, and protecting the rights of migrant workers.

Advocacy group Unison warned of the “de facto segregation” of ethnic minority students from mainstream schools. It said 60 per cent of ethnic minority students were clustered in 30 primary or secondary schools, out of 870 local schools.

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Separately, the delegation will also press the Hong Kong government to give a timetable for when it will update the Racial Discrimination Ordinance so that it covers the actions of civil servants.

When the committee responded to Hong Kong’s last update in 2008, they suggested that all government functions and powers be brought within the scope of ordinance.

“It’s been nearly a decade and nothing has changed,” Kapai said.

Kelley Loper, director of HKU’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law, called on the government to amend its refugee policy. Hong Kong does not allow asylum seekers to stay, even when they claim to have been tortured in their home countries.

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Instead, it processes claims and refers them to the UN refugee agency. But the rate of successful claims here is about 1 per cent, compared with the global average of about 31 per cent.

Scrutiny of the city’s human rights track record will continue later this year, by the UN Human Rights Council in November, and the Committee Against Torture in December.