Joint Press Release
NGOs Highlight to UN body Hong Kong’s Failures to Discharge Human Rights Treaty Obligations
Date: 5 May 2014
In a public session yesterday (5 May 2014) in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) heard from a delegation of Hong Kong-based NGOs working on human rights issues. Delegates highlighted a range of issues, including Beijing’s intentions to establish a screening mechanism for CE elections, indecent housing conditions, discrimination against new arrivals from Mainland China, the de facto segregation of the education system, the lack of legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the problem of debt-bondage contracts for migrant domestic workers.
In its 52nd session, the CESCR is holding meetings in Geneva to review several countries’ reports on their implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). A delegation of 11 persons from 6 different Hong Kong NGOs were offered an opportunity yesterday in its formal meeting to directly address the Committee to provide additional insight into worsening social problems in Hong Kong.
Notes on statements from Hong Kong NGO delegates to CESCR public session.
Date: 5 May 2014
ASTOR CHAN, CHAIRPERSON, HK HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR
• Screening candidates in Chief Executive elect impede on economic social & cultural rights
The democratic deficits in HK have been subject to severe criticisms by the Human Rights Committee. In 2001, the Committee highlighted that the undemocratic features of the legislature in HK had impeded the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights there. HK is now at a critical moment of democratic reforms, but all the signs are that Beijing wants a system that will continue to give “undue weight to the business community” and prevent political opposition from getting nominated for elections. We therefore sincerely urge the Committee to expand its comments on factors of impediment to cover democratic deficits of both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive elections.
• Media/Press freedom
We hope the Committee expresses concern that the Mainland and HKSAR authorities are using various means to suppress press freedom, e.g. they deter the media from accessing public information, interfere with the development of broadcasting in HK such as the refusal to issue a new license to broadcast free television programmes on dubious grounds. The suppression of mass media development and press freedom impede the implementation of Covenant provisions on people’s rights to enjoy cultural life.
• Migrant Domestic Workers
Abuses against migrant domestic workers, such as physical abuses, agency exploitation and discrimination, the two-week rule, live-in rule, continue to be important issues due to lack of improvements. The Committee should also consider migrant domestic workers’ debt-bondage contracts, which usually depriving such workers of seven months’ salaries as agency fees, as a modern form of forced labour and human trafficking.
• Persons with Disabilities
Government policy and services are deterring persons with disabilities from enjoying community participation and family care. The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme is means tested on a household basis that forces many persons with disabilities to live apart from the family and in residential care institutions. For persons with psychosocial disabilities, government policies and services lack coordination. Services, including community care, are medically oriented while social services are inadequate. Most carers receive no carer allowance.
Richard Tsoi, Hong Kong Human Rights Commission
• Discrimination against New Immigrants from Mainland China
There is a widespread discrimination against new immigrants from Mainland China in Hong Kong, from official discrimination in housing, social welfare and other social policies to social discrimination and harassment by local Hong Kong people. As human rights defenders we have experienced harassment by some local Hong Kong people while assisting new immigrants to fight for their equal social welfare rights. The Government should amend the Race Discrimination Ordinance to include protections for mainlander or new immigrants from Mainland China and amend sections 45 and 46 of the Ordinance so that acts of vilification are rendered criminal.
ANDREW LEAVITT, RAINBOW ACTION
• Lack of action on a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance
Discrimination against sexual minorities in Hong Kong is serious and increasing and the Government’s education-only approach is failing.
In February, 2013, a lesbian woman jumped to her death from her 11th floor home. Her last text message read "too much discrimination at work and school.”
In 2013, a private school required all staff to sign a document stating that [quote] “homosexuality, transvestitism, [or] alternate gender identity” are [quote] “improper behavioral choices for individuals" while working with the school. It made clear that failure to comply would result in “disciplinary action, [or] employment termination.”
It is time for Hong Kong to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Government calls such legislation “highly controversial,” but a survey conducted by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission found that 60% of the public supported such legislation, and last year a broad coalition of Christian groups in Hong Kong released a declaration calling for acceptance and opposing discrimination against homosexuals.
Please ask the Hong Kong Government what specific date they plan to release a draft bill of the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance for the community to discuss.
• Operations violates right to health
The Hong Kong Government has introduced a bill that would require transgender people to undergo sexual organ removal and genital reconstruction surgery as a prerequisite for legal recognition of their new gender. In last year's annual report, the Special Rapporteur on torture highlighted international jurisprudence holding such requirements to be a “severe and irreversible intrusion into a person’s physical integrity.”
We urge the Hong Kong Government to remove this requirement and comply with UN standards.
SZE LAI SHAN, SOCIETY FOR COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION
• Dire housing conditions and access
Around 200,000 people live in inadequate housing, such as cage homes, cubicle and subdivided flats because the HK Government does not provide enough supply of public housing. Since 2006, the number of applications for public housing has increased significantly: from fewer than 100,000 to over 243,300 in 2014. The HK Government supplies only 20,000 public rental housing units each year and this supply cannot match the need as evidenced by the rapidly increasing number of cases on the waiting list. Around half of housing applications (122,200) are singletons, who suffer the most due to the discriminatory “Quota and Points System”. Moreover, the allocation quota for singletons is set at a maximum of 2,000 flats per year, meaning that a single person faces a wait of over 10 years.
As the housing problem gets worse and worse the number of illegal cage homes or rental spaces in illegal places, such as pigsties or industrial buildings is on the rise. The high rents in private housing are beyond the reach of the poor. For those on welfare, the Government’s rent allowance cannot cover their rental costs, but the HK Government refuses to reinstate the Law for Rent and Tenancy Control and to increase rent allowance for welfare recipients.
We request that the HK Government increase the supply of new public housing to 35,000 units every year, increase the allocation quota for singletons and abolish the point system.
• Lack of comprehensive poverty alleviation strategy
Since the change of sovereignty in 1997, the population of poor people has risen to to 1.31 million (2012). More than 541,000 households currently live in poverty—the highest since 2000. In light of the deteriorating situation, the Government should introduce an effective wealth distribution mechanism. Social policies—including housing, health, education as well as welfare—should be allocated more resources in order to assist the underprivileged population. However, as predominant by the idea of low-taxation and the myth that poverty can be alleviated when the upper class can permeate their wealth to the lower, bottom class (trickle-down theory), no effective wealth re-distributive mechanism is established that the disadvantaged remain living under the poverty line. The HKSAR Government should adopt a proactive public financial ideology by allocating more public resources to tackle income disparity and other challenges in society, including housing, education, medical services as well as aging population. In addition, having introduced an official poverty line, the Government should introduce a long-term comprehensive poverty alleviation strategy with a defined time table.
• Family Reunification
There are approximately 7,000 children (born in Hong Kong or who obtained a One-way Permit to stay in Hong Kong) whose mothers are Mainland residents and whose fathers, who are Hong Kong citizens, have died or abandoned them. These children do not have household accounts (hukou) and cannot get subsidies or even a place to study in mainland China. For those from divorced families, Hong Kong Courts have ruled that some cannot live outside of Hong Kong. They must wait for their mothers to apply for a One-way Permit from the Chinese Government. However, when mothers’ applications are been denied due to their divorce or the death of their husbands, their children are left in HK without parental care.
These mothers are allowed to apply only for Two-way Permits, and the children have to return to the mainland with their mothers every three months to extend the permits. Their studies have been seriously disrupted. The scheme allowing parents to apply for Two-way Permits multiple times in a year does not cover single-parent families.
While only only 125 permits out are issued each day out of a possible 150 offered by the HK Government, there is no quota for the single parent family reunion. The Chinese and HK Government do not use the rest of the quota to meet the needs of these mothers. The average queuing time for One-way Permits for these families is 6.5 years. The longest separation time so far is 16 years. Miserably, both the Chinese and HK Governments do not lend a helping hand to those single parent families. These poor children are helpless and become orphans in Hong Kong.
The lack of reasonable mechanism for the mothers has detrimental effects on the families. The children’s growth and development are adversely affected. Mothers often have a sense of guilt that they cannot fulfill their roles as mothers and provide a decent environment for their children to grow.
We urge the HK Government to cooperate with Chinese Government to issue One-way Permits to single mothers so that they can stay in Hong Kong with their children. The HK Government should exercise its discretionary power to issue identity cards to split single-parent families as special cases.
• Special status of HKSAR
Although Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is part of China, it retains a distinct legal system, government structure, economic and social policies and independent judiciary apart from Mainland China, so the Committee should continue to treat Hong Kong distinctly from the rest of China.
KAREN KONG, LEGAL SCHOLAR
• Lack of comprehensive incorporation of ICESCR into domestic law.
Delegation member, legal scholar Karen Kong pointed out to the committee that
unlike the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is incorporated by a Bill of Rights Ordinance in HK, the provisions of the ICESCR are not adequately implemented in domestic law. Even though the Government’s statements that there are several articles in the Basic Law and more than 50 ordinances which do implements aspects of ICESCR is accurate, the protections are not complete. Hong Kong’s domestic do not provide sufficient protection for some parts of ICESCR.
She urged the Committee to recommend comprehensive enactment of ICESCR standards fully into domestic law, including consideration of adopting a Bill of Rights for ICESCR.
JEFFEREY ANDREWS, HONG KONG UNISON
• Lack of action on a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance
Regarding the de facto racial segregation in the public education system, the Government claims that it is the result of parental choice. However, locally born and raised Indian social worker-to-be Jeffrey Andrews illustrated with his personal experience that parents are often not well informed enough to make a real choice. Generations of ethnic minorities ask with great hope that the United Nations urge the government to eliminate the de facto racial segregation immediately.
• Chinese language education
Regarding Chinese language education, Unison urged the government to provide details about the recently announced policy initiatives to ensure that the initiatives really give ethnic minorities an equal opportunity to learn Chinese.
• Amend the Race Discrimination Ordinance to regulate government functions
We also urged the government to amend the Race Discrimination Ordinance to bring the government’s exercise of powers and performance of functions within its purview.