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余仲賢:林煥光須捍衛平機會獨立性 (明報2012.7.11)

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余仲賢:林煥光須捍衛平機會獨立性
(刊於2012.7.11明報)

近日平等機會委員會主席林煥光應否辭去行政會議召集人一職,引起公眾討論,當中大部分討論的焦點,在於他同時出任行會召集人這身分會否出現潛在的利益衝突。然而,根據《巴黎原則》確立的「獨立性」卻未有被充分討論、探討及理解。成立國家人權機構(National Human Rights Institution,NHRI),以保障、推廣及實施國際人權文書所保障的各項人權,政府責無旁貸。

「獨立性」是聯合國《巴黎原則》對國家人權機構的核心元素,而香港的平機會亦屬《巴黎原則》所述國家人權機構之一。聯合國解釋:「有效的國家人權機構,其運作能夠獨立於政府、政黨、或所有有可能影響其運作的機構和狀況。」(1)國家人權機構的獨立性可以說是最難實踐也最具爭議。真正的獨立,例如與政府保持距離、擁有足夠的資源實行其職能、運作上保持其獨立性不受直接或間接影響、在進行調查時不會出現障礙等等,是有關機構成功的基石。

不論國家人權機構如何實踐《巴黎原則》的其他條文,如果這個機構無法獨立運作,那麼,她也斷不可能有效運作。如果這個機構並不獨立,或者看起來並不獨立,那她應該甚不可能達至其大部分的持久價值,「獨立性以及公眾認為其擁有獨立性,是國家人權機構暢順運作不可或缺」(2)。

毋庸置疑,平機會是公共機構,其財政來源是香港特區政府,這確實會令其獨立運作帶來一定困難。或許有人會問:究竟這些機構如何可能達至真正的獨立?這個問題對於某些地區,尤其由並非覑重人權的政府所管轄的地區,特別適切。最直接的答案是:香港其他重要的獨立機構也同樣由香港政府負責其財政開支,例如法庭。事實上,就算法庭財政開支由政府支付,這也不等於香港的法庭不能獨立運作。過去經驗顯示,香港法庭的運作,大致上都能夠做到獨立於當時的政府。

要理解「獨立性」的原則,我們應細閱國家人權機構的職權及能力。《巴黎原則》強調其職權應盡量寬廣,以反映不同機構刻下運作模式的多元性;同時,國家人權機構的組成及其職權,應該清楚在憲章或其他法律條文上訂明。

加入行會違《巴黎原則》

作為國家人權機構,其關鍵的能耐在於推廣及保障人權。若果要充分保護及落實人權,那這機構必須採用廣泛而全面的行動去達至。若果有關機構的職責只限於局部中挑出其中一兩項,那這機構其實並不具備國家人權機構的應有條件。這整體全面的取態體現了人權的普世和不可分割的特質,這亦是國家人權機構的職權為何必須廣泛的因由。

在《巴黎原則》之下,平機會的其中一個主要職能,在於向政府提供意見,包括向行政會議(3)、立法會及任何有關機構,就侵犯人權的情況,以及就現行反歧視條例和國際人權文書的遵行和落實,提供意見。

故此,若果林煥光先生在香港政府擔任雙重角色:一方面為政府機器的一員,另一方面為平機會主席,則《巴黎原則》之中所要求的獨立性這義務而言,從實質上的獨立和觀感上的獨立來說,都備受質疑。

「實質上的獨立」其實較易理解:平機會的首要職責是在不同範疇監察歧視,包括政府具歧視性的法律、政策、實踐,而「觀感上的獨立」其實是較難的一環,因為機構若果太接近政府,公眾對其的信心就會被削弱,甚至完全失去。

最後但同樣重要的是國家人權機構的問責性。問責性分為兩個層面:一向國家、二向公眾,故此,平機會向政府以及立法會提交年報以履行其職責是常見的做法;這是國家人權機構進行廣泛的回顧以及檢討,以獨立及透明的過程,藉以確認其功能恰當以及善用資源。

向公眾問責,尤其向持份者以及公民社會問責,亦加強有關機構獨立性。《巴黎原則》同時要求平機會向公眾交代其工作—尤其是平機會的建議及意見,並且鼓勵藉助傳媒廣為傳播。

毋庸置疑,經歷過去兩任主席的操守及人格問題,林先生出任平機會確實令公眾對委員會提高信心,也提高了平機會在觀感上的獨立,按此常理,林先生應明智抉擇,潔身自好,以捍衛其誠信以及平機會的獨立性,以履行《巴黎原則》對他的要求。

註釋:
1. 聯合國人權事務中心(1995)專業培訓叢刊第四輯:國家人權機構:關於設立和加強促進人權的國家機構的手冊,日內瓦:聯合國,第68段。

2. 英聯邦秘書處(2001)國家人權機構最佳範例,倫敦:英聯邦,第14頁。此小冊子的目的是按《巴黎原則》發展一共識,在這小冊子當中提及的每一要點均適用於每一個地區的國家人權機構。獨立性是最基本的要求,所以亦是貫穿小冊子全書的主題。請看小冊子的第4、5頁。

3. 《基本法》第54條訂明「香港特別行政區行政會議是協助行政長官決策的機構」。

作者余仲賢現為北愛爾蘭少數族裔委員會執行總幹事,文章只代表他個人意見,與其任職機構無關。余仲賢在2003年獲聘為香港平等機會委員會行動科總監,但未上任即被時任平機會主席王見秋解僱,事件引發爭議,王見秋最終辭職。

英文原文 original article in English
Title: WK Lam should defend the independence of EOC
Written by Patrick Yu

The recent debate whether the Chair of the EOC, Mr. Lam Woon Kwong, should resign on his recent appointment to the convenor of the Executive Council. A lot of the debates focus on the potential conflict of interests of his new dual roles. But the concept of ‘independence’, under the Paris Principles, is not fully discussed, explore nor understood. State has an undeniable obligation to protect, promote and fulfil human rights under international human rights instruments through the establishment of the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).

Independence is the key element under the UN Paris Principles of the NIHR in which the EOC qualified as one. UN explains that “[a]n effective national institution will be one which is capable of acting independently of government, of party politics and all other entities and situations which may be in a position to effect its work.” (1) NHRI’s independence is also arguably the most difficult and controversial. True independence, such as arms length with the Government, adequate resources to carry out its functions, operational independence without direct or indirect interference and/or create obstacles for investigation, etc., is fundamental to the success of an institution. An institution that cannot operate independently cannot be effective. It does not matter how well an institution measure up against other aspects of the Paris Principles. If it is not independent, or is not seen to be independent, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to achieve much of lasting worth. “Independence and the public perception of independence are essential to a well-functioning of NHRI.” (2)

The very fact that EOC is a public authority funded by the SAR Government raises difficulties. Some may ask how such an institution can ever be independent and this question is especially relevant in countries where the Government is not entirely human rights friendly. The most direct answer is that the SAR Government also funds other important independent institutions such as the court. The fact that this is so does not in itself mean that courts in Hong Kong can never be independent. Experience shows that courts, by and large, can and do act with independence of the SAR Government of the day.

In order to understand the principle of ‘independence’ we should look at both the mandate and competence of the NHRI.

The Paris Principle highlights to give a mandate as broad as possible reflecting the diversity of institutional models that exist. It should clearly set forth in a constitutional or legal text specifying its composition and its competence.

As a NHRI, its competence is to promote and protect human rights. If human rights are to be fully secured and fufiled, it must take comprehensive action to promote and to protect them. Institutions whose mandates are limited to one or the other do not comply. This inclusive approach to human rights underscores the universality and interdependent of human rights, a factor that is linked to the broadness of the NHRI mandate.

One of the key functions of the EOC, under the Paris Principles, is to advise the Government, including the Executive Council (3) , the Legislative Council and any other competent bodies on specific violations of human rights, on issues related to the current anti-discrimination law and general compliance and implementation with international human rights instruments.

It follows that if Mr. Lam plays a dual role in the SAR Government machinery on the one hand and the Chair of the EOC on the other, the obligation of independence under the Paris Principles is questionable in terms of both the real and the perceived independence.

The real one is easier to understand as the prime role of the EOC is to monitor the violation of discrimination on various grounds, including government’s law, policy and practice which are discriminatory. The most difficult one is the ‘perceived independence’ in which the general public has lost the confidence and/or no confidence to such an institution if they are too cosy with the Government.

The last but not the least is the accountability of the NHRI. There are two levels of accountability: one to the State and one to the public. Therefore it is not uncommon for the EOC to submit its annual report to the SAR Government and the Legislative Council in order to discharge their reporting and accountability responsibilities. This is in addition to the comprehensive review and evaluation of the NHRI through an independent and transparent process to ascertain the proper functions and the effective use of the resources.

Being accountable to the public also strengthens their independence, particularly to the stakeholders and the civil society. The Paris Principles also requires the EOC to keep the public informed of their work, in particular of their recommendations and opinions, and promote the use of the media to this end.

There is no doubt that the general public has more confidence and the perceived independence under the Chairmanship of Mr. Lam following the conduct and integrity issue of two ex-chairs. It follows this common sense that he should exercise his self-determination to defend his own integrity and the independence of the EOC in order to discharge his obligation under the Paris Principles.

Footnotes
(1)United Nations Centre for Human Rights (1995) Professional Training Series No. 4 National Human Rights Institutions—A Handbook on the Estyablishment and Strenthening o National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Geneva: United Nations, paragraph 68
(2)Commonwealth Secretariat(2001) National Human Rights Institutions—Best Practice. London: Commonwealth Secretariat, p14. This booklet was to develop a consensus on progress based on the Paris Principles. Each of the best practices outl;ines in this work is applicable to an NHRI in any country. The requirement of independence is so fundamental that it is, therefore a theme reflected throughout the booklet. See pages 4-5 of this booklet.
(3) Article 54 of the Basic Law states that “[t]he Executive Council of the HKSAR shall be an organ for assisting the Chief Executive in policy-making.”

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