In response to media enquiries on comments in the US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2008 relating to Hong Kong, a government spokesman today (February 26) said that Hong Kong is committed to the protection of human rights and has a comprehensive institutional framework to safeguard different rights and freedoms.
The spokesman said, "Regarding the interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), in accordance with the PRC Constitution (Article 67(4)) and the Basic Law (Article 158), the NPCSC has the power to interpret the Basic Law. This is part of Hong Kong's constitutional order under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle. This principle is fully acknowledged and respected in Hong Kong and by its courts.
"Regarding the issue of election, the spokesman said that the decision adopted by the NPCSC in December 2007 has determined the timetable for attaining universal suffrage in Hong Kong, i.e. the Chief Executive (CE) may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 and Legislative Council (LegCo) may be elected by universal suffrage in 2020.
"We recognise that the existing electoral method for returning the LegCo functional constituency seats is not consistent with the principle of universal suffrage. In discussing the relevant universal suffrage models in future, the community will have to deal with the issue of functional constituencies so as to ensure that the future universal suffrage model for LegCo comply with the principles of universal and equal suffrage.
"We will consult the public on the CE and LegCo electoral methods for 2012 in the fourth quarter of this year. The aim of the Government is to determine the two electoral methods for 2012 within the tenure of the current term in order to enhance democratic elements. This could then lay a solid foundation for attaining universal suffrage for the CE in 2017, and for the LegCo in 2020.
"On the relationship of the executive authorities and the legislature, the powers and functions of the LegCo are clearly stipulated in Article 73 of the Basic Law. Article 64 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) must abide by the law and be accountable to the LegCo. According to these Basic Law provisions, whilst the executive authorities and the legislature have their respective functions and powers, they should both complement, as well as keep a check and balance on, each other’s functions. The executive and the legislature play their respective roles.
"The HKSAR Government is committed to combating racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for ethnic minorities. The Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) was passed by the LegCo in July 2008, and it is anticipated that the RDO will come into full operation around mid-2009, and the Equal Opportunities Commission will be accorded the responsibility to implement the Ordinance.
"The Government also attaches great importance to providing support measures to ethnic minorities. The Government has provided funding for the establishment and operation of four regional support service centres in 2009 to provide services to ethnic minorities. All four centres will organise language training to enhance ethnic minorities' proficiency in both Chinese and English and will also provide other support services in order to facilitate their integration into the community. In addition, one of the four centres will provide centralised telephone interpretation services to assist ethnic minorities in their use of public services as well as essential non-government services which are critical to them.
"The Police Force is fully committed to upholding a high standard of conduct and discipline among its officers. It places great emphasis on respect for the rights of members of the public, as well as fairness and impartiality in police officers' dealings with the public. The Force has drawn up comprehensive instructions to police officers on the proper exercise of their powers in strict compliance with the law. All complaints against members of the Force are handled seriously. Any members of the Force found in breach of internal instructions will be subject to disciplinary action and, if criminal elements are involved, prosecution.
"Hong Kong takes all trafficking allegations seriously and is determined to bring to justice those who engage in the practice of human trafficking. Our law enforcement departments will continue to take effective measures to combat trafficking in a comprehensive manner in terms of enforcement, prosecution, prevention and protection of victims. Our efforts have been recognised.
"Human trafficking is transnational in nature. We will continue to be vigilant and to co-operate with our law enforcement partners in the region and overseas to prevent migrant trafficking activities.
"On freedom of the press, the HKSAR Government is firmly committed to protecting the freedom of speech and of the press, and maintaining an environment in which a free and active press can operate under minimum regulation.
"Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental rights enjoyed by people in the HKSAR. These rights are enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law.
"A free press flourishes in Hong Kong. The media rigorously performs its role in monitoring the work of the Government. It reports freely in Hong Kong, commenting extensively and liberally on local and external matters, and on Government policies, programmes and activities.
"A free press, with rights and freedoms protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, is the most effective safeguard against self-censorship. Ultimately, those working in the field must protect the integrity of their profession."
Ends/Thursday, February 26, 2009