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HKSAR Government team attends Second-day Hearing by UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government team attended today (August 10) the second-day hearing of the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the Committee). The team underlined Hong Kong’s efforts in eliminating racial discrimination and promoting racial equality.
     The hearing was conducted by the Committee to examine the report of China, which includes the report of the HKSAR. The HKSAR Government team, led by the Deputy Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Arthur Ho, attended as part of China’s delegation.
     Mr Ho addressed Committee members’ questions on the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) and other race-related matters.

Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO)

     “The Government is subject to an intensive and rigorous constitutional, legal and administrative regime which prohibits government departments from engaging in racially discriminatory act,” said Mr Ho.

     “The RDO binds all Government departments.  Moreover, under the Hong Kong Bill Of Rights, the Government is prohibited from practicing racially discriminatory act in the exercise of its functions. Any racially discriminatory act of the Government is subject to the court’s supervisory jurisdiction.

     “There is also an extensive institutional framework of organisations which deal with complaints against a government department. This includes the Legislative Council, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Ombudsman.

     "The RDO defines indirect discrimination in the same manner as the three anti-discrimination ordinances previously enacted on sex, disability and family status respectively.  This provides legal certainty and consistency. The proportionality test incorporated in the definition is also in line with the general principle under international human rights jurisprudence.

     “The exceptions under the RDO are based on genuine needs and serve a legitimate purpose. In including the exemptions in the Ordinance, we have taken into account relevant exemptions in the other three anti-discrimination ordinances, as well as international practice and experience of other common law jurisdictions with similar legislation.

New Arrivals from the Mainland

     “New arrivals from the Mainland are not excluded from the ambit of the RDO. They are protected under the Ordinance against discrimination on the ground of race. 

Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDHs) 

     Mr Ho stressed that the Government attaches great importance to protecting the rights of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs).
     “The ‘two-week rule’ applies only to FDHs whose employment contracts have been prematurely terminated. Appropriate flexibility is allowed to cater for special circumstances. FDHs whose contracts expire naturally are not subject to the rule.

     “The proposed exemption of live-in domestic workers (local and foreign) from the Minimum Wage Bill takes into account the distinctive working pattern of live-in domestic workers, who work and rest in the same place. The pattern renders it virtually impossible to calculate and log their working hours, whilst the proposed statutory minimum wage would be calculated on an hourly basis.

     “Live-in domestic workers enjoy in-kind benefits such as free accommodation, and usually free food. FDHs in addition enjoy free passage and free medical treatment, etc under their standard employment contracts. They are also protected by a minimum allowable wage which has been proven effective in giving wage protection to them.”

Refugees and Torture Claimants

     “Refugee claims lodged in Hong Kong are handled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which makes decision on screening and arranges resettlement for screened-in refugees under its mandate. The HKSAR Government will continue to provide support and maintain close liaison with the High Commissioner’s office.

     “The HKSAR Government is committed not to remove torture claimants back to their home countries. The Government has put in place a torture claim screening mechanism.  We will review the procedures from time to time with a view to achieving effective screening, ensuring procedural fairness and preventing abuse.”  
     The Committee thanked the HKSAR team for the replies. It would study them in formulating its concluding observations and recommendations, which are to be produced in due course.
     “We would like to thank the Rapporteur and Members of the Committee for their comments which provide useful insight to us when we continue to enhance our efforts in eliminating racial discrimination and promoting race equality. We will study the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations in the same positive spirit,” said Mr Ho.

Ends/Monday, August 10, 2009