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Response to United States report on human rights

     In response to media enquiries, a Government spokesman today (April 20) made the following response to the comments in the United States State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2012 relating to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR):

Constitutional development

     The Basic Law provides that the ultimate aim is the election of the Chief Executive (CE) and all Members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) by universal suffrage in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The Government is fully committed to attaining universal suffrage for both the CE and the LegCo elections in accordance with the Basic Law and the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) of December 2007, which stipulates that the election of the CE may be implemented by universal suffrage in 2017, and that after the CE is elected by universal suffrage, the election of the LegCo may be implemented by the method of electing all the members by universal suffrage.

     The Government will, at an appropriate juncture, launch public consultations on the election methods for the LegCo election in 2016 and the CE election in 2017, and initiate the required constitutional procedures accordingly.

Public elections

     The Government has worked closely with the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) to ensure that public elections, including 2012 CE election and the 2012 LegCo election, were conducted in a fair, open and honest manner, and in accordance with the law. We will continue to work with the EAC to follow up its recommendations made on the public elections to ensure that public elections in future will continue to be conducted in a fair, open and honest manner, and in accordance with the law.

District Council appointed seats

     The Government introduced the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2013 (the Amendment Bill) into the LegCo on February 20, 2013 to implement the abolition of all District Council (DC) appointed seats. The Bills Committee of the LegCo has finished scrutinising the Amendment Bill. The Government intends to resume the second reading debate and third reading of the Amendment Bill in the LegCo in mid-May. There will be no DC appointed seats starting from January 1, 2016 when the fifth-term of the DCs commences, subject to the passage of the Amendment Bill.

Basic Law

     Under Article 158 of the Basic Law, the NPCSC has the power to interpret the Basic Law. Moreover, the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) has decided in Lau Kong Yung v Director of Immigration [1999] 3 HKLRD 778 that the NPCSC has a general power to interpret the Basic Law. The power of interpretation conferred by Article 158(1) is in general and unqualified terms. Article 158(4) requires the NPCSC to consult its Committee for the Basic Law of the HKSAR before giving an interpretation of the Basic Law. The power of interpretation of the Basic Law under Article 158 is part of the constitutional order of the HKSAR. The power of the CFA to interpret the Basic Law is delegated by the NPCSC, which retains the ultimate power to interpret the Basic Law.

     In the foreign domestic helpers' appeal before the CFA, the Government requested the CFA to refer to the NPCSC for an interpretation of the relevant provision of the Basic Law under Article 158(3). Under Article 158 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong courts may on its own interpret provisions of the Basic Law in adjudicating cases. There is also a constitutional duty on the part of the CFA to refer provisions concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People's Government (CPG), or concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the CPG, or concerning the relationship between the Central Authorities and the HKSAR, to the NPCSC for interpretation in accordance with Article 158(3) of the Basic Law if the relevant conditions are satisfied. This procedure is prescribed by the Basic Law. More importantly, whether a reference should be made under Article 158(3) is a legal issue to be determined by the CFA itself. There is no question of undermining the judicial independence of the HKSAR under the Basic Law.

Freedom of assembly and procession

     Hong Kong residents enjoy the freedom and rights of assembly and procession which are protected under the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. In exercising their freedom of expression, participants of public meetings or processions should, under the premise of observing the Hong Kong law and without affecting public order, conduct such activities in a peaceful and orderly manner. The operational policy of the Police is to endeavour to strike a balance by facilitating all lawful and peaceful public meetings and processions on one hand, and on the other hand, reducing the impact of such activities on other members of the public or road users and ensuring public order and public safety. In case there are disturbance of order or other unlawful acts during public order events, the Police would take action in accordance with the law. The Department of Justice's prior advice will be sought if the Police intend to press charges against any persons arrested in public order events. Decisions of prosecution by the Department of Justice are all based on the established and open principles in its Statement of Prosecution Policy and Practice, and are free from political, media or public pressure.

Complaints against Police

     There is a consistent drop in the number of complaint cases against police officers over the past three years. The total number of cases received in 2012 was 2,379, representing a decrease of 13.9 per cent when compared with the figure in 2011 (2,762 cases) and a decrease of 27.3 per cent when compared with the figure in 2010 (3,271 cases). Regarding the Police complaints handling system, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) Ordinance clearly sets out the statutory role, functions and powers of the IPCC, as well as the obligations of the Police to comply with the requirement made by the IPCC under the Ordinance. The Complaints Against Police Office has all along rendered full support to the IPCC to discharge its statutory duties.

Academic freedom

     Academic freedom is an important social value treasured by Hong Kong and protected by the Basic Law. It is also a cornerstone of our higher education sector. The Government attaches great importance to upholding academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The eight University Grants Committee-funded institutions are all independent and autonomous statutory bodies. They have their own governing ordinances and statutes which set out their objectives, functions and governance structure. The legislation provides the institutions with the power and freedom to carry out their objectives and functions.

Ethnic minorities

     The Government will continue to support the integration of non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students into the community, including facilitating their adaptation to the local education system and mastery of the Chinese language. The Government's provision of additional resources to some schools admitting NCS students including, among others, an annual grant to implement school-based support programmes specifically for NCS students, is not a design to have these schools, which are the so-called "designated schools", enrolling more NCS students. Acknowledging the lack of an immersed Chinese language environment due to the clustering of NCS students which is not conducive to their Chinese learning, the Government will fine-tune its support measures in this regard alongside the implementation of other initiatives such as expansion of the examination subsidy for NCS students' participation in international Chinese Language examinations.

Ends/Saturday, April 20, 2013