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Response to United States report on human rights

     In response to media enquiries, a Government spokesman today (February 28) made the following response to the comments in the United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2013 relating to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR):

Constitutional development

     It is the common aspiration of the Central People's Government (CPG), the HKSAR Government and the people of the HKSAR to successfully implement universal suffrage for the Chief Executive (CE) election in 2017 in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant interpretation and decisions of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC). The Government formally launched a public consultation exercise on December 4, 2013, on the methods for selecting the CE in 2017 and for forming the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2016. The consultation will last for five months till May 3, 2014. The Government adopts an open mind in listening to the views and suggestions from different sectors of the community and the public at large. This notwithstanding, the Government would reiterate that Hong Kong's constitutional development under the Basic Law is our internal affair. Foreign governments should respect this principle.

District Council appointed seats

     The Government announced in 2011 that the District Council (DC) appointment system would be abolished in phases. In the fourth term of the DCs commencing January 1, 2012, the number of appointed seats was reduced by one-third to 68. In May 2013, the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2013 was passed by the LegCo, abolishing the system of appointing members to the DCs and hence all appointed DC seats with effect from the commencement of the fifth term DCs on January 1, 2016.

Freedom of the press and speech

     The Government attaches great importance to Hong Kong's freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are enshrined under the Basic Law. These are major elements in sustaining Hong Kong's status as an international metropolis and continuous development, and the Government will continue to strive to safeguard these vital core values.

Freedom of assembly and procession

     Hong Kong residents enjoy the rights of meeting, procession and demonstration according to the Basic Law and other relevant laws. 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 order events on one hand, and, on the other hand, reducing possible adverse impact of such activities on members of the public and road users and ensuring public order and public safety. In cases of 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 Prosecution Code, and are free from political, media or public pressure.

Combating corruption

     Probity is an important core value of Hong Kong and combating corruption is crucial to the overall development of our community. The Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is required to investigate corruption complaints independently and impartially, in strict accordance with the ICAC Ordinance (Cap. 204). The ICAC will continue to fulfil its missions of combating corruption and upholding probity. It will adopt a three-pronged strategy by combining law enforcement, corruption prevention and community education, so as to fight against corruption in an all-round manner through the ICAC's professional team.

Basic Law

     Under Article 158 of the Basic Law, the NPCSC has the power to interpret the Basic Law. The Court of Final Appeal (CFA) recognised in Lau Kong Yung v Director of Immigration [1999] 3 HKLRD 778 that the NPCSC has the 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 NPCSC's 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 their 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 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. Whether a reference should be made under Article 158(3) is to be determined by the CFA itself. There is no question of undermining the judicial independence of the HKSAR as enshrined in the Basic Law.

     In the foreign domestic helpers appeal case, the Government considered it necessary to request the CFA to refer to the NPCSC for an interpretation because it was likely that the CFA would as a matter of law need to seek clarification from the NPCSC under Article 158(3) of the Basic Law on the legal effect of the relevant part of the 1999 interpretation of the NPCSC. The Government stressed in the CFA hearing that a reference would only be necessary if the issue of the true interpretation of Article 24(2)(4) of the Basic Law using the common law approach were determined against the Government. The CFA in its judgment agreed that it was plainly the right approach. The CFA also pointed out clearly when it later dealt with the legal costs that the Government had not abused the procedures.

Ethnic minorities

     The Government clarifies that, as announced on June 11, 2013, the funding mode for schools admitting non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students, notably ethnic minority students, has been changed with effect from the 2013/14 school year so that the additional recurrent grant for providing school-based education support to NCS students is no longer confined to a certain number of schools, viz the so-called "designated schools". Instead, all public sector schools and schools in the Direct Subsidy Scheme admitting 10 or more NCS students each are provided with additional recurrent funding to support the learning of Chinese language by their NCS students. This should help remove the so-called "designated schools" system, the label of which is a misnomer. It would also enhance the learning of Chinese language of NCS students and widening their parental school choices in the long run. This is in line with the policy of integrating NCS students into mainstream schools under the revised Primary One school places allocation arrangements since 2005 to guarantee equal opportunities for school admission for NCS students.

     In the CE's 2014 Policy Address, the Government has announced a package of measures to enhance education support for NCS students in learning Chinese language including the provision of a Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework starting from the 2014/15 school year for primary and secondary students with supporting learning and teaching materials to facilitate their effective learning of Chinese as a second language, with a view to enabling them to bridge over to mainstream Chinese language classes. Schools will be provided enhanced funding support to facilitate their implementation of the Framework through the provision of intensive support for their NCS students. In tandem, we will also step up professional support to enhance the professional capacity of teachers in teaching Chinese as a second language.

     As also stated in the 2014 Policy Address, the Government is introducing enhanced measures in other areas such as employment and community outreach to help ethnic minorities, especially the younger generation and newcomers, integrate into the community more smoothly.

Moral, Civic and National Education

     Moral, Civic and National Education, or, under an over-arching term, values education, is always an essential part of our basic education and has been promoted in Hong Kong since 2001 in the light of achieving the Curriculum Reform's aim, "Learning to Learn". Values promoted include, for example, perseverance, respect for others, integrity, care for others, national identity, responsibility, commitment and independent thinking, as well as the understanding of universal values such as peace, democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law. On October 8, 2012, the Government accepted the recommendation of the Committee on the Initiation of the Moral and National Education (MNE) Subject that the MNE Curriculum Guide (P1-S6) be shelved in consideration of the public's concerns over the subject. Under the principle of professional autonomy, it would be for individual school sponsoring bodies and schools to decide whether to introduce the MNE subject. The Government would respect their decisions.

Cultural policy

     In line with the established cultural policy, the Government has all along been committed to supporting freedom of artistic expression and creation as well as respecting the artistic autonomy of our local arts groups. The Government does not interfere with or take any part in the artistic decisions of the arts groups, even for those that are directly or indirectly funded by the Government. Regarding the production of "The Dream of the Red Chamber", the Hong Kong Ballet Limited has already explained to the public that the matter is entirely based on artistic decisions, and there has not been any political interference.

Ends/Friday, February 28, 2014