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HKSAR Government welcomes constructive dialogue with UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

     A Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau spokesperson said today (May 27) that the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) had issued its concluding observations on the third report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

     "We are pleased that the Committee appreciated the constructive dialogue it had with the HKSAR Government delegation which provided replies and detailed additional information to written and oral questions formulated by the Committee," the spokesperson said.

     The concluding observations were published on May 26 (Geneva time), after the Committee's hearing of the report on May 8. The HKSAR delegation led by the Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, attended the hearing in Geneva.

     "In the concluding observations, the Committee commended Hong Kong in a number of important areas, including the adoption of the Statutory Minimum Wage in 2011 and the establishment of a high-level Commission on Poverty in December 2012 and the introduction of the first official poverty line," the spokesperson said.

     The concluding observations also included the Committee's concerns and recommendations in certain areas, which the spokesperson said should be viewed in the proper context.

     "We appreciate the Committee's goodwill in making those recommendations. The HKSAR Government respects the Committee's views. We will make suitable judgements according to the prevailing circumstances and implement the Committee's feasible and practicable recommendations in the light of Hong Kong's unique circumstances," the spokesperson added.

Applicability of ICESCR

     The Committee was concerned that the HKSAR had not incorporated the provisions of the ICESCR as applied to Hong Kong into domestic law. The spokesperson replied that "there are a number of Basic Law provisions and legislative and administrative measures that are effective in guaranteeing the Covenant rights to Hong Kong people. These measures are subject to the scrutiny of our independent judiciary."

Establishment of a human rights institution

     In response to the Committee's recommendation to establish an independent human rights institution in the HKSAR, the spokesperson said, "We note the Committee's concern and recommendation in this regard. However, we consider that human rights are fully protected by law in the HKSAR and enshrined in the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other relevant ordinances.

     "There is also an existing institutional framework of organisations which helps promote and safeguard different rights, including the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the Office of The Ombudsman, and the legal aid services. The Government's performance in promoting and safeguarding human rights is open to scrutiny through regular reports to the United Nations and is constantly watched over by the Legislative Council, the media and various human rights non-governmental organisations. The existing mechanism of protecting human rights has worked well and that there is no obvious need to establish another human rights institution to duplicate the functions of or supersede the existing mechanism."


     The Committee was concerned about the absence of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and discrimination against new arrivals and sexual minorities. The spokesman said that "the four existing anti-discrimination ordinances protect equal opportunities in their respective areas, and are enforced by the EOC, an independent statutory body. The EOC is currently undertaking a review on the four anti-discrimination ordinances."

     The spokesperson also explained that "the vast majority of new arrivals from the Mainland are of the same ethnic origin as that of most permanent residents in the HKSAR. Although there may be differences among some in accent, dialect or certain personal habits, such differences are not based on 'race', and do not distinguish them as a separate racial group. Various policy bureaux and departments have been providing a range of services to meet the needs of new arrivals from the Mainland, such as education support, employment counselling, social welfare and housing, to help them adapt to life in the HKSAR and facilitate their early integration into the community.

     "Separately, to better address the issue of discrimination faced by sexual minorities, the HKSAR Government established the Advisory Group on Eliminating Discrimination against Sexual Minorities in June 2013 to provide advice on matters relating to concerns about discrimination faced by sexual minorities in the HKSAR, notably the aspects and extent of discrimination faced by sexual minorities in the HKSAR, and the strategies and measures to tackle the problems identified."

Migrant domestic workers

     Regarding the Committee's concern about the working conditions faced by migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, the spokesperson pointed out that "the HKSAR grants migrant workers equal and full statutory protection like local workers. In addition, migrant domestic workers are protected by a Government-prescribed Standard Employment Contract under which they enjoy benefits like Minimum Allowable Wage, free accommodation and free medical treatment, some of which are not usually available even to local workers.

     "The HKSAR does not tolerate abuse of migrant workers (including migrant domestic workers) and any abuse that is supported by sufficient evidence will be prosecuted. Migrant workers who feel aggrieved are encouraged to contact the Government, and they have equal access as local workers to our free conciliation services, as well as to the legal system and legal aid."

     The spokesperson added that "the two-week rule is necessary for effective immigration control but migrant domestic workers may be allowed to change employers in the HKSAR without first returning to their place of origin in exceptional cases."

Non-applicability of the Refugee Convention in Hong Kong

     Regarding the Committee's concern on refugees and asylum seekers, the spokesperson said that "given our unique circumstances, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol have never been applied to Hong Kong; the Government maintains a firm policy of not determining the refugee status of or granting asylum to anyone. That said, removal to another country of persons subject or liable to removal will be withheld if their claimed risks of being subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or persecution in that country are substantiated under a unified screening mechanism meeting high standards of fairness.

     "On humanitarian grounds, the Government has been offering in-kind humanitarian assistance, including temporary accommodation, food, clothing, other basic necessities, transport allowances, medical services, and education (for minors), on a case-by-case basis to claimants in need to prevent them from becoming destitute. As ruled by the Court of Final Appeal in February 2014, claimants do not have any constitutional or other legal rights to work in Hong Kong."

Trade union rights

     The Committee also raised concern about the trade union's right to strike. The spokesperson asserted that "in the HKSAR, the right to freedom of association, the right and freedom to form and join trade unions and the right to strike are guaranteed under the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights. Besides, the Employment Ordinance provides appropriate protection to employees who take part in a strike.

Social welfare policy

     Regarding the Committee's concern about various issues related to social welfare, including the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme and poverty alleviation measures, the spokesperson explained that "we have put in place the CSSA Scheme to provide a safety net for individuals or families who cannot support themselves financially for various reasons such as old age, disability, illness, unemployment and low earnings. The residence requirement for the CSSA Scheme has been lowered from seven years to one year since December 17, 2013.

     "The Director of Social Welfare will continue to exercise discretion to waive the residence requirement in cases of genuine hardship. In addition, children aged below 18 are exempted from the residence requirement. The Government will also introduce a Low-income Working Family Allowance to encourage self-reliance among low-income families. Particular attention will be given to children and young people in low-income families to promote upward social mobility and break the vicious cycle of inter-generational poverty."

Housing policy

     The Committee also raised concern about the housing situation in Hong Kong. The spokesperson responded that "the Government's objective is to provide Public Rental Housing (PRH) to low-income families who cannot afford private rental accommodation, and the target is to maintain the average waiting time at about three years for general applicants on the waiting list. Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) is also in place to help low to middle income families to achieve home ownership.

     "The Government has decided to adopt 470 000 units as the total housing supply target for the coming 10 years, with public housing accounting for 60 per cent. Under the new target, the Government aims to provide an average of 20 000 PRH units and about 8 000 HOS units per annum. The Government is taking action to identify additional land and expedite the construction process to achieve the target."

Split families

     In response to the Committee's concern about the split families in the Mainland and Hong Kong, the spokesperson stated that "Mainlanders coming to the HKSAR to settle for family reunion must apply for One-way Permits from the Mainland authorities but individual cases with special difficulties which do not fall within the application criteria will be reflected to the Mainland authorities for consideration on a case-by-case basis."

Chinese language learning

     On education, the Committee is also concerned about support provided to ethnic minorities in learning Chinese. The spokesperson said that "we will provide schools with the 'Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework' from the 2014/15 school year. This will be supplemented with learning and teaching materials as well as assessment tools to help non-Chinese speaking students overcome the difficulties of learning Chinese as a second language. Schools will also be provided with specially designed Chinese Language Assessment Tools to assess and set realistic and progressive learning targets, learning progress and expected learning outcomes using a 'small-steps' approach to enhance learning effectiveness. An expert task group has been formed to validate the framework prior to its full scale implementation. Teacher training with regard to the use of the assessment tools has already been rolled out. Full-scale and comprehensive training on pedagogy and the use of the Learning Framework will also begin from June 2014."

     Hong Kong's next report under the ICESCR is due in 2019. It will contain the Government's detailed response to the Committee's recommendations.

     The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau will upload the Committee's concluding observations onto its website and distribute copies to the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities.

Ends/Tuesday, May 27, 2014