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Round-up on ICESCR Hearing


Hong Kong has enjoyed a happy, successful and positive relationship with China since 1997, the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr W K Lam, said in a United Nation human rights committee hearing which ended today (Monday).

Mr Lam was responding to a question on the success of the "one country, two system" during the hearing to examine Hong Kong's report on the progress and implementation of human rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

He said that Hong Kong remains a dynamic, open, free and cosmopolitan city, and enjoyed a very good working relationship with our sovereign state.

"The Basic Law has been implemented in full with absolutely no interference at all from Beijing on all matters of internal policy and administration , and on matters concerning foreign affairs which is within the ambit of the sovereign state, we indeed get very friendly and positive help from the mainland China's foreign services representatives.

"I would really like to invite members of the committee to go and see the place for yourself. Because once you are in the city, you can feel it, you can see it and you can judge for yourself whether autonomy in Hong Kong has been well achieved" he said.

On a suggestion that Hong Kong should frame its policy on economic considerations towards a socially more equitable framework, Mr Lam said such a framework had been in place for quite some time. He said housing was a very notable example.

"Half of our population is living in subsidized housing, subsidized by the Government, because in a crowded city like Hong Kong, we can not rely on the market force alone to solve this rapid built-up of population and to resolve this difficult problem of housing our own people.

"But I admit that we still have our problems. We still have cage homes and some squatter areas which we will clear very soon.

"But to put it context, we have gone a long way from the days when I myself lived in a private tentament flat of about 400 square feet, or 40 square metre, with no toilet but just a very wet kitchen, to now - - the days the average middle income families can hope to own a flat of their own with independent facilities.

"The average working class families can join the queue for public housing, and the waiting time has been reduced from nine years to about four and a half years, he said.

He noted at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was incorporated through the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights Ordinance and numerous other ordinary laws. He said the position of ICESCR was similar, though not identical.

"It is being implemented through the Basic Law and a very large number of ordinary laws, such as those pertaining to housing, employment, work safety, social security, mental health and so forth.

"Laws could be challenged in the courts for inconsistency with the ICESCR rights," he said.

In response to questions on the right of abode issue, Mr Lam said the current arrangement requiring those entering from the mainland a Certificate of Entitlement to verify their status and a One-way Permit to leave mainland China was necessary given the large numbers of people seeking entry from mainland and the need to control the rate of entry for settlement.

On the question of legislating against discrimination on the part of private parties, particularly on race, Mr Lam said the government was intending to consult ethnic groups and other interested parties with a view to assessing the need for legislation early next year.

As sexual orientation was a sensitive issue that impinged on deeply ingrained values and notions of morality, progress in promotion of rights in this area would inevitably be gradual.

"It would take time to educate the general population and we could expect a strong reaction if we moved too hastily," he said.

As regards calls for the establishment of an Human Right Committee in Hong Kong, Mr Lam said the government would continue to listen to the community and consider the committee's views within the administration.

On the questions of why legislations were not introduced to provide minimum wages and maximum working hours, Mr Lam said as Hong Kong was a small, externally oriented economy and its only resource was its people, it had to rely on free market principles to survive international trade.

As the working hours of adults are regarded as part of the conditions of employment, they were a matter for direct agreement between employers and employees, and a matter in which the government should not interfere.

Therefore, at this stage, we had no intention to introduce laws for a minimum wage and maximun working hours, but we would continue to invest in human resource through education, training and retraining, he said.

The Hong Kong SAR government submitted its first report under ICESCR to the committee in 1999, and had provided written answers to a list 34 questions the committee had subsequently raised. The two-day hearing, which started last Friday, mainly discussed the answers provided to the 34 questions.

The committee is expected to publish its concluding observation in a few weeks.

End/Monday, April 30, 2001


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