HKSAR Government delegation addresses concerns on Hong Kong's human rights situation raised at meetings of UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
A Government spokesman said today, "The delegation led by the Permanent Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Ms Gracie Foo, introduced the implementation of the ICESCR in the HKSAR and emphasised the full commitment of the HKSAR Government to the protection of the various legitimate rights of the people. The delegation also answered the Committee's questions, addressed the Committee's concerns and dispelled misunderstandings about the human rights situation and social developments in the HKSAR. The delegation also made robust rebuttals of various misleading accusations cited by the Committee at the meetings."
The National Security Law
"On the Committee's concerns on the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL), the delegation clearly pointed out that the HKSAR Government continues to be firmly committed to upholding the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents as protected under the law following the implementation of the NSL. The NSL clearly stipulates that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the HKSAR. The rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration, that Hong Kong residents enjoy under the Basic Law, the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ICESCR as applied to Hong Kong shall be protected in accordance with the law. Any measures or enforcement actions taken under the NSL must observe the above principle. All law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence, strictly according to the law and for the acts of the people and entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation.
Nonetheless, such rights and freedoms are not absolute. The ICCPR also expressly states that some of them may be subject to restrictions that are necessary for protection of national security, public order (ordre public), etc."
"On the Committee's concern on bail arrangement, the delegation reiterated that the cardinal importance of safeguarding national security and preventing and suppressing acts endangering national security explains why the NSL introduces more stringent conditions to the grant of bail in relation to offences endangering national security."
Interpretation of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC)
"The NPCSC interpretation on the NSL did not confer additional power on the Chief Executive in this respect, and only clarified that the provision is applicable in handling the controversy concerning overseas lawyers. The certification system is fair and reasonable, with a solid legal basis."
"The certificate issued under Article 47 of the NSL serves as a piece of evidence only, albeit conclusive, in the case before the court. It is still for the court to decide on other issues in the outcome of the case. There is no usurpation of the function of the court. The arrangement in this respect does not impair the independent judicial power of the Hong Kong courts."
Trade Union Rights
"The HKSAR Government asserted that Hong Kong residents enjoy rights and freedom to form and join trade unions. Such rights and freedom are enshrined in the Basic Law and clearly protected under various local ordinances, including the Trade Unions Ordinance. Trade union rights in Hong Kong are strong and intact as ever. This is evidenced by the marked increase in the number of registered trade unions from 917 in 2019 to 1 454 in 2022 – a 59 per cent increase."
"One must draw a clear difference between legitimate trade union activities protected under our law and unlawful acts that have nothing to do with the exercise of trade union rights. The HKSAR Government reiterated its dedication in defending and protecting the lawful right and freedom of association in Hong Kong."
Foreign Domestic Helpers
"Regarding the Committee's concern about the working conditions of the foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) and the protection accorded to them, the HKSAR Government emphasised that imported workers enjoy comprehensive statutory protection that are on par with those for local workers. In addition, FDHs are protected by a Government-prescribed Standard Employment Contract, under which they enjoy benefits such as the Minimum Allowable Wage, free accommodation and free medical treatment. Some of the benefits are not usually available to local workers. In respect of the two-week rule, it is necessary for effective immigration control. Besides, FDHs may be allowed to change employers in the HKSAR without first returning to their place of origin under exceptional circumstances."
"Human trafficking is never tolerated in Hong Kong. The HKSAR Government has been making proactive and multi-pronged efforts to combat trafficking-in-person (TIP) and to enhance the protection and well-being of FDHs in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a well-established legislative framework with over 50 legal provisions against various TIP-related conduct. This forms a comprehensive package of safeguards comparable to composite TIP laws in other jurisdictions. Some of the offences attract penalty of up to life imprisonment."
"Regarding the Committee's questions on academic freedom, the HKSAR Government stressed that academic freedom is an important social value treasured by the HKSAR as well as the cornerstone of its higher education sector. The HKSAR Government attaches great importance to upholding academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the protection of which are enshrined in the Basic Law. Hong Kong residents' freedom of expression is also protected under the Basic Law, and that protection covers students as well. These specific and clear safeguards have not been altered in any way and remain in full force."
"As for the Committee's concerns on the alleged censorship on textbooks, the HKSAR Government does not compile or publish textbooks. A textbook review mechanism is put in place to ensure textbooks are of good quality and factually correct, and that they are in line with the curriculum rationale. Such review is undertaken by review panels comprising both internal and external reviewers. More importantly, textbooks are only one kind of learning and teaching resource. Teachers can supplement and enrich the learning and teaching resources in accordance with the aims and objectives of the curriculum and the learning needs of students."
"In 2020, taking into account various selected policy measures, including recurrent and non-recurrent cash assistance, as well as means-tested in-kind benefits such as public rental housing, the HKSAR Government's policy intervention measures lifted a total of 1.1 million people out of poverty, reducing the poverty rate by 15.7 percentage points."
"The HKSAR Government has substantially enhanced the various recurrent cash assistance schemes in recent years. Major enhancements include merging the Normal and Higher Old Age Living Allowance (OALA) of the Social Security Allowance Scheme with effect from September 2022, with the merged OALA adopting the more relaxed asset limits of Normal OALA and the higher payment rate of Higher OALA. Furthermore, the HKSAR Government introduced the Working Family Allowance Scheme in April 2018 to implement a host of improvements to the former Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme, such as relaxing its eligibility criteria and substantially increasing the rates of allowances, so as to strengthen the support to lower-income working households."
"Turning to elderly services, the estimated recurrent expenditure on elderly services in 2022-23 is about HK$14 billion, representing an increase of over 80 per cent that of 2017-18."
"In 2022, there were more than 60 000 elderly persons receiving subsidised community care services, with the Government shouldering more than 95% of the service cost. At the same time, there were about 60 000 elderly persons living in residential care homes (RCHs) for the elderly, with half of them receiving subsidised residential care service under which 90 per cent of the service cost are paid by the Government."
"The HKSAR Government announced the Elderly Services Programme Plan (ESPP) in 2017 to enhance the medium to long-term planning for elderly services. Amongst the 20 recommendations of the ESPP, 12 have been completed or on-going, while work for the other eight has commenced. One important example of the Government's implementation of the ESPP is the introduction of a bill which amends legislation regulating RCHs for the elderly and persons with disabilities. The bill is intended to enhance the quality of such homes, covering such areas as enhancing the minimum staffing requirements, increasing the minimum area of floor space per resident, and strengthening the accountability of residential care home operators."
"The HKSAR Government is committed to enhancing subsidised elderly services. It will regularise the Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly in 2023 and increase the number of vouchers in phases from 8 000 to 12 000 in 2025-26. On residential care services, its target is to provide an additional 6 200 subsidised residential care service places by end-2027."
"The HKSAR Government is determined to rectify the housing problem faced by the public through a multi-faceted approach. It continues to increase housing supply on the basis of the Long Term Housing Strategy. According to the latest housing demand projection in October 2022, the total housing supply target for the next 10-year period from 2023-24 to 2032-33 is 430 000 units, 70 per cent of which, i.e. 301 000 units, are the Government's target for public housing."
"As for private property market, the Government has implemented tenancy control in respect of subdivided units, as well as put in place regulatory regimes in relation to private developers and estate agents. With a view to relieving the pressure on the livelihood of grassroots families which have waited for public rental housing allocation for a prolonged period of time, the Government has also launched a three-year Cash Allowance Trial Scheme. As at end December 2022, the Housing Department had disbursed a total of around HK$2.53 billion in cash allowance to about 84 000 eligible Public Residential Housing General Applicant households."
Following the conclusion of the two-day meetings in Geneva, the Committee will compile and publish its Concluding Observations in early March 2023. The delegation emphasised to the Committee that Hong Kong people continue to enjoy the legitimate rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the Basic Law and the relevant provisions of international covenants as applied to Hong Kong. Leveraging on the motherland's strong support for Hong Kong in the National 14th Five-Year Plan, the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the Belt and Road Initiative, the HKSAR Government is working at full steam to seize these opportunities and forge ahead with openness, diversity and harmony under the successful and well-proven "one country, two systems".
Ends/Thursday, February 16, 2023
Issued at HKT 23:51
Issued at HKT 23:51