20 October 1995


20 October 1995

Press Release


19951020 GENEVA, 19 October (UN Information Service) -- The future of Hong Kong and the guarantees of the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights thereafter were the focus of discussion this morning as the Human Rights Committee took up the fourth periodic report of the United Kingdom relating to Hong Kong.

The constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant was implemented; non-discrimination and equality of the sexes; state of emergency; the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and the freedom of movement and expulsion of aliens were some of the issues raised during the dialogue between Committee members and the United Kingdom representative.

Several experts expressed concern about the future of Hong Kong after 1 July 1997 with regard to the effective applicability of the Covenant by referring to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China.

Introduction of Report

HENRY STEEL (United Kingdom), introducing the report, declared that in a little over 600 days Hong Kong would be returned to Chinese sovereignty following the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong. The Joint Declaration was an international treaty registered at the United Nations under Article 102 of the Charter. It was in the interest of both parties, as well as in the interest of Hong Kong, that the Joint Declaration should be fully observed, he added.

According to the agreement, Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs; it would have executive, legislative and independent judicial power. The laws currently in force would remain basically unchanged. The current social and economic systems would also remain unchanged, and so would the lifestyle. Rights and freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, association, movement and the right to strike would be guaranteed. The provisions of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong would remain in force, Mr. Steel said.

- 2 - Press Release HR/CT/436 20 October 1995

DANIEL FUNG, Solicitor General, Hong Kong Government, recalled that ever since the United Kingdom acceded to the Covenant in respect of Hong Kong in 1976, the Hong Kong Government had taken steps progressively to ensure that the domestic legal regime for human rights protection met the minimum standards laid down in the Covenant. Shortly after the promulgation of the Basic Law by China in 1990, the Hong Kong Government had taken the initiative of introducing legislation setting forth a bill of rights which reproduced almost verbatim in a domestic statute the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Since Hong Kong enjoyed a common law system with a doctrine of binding precedent, he said, the judiciary over the last four years had built up a solid body of jurisprudence based on case decisions interpreting the provisions of the Bill of Rights. At its own initiative, the Hong Kong Government had also established a dedicated, specialist human rights unit in the Attorney General's Chambers, he said. The Hong Kong Government was proud of its record in strengthening and promoting human rights protection in the territory. It had conscientiously nurtured, as a matter of deliberate policy, a high level of domestic awareness of human rights.

Discussion of Report

Following the presentation of the report, the United Kingdom delegation responded to written questions in a list of issues which addressed the constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant was implemented; gender equality; state of emergency; freedom of religion; and liberty and security of the person.

The Committee's experts from Cyprus, France, Japan, Australia, Egypt, Germany, Chile, and India raised additional questions. Most of the speakers agreed that the United Kingdom was still duty-bound to do a lot in implementing the provisions of the Covenant before 30 June 1997. But, they said, that country's reservations on certain articles and paragraphs of the Covenant did not allow the full application of the provisions. The United Kingdom had reservations on article 25, paragraph b of the Covenant, which addressed the right to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections. Experts asked if the current Legislative Council of Hong Kong would continue beyond 1 July 1997. They also asked if the United Kingdom was intending to waive its reservations before 30 June 1997.

The discrimination against women and police brutality were also widely commented upon by the experts, who urged the United Kingdom to do more in order to improve the human rights situation in the territory. Some speakers asked if there was legislation in place that could guarantee the fundamental rights of persons in time of a state of emergency.

Several experts asked if the bill of rights had overriding power over current and future legislative acts. Some said that there was a certain contradiction between the bill of rights and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.

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For information media. Not an official record.