Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Hong Kong, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa0020.html [accessed 12 March 2014]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Uncertainty continued over the future implementation of the Bill of Rights and international standards. There was concern over the legality of a new, unelected legislative body due to take office in 1997. Thousands of Vietnamese asylum-seekers who were detained pending return faced harsh conditions of detention. In December, former businessman Tung Chee-hwa was selected as Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), to be set up in July 1997 when China resumes sovereignty over the territory. He was selected by the 400-member Selection Committee made up of Hong Kong citizens, under rules established in 1990 when the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR was adopted by China. Also in December, the Selection Committee nominated the members of the Provisional Legislature. This is to replace the existing Legislative Council (Legco) as the first legislative organ of the Hong Kong sar. The Chinese Government considers that the 1992 electoral reforms which led to a widening of the electorate made the subsequent elections to the Legco incompatible with the Basic Law. However, as the Basic Law made no provision for a non-elected Provisional Legislature, the compatibility of the Provisional Legislature with the Basic Law continued to be debated throughout the year. A number of political parties and professional groups expressed opposition to the Provisional Legislature, which they considered illegal. Others showed support for it by joining the Selection Committee. The Committee designated 51 of its own members to join the 60-seat Provisional Legislature. They included most of the 33 members of the current Legco who had sought membership of the new body, as well as a number of pro-China personalities who had failed to gain seats in Legco in 1995. There were fears that the Provisional Legislature might amend laws to restrict the scope of human rights safeguards. In 1995, the Preliminary Working Committee, an advisory body set up by China, had stated that aspects of Hong Kong's Bill of Rights Ordinance, which enshrines in Hong Kong domestic law most provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), were contrary to the Basic Law. The Committee had suggested that legislation which had been abolished or amended to ensure consistency with the Bill of Rights be reinstated in its original form, which might restrict the exercise of certain fundamental rights (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In December, legislative amendments were debated by Legco, defining the scope of the offence of treason, as required of the Hong Kong SAR under the Basic Law. The Chinese authorities criticized the amendment and indicated that the Provisional Legislature could abolish it and replace it with another definition of the offence. In September, Qiao Xiaoyang, Vice-Chairman of China's National People's Congress (NPC), was reported to have stated that Hong Kong courts might have no jurisdiction over members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) stationed in Hong Kong. In December, a law on PLA troops in Hong Kong was adopted by China's NPC. It suggested that Chinese law would govern the activities of PLA troops in Hong Kong after a state of war or "turmoil" was declared. It also made PLA officers committing offences in Hong Kong virtually immune from prosecution under Hong Kong law, except for offences committed while off-duty, although these could be difficult to define in practice. In October, the UN Human Rights Committee considered the supplementary report of the United Kingdom on implementation of the ICCPR, which it had requested in 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The Committee expressed regret at the failure of the Hong Kong Government to set up a Human Rights Commission, and called on the British Government to present a further report covering the period up to 30 June 1997. The Committee also reiterated its call on the British and Chinese Governments to ensure that the obligation to report on the implementation of the ICCPR is fulfilled after that date. In September, five labour activists, including Wong Ying-yu and Mung Siu-tak, were convicted of disturbing the peace and ordered to pay fines. They had taken part in an unauthorized demonstration in January demanding better safety conditions for workers in toy factories set up in China and other countries by Hong Kong companies. The five appealed against their convictions, arguing that their activities were legal under the Bill of Rights. Their appeal had not been heard by the end of the year. More than 6,000 Vietnamese asylum-seekers, most of whom had been denied refugee status following a flawed refugee determination procedure, were still in detention at the end of the year. Most faced forcible return to Viet Nam. About 15,000 people who had been denied refugee status were forcibly returned to Viet Nam during the year, or chose to return under a voluntary repatriation scheme. The conditions in which the asylum-seekers were detained deteriorated as some social services were withdrawn. Conditions at Victoria Prison, part of which was used as a holding centre for Vietnamese asylum-seekers awaiting imminent return, were reported in September to have seriously worsened, with severe overcrowding and insufficient hygiene provisions. In the same month, lawyers applied for a judicial review of the legality of the detention of Vietnamese asylum-seekers, but no ruling had been made by the end of the year. The forcible return of Vietnamese asylum-seekers was speeded up towards the end of the year, as the authorities attempted to complete all returns before the July 1997 hand-over of the territory. An Amnesty International representative visited Hong Kong in May and September to study the human rights implications of the transition to Chinese sovereignty. In December, Amnesty International issued an open letter to the Chief Executive designate, summarizing the organization's concerns in the light of the territory's return to Chinese rule. It urged him to commit himself publicly to maintaining and implementing the Bill of Rights and all provisions of the ICCPR.