U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Hong Kong
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Hong Kong, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4a18.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
HONG KONGHong Kong, a small, densely populated territory that reverted from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, remains a free society with legally protected rights. Its constitutional arrangements until June 30 were defined by Letters Patent and Royal Instructions from London; thereafter, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China as prescribed by a 1985 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, a mini-constitution approved in 1990 by China's National People's Congress. Executive powers, until June 30 were vested in a governor appointed by Britain; after July 1, such powers were vested in a chief executive selected by a 400-person selection committee chosen by a China-appointed preparatory committee. Fundamental rights before June 30 ultimately rested on oversight by the British Parliament. Thereafter, such rights were provided by the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is to have a high degree of autonomy except in defense and foreign affairs. In practice, Hong Kong has largely controlled its internal affairs. The judiciary is an independent body adhering to the Basic Law and to English common law. In 1995 Hong Kong completed the process of moving from an appointed to an elected legislature, and all 60seats in the Legislative Council, which served until June 30, were open to direct or indirect balloting for the first time. The elections were widely considered to be fair and open. The Legislative Council served as a forum for vigorous debate and planning for the period after retrocession. However, China, objecting to the electoral rules instituted by Governor Patten and the Hong Kong Government for the Legislative Council, district board, and municipal council elections, dissolved these bodies at midnight on June 30. The selection committee that named the Chief Executive also chose a 60-member provisional legislature to take office after the handover. Of the elected legislative councilors, 33of 34 who sought seats were named to the Provisional Legislature. No Democratic Party legislators, who as a group had drawn the most popular support in the 1995 elections, sought seats on the Provisional Legislature. Many popular independent legislators joined the Democrats in refusing to serve on an appointed provisional legislature. Critics contended that the selection of the Provisional Legislature had no basis in law, was unnecessary, lacked transparency, was not based on open elections, and excluded groups or individuals critical of China. Court cases challenged the constitutionality of the Provisional Legislature and the validity of its laws, but the High Court upheld the authority of the National People's Congress to establish the legislature and the laws. China promised that the Provisional Legislature would serve no more than a year and committed to legislative council elections before July 1, 1998, based on a new election law. It also said that a broad spectrum of candidates and parties could participate in the elections. In September the Hong Kong Government introduced an election bill based on recommendations by the Preparatory Committee. As specified in the Basic Law, 20 seats are to be elected on a geographic basis through universal suffrage, 30 seats through functional (occupational) constituencies, and 10 seats through indirect election. The Preparatory Committee and Hong Kong administration decided that the 20geographic seats should be chosen by a proportional representation system and redefined 9 of the functional constituencies, reducing the number of voters in these constituencies from over 2.5 million to less than 200,000. Some observers criticized the proportional method as favoring pro-China parties in the geographic races, and they also criticized curtailment of the franchise for functional constituencies. However, as of year's end, all political parties have indicated that they expect the elections to be democratic, and none has said that it would boycott the elections, which the Government has set for May 1998. In December the Democratic Party chose 19 candidates to run in the elections, while leaders of other prodemocracy parties made plans to give up their British passports in order to qualify as candidates in geographic constituencies. A well-organized police force maintains public order under the firm control of civilian authorities. Fears that Chinese troops sent to Hong Kong to replace the British military garrison after the handover would intervene in police duties have thus far proved to be unfounded. There were reports that some members of the police committed human rights abuses. Hong Kong is a major regional and international trade and finance center. It is the principal gateway for trade and investment with China. A thriving free market economy operates with minimal government interference (a system provided for by the Basic Law for 50 years). Per capita gross domestic product surpassed $24,000 in 1996 and continued to grow in 1997. After reversion, Hong Kong continues to enjoy economic autonomy and to function as a separate customs territory from mainland China. Human rights problems before and after the July 1 reversion included excessive use of force by some members of the police against persons in custody, some instances of media self-censorship, limitations on citizens' ability to change their government, violence and discrimination against women, and discrimination against the disabled and ethnic minorities. The human rights community criticized the outgoing colonial government for opposing proposals to enact laws against discrimination based on race, age, and sexual orientation. However, the Legislative Council on June 26 passed the government-sponsored Family Status Discrimination Ordinance, which protects people who have children, whose marital status changes, or who are responsible for caring for a particular family member. Human rights observers were concerned that revisions to the Public Order and the Societies ordinances would undermine fundamental human rights; however, to date these fears have been unfounded.