2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China (Hong Kong)
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 June 2015|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China (Hong Kong), 25 June 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/559bd57626.html [accessed 18 January 2018]|
|Disclaimer||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.|
Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR's charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (the Basic Law), specify that the SAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In 2012 a Chief Executive Election Committee composed of 1,193 members selected C.Y. Leung as the SAR's third chief executive (CE). The Legislative Council (LegCo) was elected in September 2012 from a combination of directly elected seats and limited franchise or "small circle" functional constituencies that generally supported the Central Government. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Beginning in late September, students and prodemocracy activists held large-scale demonstrations in opposition to the Central Government's framework for implementing universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017, with protests focused on the framework's limitations on choice of candidates.
The most important human rights problems reported were the limited ability of citizens to participate in and change their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections, limitations on freedom of the press and incidents of violence against the media, and a legislature with limited powers in which certain sectors of society wielded disproportionate political influence.
Other human rights problems included denial of visas for political reasons, trafficking in persons, reports of arbitrary arrest or detention, and other aggressive police tactics hampering the freedom of assembly, and societal prejudice against certain ethnic minorities.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Basic Law prohibits torture and other forms of abuse. There were no reports of security forces engaging in torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were some reports of the use of excessive force by police officers. In the first half of the year, the police force's Complaints against Police Office reported 1,244 complaints of excessive use of force by police. One complaint was substantiated as reported, one was substantiated other than reported, five were unsubstantiated, three were false, 10 did not involve fault, 90 were not pursuable, 453 were withdrawn, and 65 were informally resolved. As of June there were 616 complaints pending investigation and endorsement by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). There were 28 allegations of assault by police officers on persons not in custody, of which one was deemed false, three were not pursuable, and six were withdrawn. As of June there were 18 allegations pending investigation and endorsement by the IPCC. There were also 120 allegations of assault by police officers against persons in custody in the first half of the year. Of those 11 were not pursuable and 13 were withdrawn as of June. As of June there were 96 allegations pending investigation and endorsement by the IPCC.
Many experts assessed the Hong Kong Police Force's use of force during the protests in September through December as professional and appropriate; however, some prodemocracy activists, nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers, and journalists expressed concerns about these actions. Video footage appeared to show police officers abusing Ken Tsang, a prodemocracy activist, on October 15. The seven officers involved were suspended on October 15, and police formally arrested all seven on November 26 following an investigation. The seven officers were charged with the crime of "assault occasioning actual bodily harm."
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the Correctional Services Department (CSD) permitted visits by independent human rights observers. In the past NGOs voiced concerns to the LegCo's Public Complaints Office, alleging "widespread use of solitary confinement in prisons" and a "lack of labor protection legislation for inmates who work."
Physical Conditions: During the year the CSD managed 30 penal institutions (comprising minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security prisons; a psychiatric center; and training, detention, rehabilitation, and drug addiction treatment centers) with a certified accommodation capacity of 11,528 persons. As of June 30, the total prison population was 8,906, of which 8,604 were adults 18 years old or older, 80.3 percent male and 19.7 percent female. As of June 30, 302 juvenile offenders under the age of 18 were held in penal institutions, including prison, training centers, detention centers, and drug addiction treatment centers. Authorities did not hold male and female prisoners together, nor were juveniles held with adults.
The average occupancy rate for all penal institutions was 77.6 percent. The CSD acknowledged overcrowding was a problem in certain types of penal institutions, such as remand (pretrial detention) facilities and maximum-security institutions. The CSD adopted a strategy of renovating existing institutions to increase space and modernize facilities.
Prisoners generally had access to potable water and adequate food. Sanitation and medical care were adequate.
In the first half of the year, there were nine reports of deaths of prisoners in CSD custody. The Coroner's Court with a jury conducted death inquests. Inquest results had not been reported by year's end.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees were able to send and receive letters, receive regular visits, manifest their religious beliefs or practices, and attend available religious services in correctional institutions. According to the CSD, every prisoner had unrestricted access to internal and external complaint channels. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and initiate legal action against any alleged inhuman condition. Judicial authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions, and there was an external Office of the Ombudsman. There were no reports of any problems regarding recordkeeping. Penal and judicial authorities used community service and fines as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights groups to conduct prison visits; however, as of September the CSD had not received any such requests. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters such as the physical environment of facilities, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates. In the first six months of the year, justices of the peace made 223 unannounced visits to penal institutions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but some incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention occurred during the year.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Hong Kong Police Force maintained internal security and reported to the Security Bureau. The PRC's People's Liberation Army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Hong Kong Police Force, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.
There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Human rights activists and some legislators expressed concern that the CE appointed all IPCC members and that the IPCC's lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. The IPCC cannot compel officers to participate in its investigations, and the media reported cases of police officers declining to do so. In October the IPCC announced it was investigating allegations of police misconduct related to the prodemocracy protests – including the alleged mistreatment of protester Ken Tsang – and would exercise its statutory authority to monitor the investigation by the Hong Kong Police Force's internal affairs unit, the Complaints Against Police Office.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Suspects generally were apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. They must be charged within 48 hours or released, and the government respected this right. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped. The law provides accused persons with the right to a prompt judicial determination, and authorities respected this right effectively. The amount of time suspects spend behind bars before trial increased by almost 40 days since 2008, according to CSD data. In 2013 suspects spent an average of 99.5 days in custody, up from 80 days in 2010 and 60 days in 2008.
Detainees were informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system, and authorities allowed detainees ready access to a lawyer of their choice as well as to family members. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prodemocracy activists claimed that incidents of arbitrary arrest targeted them and were politically motivated.
Between September 26 and October 27, police reported arresting 324 persons in connection with prodemocracy protests in various parts of Hong Kong. Protesters called for open elections and criticized Beijing's handling of Hong Kong affairs. Police charged these persons with offenses including unlawful assembly, forcible entry, possession of prohibited weapons, various forms of assault, obstruction, criminal intimidation, attempted theft, arson, and public disturbance. The media reported that police released the majority of those arrested on bail or dropped the charges. On September 27, police also detained student protest leaders Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, and Alex Chow in connection with a protest in which several persons forcibly entered the grounds of Hong Kong government headquarters to stage a sit-in. Police reportedly held Wong, Shum, and Chow for approximately 40 hours until a judge ordered them released on September 28. Authorities did not formally charge the three with any crimes but reserved the right to charge them at a later date. The law allows police to detain suspects without charge for a "reasonable" period of time, which courts interpreted to mean approximately 48 hours. Police detained Wong and Shum along with approximately 30 others again on November 26 in connection with the enforcement of a civil court order to clear barricades from public roads in Mong Kok. The Kowloon City Magistrates' Court released all of the detainees the following day. Prosecutors charged Wong and Shum with obstructing a judicial bailiff who was clearing barricades and requested the case be adjourned until January 2015.
Police briefly detained 511 persons for unlawful assembly during a July 1-2 overnight sit-in during which protesters called for open elections and criticized Beijing's handling of Hong Kong affairs. Of those arrested, authorities released 25 on bail, while the rest received warnings. In August, 11 of the 25 individuals refused to renew their bail when reporting to police. They were released unconditionally, which implied that the requirement for reporting to a police station periodically was lifted. The investigation was continuing, and police retained the right to prosecute.
On July 4, authorities arrested lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man for suspected common assault after he allegedly threw a glass at CE Leung Chun-ying in the Legislative Council chambers in June. He refused to renew his bail in August. Police retained the right to prosecute while the investigation was underway.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. The courts may interpret those provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR's autonomy. The courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that touch on central government responsibilities or on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. Before making final judgments on these matters, which are not subject to appeal, the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the PRC's National People's Congress (NPC/SC). The Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPC/SC's interpretations, although judgments previously rendered are not affected. As the final interpreter of the Basic Law, the NPC/SC also has the power to initiate interpretations of the Basic Law.
The NPC/SC's mechanism for interpretation is its Committee for the Basic Law, composed of six mainland and six Hong Kong members. The CE, the LegCo president, and the chief justice nominate the Hong Kong members. Human rights and lawyers' organizations expressed concern that this process, which can supersede the Court of Final Appeal's power of final adjudication, could be used to limit the independence of the judiciary or degrade the court's authority.
On June 10, the Central Government issued a "White Paper" on the status of Hong Kong, which described judges as "administrators" who must be patriotic toward China. On June 27, 1,800 lawyers dressed in black staged a silent march to protest the White Paper and its apparent lack of fundamental distinction between the executive and judicial branches of Hong Kong's government. A spokesman for Hong Kong's Department of Justice said the White Paper aimed to explain the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy and stated the central government had no intention of interfering with the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong. The chief justice of Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal stated in August that the local judiciary would act only on the basis of the law and noted the Basic Law protects judicial independence.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials were by jury except at the magistrate and district court level. An attorney is provided at the public's expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Several activists complained that legal aid did not provide attorneys who were interested in committing significant attention to their public clients. Otherwise, defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a public trial without undue delay, and defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys had access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right of appeal and the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence except in official corruption cases. Under the law a current or former government official who maintained a standard of living above that commensurate with his or her official income, or who controls monies or property disproportionate to his official income, is guilty of an offense unless he can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. The government conducted court proceedings in either Chinese or English, the SAR's two official languages.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights violations. Activists regularly raised concerns about the independence of the SAR's courts, which are endowed with a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
The law provides that no personal data may be used for a purpose other than that stated at the time of its collection without the data subject's consent. Specific exemptions allow SAR authorities to transfer personal data to permit prevention, detection, or prosecution of a crime when certain conditions were met. Data, including digital communications intended to remain private, may be transferred to a body outside of the SAR for purposes of safeguarding the security, defense, or international relations of the SAR or for the prevention, detection, or prosecution of a crime, provided conditions set out in the ordinance were met. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data worked to prevent the misuse, disclosure, or matching of personal data without the consent of the subject individual or the commissioner.
The use of covert surveillance and the interception of telecommunications and digital and postal communications can be granted only to prevent or detect "serious crime" or to protect "public security." The law establishes a two-tiered system for granting approval for surveillance activities, under which surveillance of a more intrusive nature requires the approval of a judge, while surveillance of a less intrusive nature requires the approval of a senior law enforcement official. Applications to intercept telecommunications must involve crimes with a penalty of at least seven years' imprisonment, while applications for covert surveillance must involve crimes with a penalty of at least three years' imprisonment or a fine of at least HK$ one million ($128,700).
In May the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data urged private organizations to embrace personal data privacy protection as part of their corporate governance responsibilities. The commissioner encouraged private organizations to respect the privacy rights of both their customers and employees.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a generally supportive government combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press. During the year, however, media groups lodged more complaints than in the past about what they viewed as increasing challenges in this area.
Freedom of Speech: There were no legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or restrictions imposed by other actors publicly or privately to discuss matters of general public interest without reprisal. However, the media and civil society organizations alleged the Central Government exerted pressure on media organizations to mute criticism of the its policy priorities in Hong Kong.
Press Freedoms: The Hong Kong Journalists Association stated in July that the past year had been "the darkest for press freedom" in several decades. Journalists were attacked, media companies fired journalists who were critical of the government, and advertisers withdrew sponsorship from media perceived as critical of the Central Government or the Hong Kong government. Nevertheless, a survey conducted by the independent Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong in September found respondents' net satisfaction with press freedom rebounded to 30 percent, up 15 percent from the preceding five months.
Violence and Harassment: A number of violent attacks on media-related personalities took place during the year.
On February 26, knife-wielding assailants attacked former Ming Pao newspaper chief editor Kevin Lau – a journalist known for his tough investigative reporting on Mainland China. Lau suffered wounds to his back and legs. Police in Guangzhou arrested two men for conducting the attack, but the investigation yielded no progress on the attack's motives or who ordered it. Under Lau's leadership, Ming Pao investigated the suspicious death of Li Wangyang, spoke out against government policies such as Moral and National Education, reported on the financial connections of the relatives of top Chinese leaders, and advocated democratic reforms in Hong Kong.
In March four men armed with metal pipes attacked the director and news controller of the soon-to-be-launched Hong Kong Morning News. In May the publication announced it would not open when the group lost several of its investors. Police arrested five men in connection with the attack in April, and the investigation was continuing at year's end.
There was no progress on investigations into 2013 attacks on the prodemocracy Next Media group or the June 2013 attack on Chen Ping, the owner of Sun Affairs.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Most media outlets were owned by businesses with interests on the mainland, which led to claims that they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to the perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests.
Many mainland companies and those with significant business dealings on the mainland reportedly boycotted advertising in the Next Media Group publications and the newspaper AM730. Both media organizations were critical of the Central Government and the Hong Kong government.
In February, Commercial Radio fired outspoken radio host Siring Li after moving her from a popular morning show to an evening program in November 2013. Li accused her employer of bowing to government pressure in exchange for the renewal of its license.
The popular online news outlet House News, which was modelled after the Huffington Post, abruptly closed in July. House News' founder Tony Tsoi was a supporter of the prodemocracy Occupy Central movement. The closure prompted speculation that the move was part of a broader campaign to stifle support for Occupy Central protests.
There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, although prodemocracy activists and protesters claimed Central Government authorities closely monitored their e-mails and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.
There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations.
In June unidentified hackers launched more than 10 billion denial-of-service attacks on a private poll on universal suffrage conducted by the University of Hong Kong, in which 700,000 Hong Kong residents participated, forcing two of the poll's three service providers to withdraw.
In June unidentified hackers launched a series of cyberattacks on the Apple Daily website, a Next Media publication frequently critical of the Hong Kong and central governments, causing it to close temporarily.
In July and August, unidentified hackers obtained and leaked more than 900 private files obtained from the computers of Next Media, its chairman Jimmy Lai, and other Next Media employees.
In August officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong searched the homes of Jimmy Lai and his top aide Mark Simon in connection with a bribery investigation stemming from the leaked e-mails released in July and August.
The government reported that, between September 26 and November 15, police arrested 14 persons for the offense of "accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent." A senior police spokesman told media, "It is an offense to incite others to commit criminal acts on the internet" and stressed that "police may request internet service providers to provide necessary information in order to assist in the investigation" of cybercrimes.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were some restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Some scholars suggested Hong Kong-based academics practiced some self-censorship in their China-related work to preserve good relations and research and lecturing opportunities in the mainland.
In May Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok reported that a warning by Education Secretary Eddie Ng to teachers and students not to join Occupy Central, a campaign for universal suffrage, was meant to be intimidating and interfered with the freedom of expression. An Education Bureau spokesman said Ng's remarks were intended to "remind" teachers, not put pressure on them.
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The government routinely issued the required "letter of no objection" for public meetings and demonstrations – including those critical of the Central Government – and the overwhelming majority of protests occurred without serious incident. Government statistics indicated that an average of seven to eight "public events" occurred every day. Activists and pandemocratic legislators, however, expressed concern that the government took a more restrictive view of protests that occurred at the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO). The Hong Kong government instituted more restrictive controls on protests at the CGLO and the Legislative Council Complex in July when barriers were set up in connection with construction work to improve security at the buildings following a protest over land development in the New Territories. Authorities closed an area in front of the CGLO from July until the end of August.
On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident. The government issued a permit to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China to hold the vigil, which was reportedly the only sanctioned event in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary.
According to organizers, 510,000 persons participated in an annual July 1 anti-Central Government demonstration. Police estimated there were 98,600 protesters. Participants denounced the Central Government's growing interference and advocated democratic electoral reforms. Police arrested 511 participants for unlawful assembly, of whom 25 were released on bail, and the rest were released with warnings.
Media and police estimated tens of thousands participated in prodemocracy protests in September and October, although participation varied significantly from site to site and day to day. Participants protested the NPC's August 31 decision requiring that candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive elections be selected by a majority of a 1,200-person nominating committee and limiting the total number of candidates to two or three. The protests were largely peaceful, although a limited number of violent clashes broke out in the Mong Kok and Causeway Bay districts in October when some individuals attempted to clear protester-erected barricades on several major roads. Some protesters alleged these persons may have been associated with criminal gangs or were operating at the behest of the Central Government and charged that police did not adequately respond to the incidents. Police investigated the incidents and subsequently arrested 19 individuals suspected of attacking protesters.
Protesters clashed with police the evening of October 15 after approximately 200 demonstrators reportedly attempted to establish barricades blocking a major underpass on an east-west connector on Hong Kong Island. A force of several hundred officers in protective gear attempted to clear the roadway. Eight protesters and four officers were reportedly injured in the clash. In November police repelled an attempt by protesters to storm government buildings in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Police arrested at least 40 protesters. The independent daily newspaper South China Morning Post captured video of a crowd of protesters in Admiralty attacking three men they suspected of being plainclothes police officers on December 1, beating one of them unconscious. Fifty-eight persons, including at least 11 police officers, were hospitalized in connection with the November 30-December 1 protest violence.
b. Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. In the first half of the year, authorities registered 919 societies and did not refuse any applications.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some prominent exceptions.
Under the "one country, two systems" framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding claims under the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) independently. There were 8,996 nonrefoulement claims, including those based on claims under CAT, pending Immigration Department processing as of July 31. Between March and July, the Immigration Department determined all 164 of the nonrefoulement claims it processed were substantiated. Applicants and activists continued to complain over the slow processing of claims and limited government subsidies available to applicants.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
There continued to be claims that the Immigration Department refused entry to persons traveling to the SAR for reasons that did not appear to contravene the law. In June, three Taiwanese student leaders reported they were denied visas to prevent their joining a July 1 antigovernment rally. In May local immigration officials at the airport turned a Taiwanese academic away after he arrived to speak at a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square prodemocracy movement. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists, some legislators, and others contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the mainland government, were made at the behest of PRC authorities. The Security Bureau maintained that the Immigration Department exchanged information with other immigration authorities, including the mainland, but made its decisions independently.
Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government; however, PRC authorities did not permit some human rights activists and some prodemocracy legislators to visit the mainland. In November, Chinese officials in London reportedly informed members of a British parliamentary committee investigating relations between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong that China would prevent them from making a planned trip to Hong Kong.
Emigration and Repatriation: Government policy was to repatriate undocumented migrants who arrived from the mainland, and authorities did not consider them for refugee status. As of September authorities returned 1,803 immigration offenders and illegal immigrants to the mainland.
The government did not recognize the Taiwan passport as valid for visa endorsement purposes, although convenient mechanisms existed for Taiwan passport holders to visit. Beginning in September 2013, Taiwan visitors were able to register online and stay for one month if they held a mainland travel permit.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The SAR has a policy of not granting asylum or refugee status and has no temporary protection policy. The government's practice was to refer refugee and asylum claimants to a lawyer or the UNHCR.
Refoulement: The government recognizes a legal obligation to grant nonrefoulement protection under the CAT, as the CAT has applied to Hong Kong since 1992. In March the government introduced a Unified Screening Mechanism after a 2013 Court of Final Appeal ruling ordered it to identify refugees in accordance with the UNHCR office in Hong Kong. The new system consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Claimants continued to receive publicly funded legal assistance.
Employment: The government defines CAT claimants and asylum seekers as illegal immigrants or "overstayers" in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the city. Individuals whose claims were pending have no legal right to work, and those granted either refugee status by the UNHCR or relief from removal under the CAT were permitted to work only with approval from the director of immigration. They were also ineligible for training by either the Employees Retraining Board or the Vocational Training Council. A CAT claimant whose torture claim was accepted could apply to the director of immigration for permission to work in the SAR.
Access to Basic Services: The government, in collaboration with the NGO International Social Service's Hong Kong Branch, offered in-kind assistance, including temporary accommodation, food, clothing, appropriate transport allowance, counseling, medical services, and other basic necessities, to asylum seekers and torture claimants while their claims were being processed. In July 6,712 persons were receiving assistance.
The Hospital Authority provided waivers of medical expense at public clinics or hospitals to service users on a case-by-case basis, and the Education Bureau accepted schooling applications for minor claimants who were not expected to be removed from the SAR within a short period. The director of immigration authorized applications to attend school or university on a case-by-case basis.
In September 2013 UN refugee officials stated their concern for the welfare of nearly one thousand asylum seekers living in the SAR's New Territories. They warned the government that it was failing to provide the asylum seekers' right to an adequate standard of living.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections. A portion of the LegCo was elected by a subset of voters representing "functional constituencies" (FCs) that speak for key economic and social sectors. Under this structure some individuals were able to control multiple votes for LegCo members. The constituencies that elected the 30 FC LegCo seats had fewer voters in total than the constituency for a single geographical constituency (GC) seat, of which there were 30 in the LegCo. Beginning in 2012 voters could elect five newly created FC seats in the district council sector, known as "super seats." These five LegCo members were elected by voters who were not otherwise represented in any FC. The government stated that the method of selecting FC legislators did not conform to the principle of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs. In addition to the five new FC seats, five additional GC seats were added in 2012, bringing the previous 60-member legislative body to 70 seats.
The Basic Law prohibits LegCo members from introducing bills that affect public expenditure, political structure, or government policy. The SAR sends 36 deputies to the mainland's National People's Congress (NPC) and had 199 delegates in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The approvals of the CE, two-thirds of LegCo, and two-thirds of the SAR's delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment of the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.
In 2012 the CE used his authority to appoint 68 of the 534 members of the district councils, the SAR's most grassroots-level elected bodies, despite earlier promises to eliminate all appointed seats. The government stated that it would work on phasing out the nonelected seats in two tranches in 2016 and 2020 – with the exception of 27 ex-officio seats reserved for indigenous Chinese rural council representatives – but pandemocrats complained that this action violated a previous understanding between the LegCo and the government to eliminate all appointed district councilors immediately.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by progovernment electors and their allies, selected former Executive Council Convener CE Leung to be the SAR's chief executive. The PRC's State Council formally appointed him, and President Hu Jintao swore in Leung in July 2012.
The 2012 elections for a new 70-member LegCo were considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. Of the 35 FC seats, 16 incumbents, all progovernment, returned uncontested. When combined with 35 GC seats, pro-PRC and pro-establishment candidates won 43 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 27 seats.
The next chief executive election was scheduled to take place in 2017 under an electoral process to be determined, and the next LegCo election was scheduled to take place in 2016.
Between January and July, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) received 13 complaints concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. The complaints included allegations of bribing voters, voting after giving false or misleading information to an elections officer, incurring election expenses by persons other than the candidate or his agent, publishing false or misleading statements about a candidate, publishing election advertisements that do not meet certain requirements, failing to file election returns, and providing others with refreshments and entertainment at elections. As of July, six complaints were under investigation, five were deemed nonpursuable, and two were unsubstantiated after investigation. During the same period, one person was prosecuted and convicted on the basis of reports received in 2012.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Pandemocratic parties faced a number of institutional challenges, which prevented them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. The law did not permit tax-exempt contributions to political parties. The voting process ensured probusiness representatives and government allies controlled a majority. Additionally, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the Central Government's political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions.
On August 31, the NPC/SC approved a framework for implementing universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election, but prodemocracy advocates criticized the framework as undemocratic. The NPC/SC decision states that between two and three candidates may be nominated with the approval of more than 50 percent of a Nominating Committee formed in accordance with the size, composition, and formation method of the existing 1,200 person Election Committee. Prodemocracy activists and members of LegCo criticized the framework as undemocratic because it was designed to ensure that only candidates supportive of the central government are nominated by a predominantly unelected, pro-Beijing nominating committee.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Six of the 29 members of the Executive Council (cabinet-level secretaries and "nonofficial" councilors who advise the CE) were women. Nine of the 35 directly elected LegCo members were women, and women held two of the 35 FC seats. Thirteen of the 45 most senior government officials (secretaries, undersecretaries, and permanent secretaries) were women.
There is no legal restriction against non-Chinese running for electoral office or participating in the civil service, although most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo. The government regarded ethnic origin as irrelevant to civil service appointment and did not require applicants to declare their ethnicity or race in their applications for government jobs. Some observers criticized this practice as preventing the government from monitoring hiring and promotion rates for nonethnic Chinese.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented it effectively. The SAR continued to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt.
Corruption: The ICAC is charged with the investigation and prosecution of cases, prevention, and policy development, and it is responsible for combating corruption. The ICAC generally operated effectively and independently, actively collaborated with civil society, and had sufficient resources. Between January and July, the ICAC received 391 corruption reports involving government personnel concerning alleged breaches of anticorruption laws. As of July the ICAC had 168 under investigation, deemed 182 to be nonpursuable, and deemed 41 unsubstantiated after investigation. During the same period, authorities prosecuted 14 government personnel in 11 cases based on reports received prior to 2014. Four of these were convicted, and 10 awaited trial.
Former chief secretary Rafael Hui faced multiple corruption charges, including committing misconduct while in public office and providing false information. In December Hui was found guilty on five separate charges, including three counts of misconduct in public office, one count of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, and one count of conspiracy to offer an advantage to a public servant. He was sentenced to seven and one-half years in prison and fined more than $1.4 million dollars.
In September 2013 former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong was suspected of lying and making false statements under oath due to discrepancies between his testimonies in the legislature and the contents of a report released in early September 2013 by the Independent Review Committee on ICAC's Regulatory Systems and Procedures for Handling Official Entertainment, Gifts, and Visits. Tong was accused of lavish spending on meals with officials and academics on overseas visits. The LegCo summoned him to explain the discrepancies on September 25 and 26. In July the LegCo released a report and criticized Tong for ignoring the principle of frugality and lacking prudence during his five-year tenure.
Financial Disclosure: The SAR requires the 27 most senior civil service officials to declare their financial investments annually and the approximately 3,100 senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest. The Civil Service Bureau monitors and verifies disclosures, which are available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
Public Access to Information: There is no freedom of information law. An administrative code on access to information serves as the framework for the provision of information by government bureaus and departments and the ICAC. Under the code authorities may refuse to disclose information if doing so would cause or risk causing harm or prejudice in several broad areas: national security and foreign affairs (which are reserved to the central government); immigration issues; judicial and law enforcement issues; direct risks to individuals; damage to the environment; improper gain or advantage; management of the economy; management and operation of the public service; internal discussion and advice; public employment and public appointments; research, statistics, and analysis; third-party information; business affairs; premature requests; and information on which legal restrictions apply. Political inconvenience or the potential for embarrassment were not justifiable bases for withholding information. Between January and June, the Office of the Ombudsman received 33 complaints relating to the code on access to information.
Through March the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau received 1,196 requests for information under the code. As of March, 152 requests were still being processed.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists critical of the central government also operated freely and maintained permanent resident status in the SAR.
Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). The government appoints both the ombudsman and the EOC commissioners, who were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. EOC commissioner York Chow Yat-ngok served as a vocal public advocate on minority rights, access to public and commercial buildings for persons with disabilities, and other issues within the EOC's responsibility.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law provides that all permanent residents are equal, and the government enforced this. The EOC is responsible for enforcing the relevant laws.
Protection of Refugees
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and police enforced the law effectively. Through June police received 22 allegations of rape and 559 of indecent assault.
The government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. It effectively enforced criminal statutes prohibiting domestic violence against women and prosecuted violators. From January to June, police investigated 821 domestic violence-related cases. The law allows victims to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance does not criminalize domestic violence directly, although abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances. The government enforced the law and prosecuted violators, but sentences typically consisted only of injunctions or restraining orders.
The law covers molestation between married couples, homosexual and heterosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims under age 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against molestation by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an authorization of arrest to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and authorizations for arrest to two years.
The government maintained programs that provided intervention and counseling to batterers. Sixty-five integrated family service centers and 11 family and child protective services units offered services to domestic violence victims and batterers. The government continued its public information campaign to strengthen families and combat violence, and increased public education on the prevention of domestic violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no reports that FGM/C was practiced in Hong Kong, and authorities stated they would investigate and prosecute any allegations of FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police enforced the law effectively.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children as well as the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on contraception, skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, and prenatal and postpartum care were widely available, as was emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. As of April women filled 36.5 percent of the civil service at all ranks and 34.1 percent at the directorate level. As of September women made up 60.8 percent of the LegCo Secretariat workforce and 53.3 percent of its directorate ranks. Approximately 24 percent of judges and judicial officers were women, while women constituted 70 percent of the nonjudges and judicial officer staff of the courts.
According to gender-rights activists and public policy analysts, while the law treats men and women equally in terms of property rights in divorce settlements and inheritance matters, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion (see section 7.d.). Women reportedly formed the majority of the working poor and those who fell outside the protection of labor laws.
The law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity between men and women. A Women's Commission served as an advisory body for policies related to women, and a number of NGOs were active in raising problems of societal attitudes and discrimination against women.
Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR or abroad to parents of whom at least one is a PRC-national Hong Kong permanent resident acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a permanent resident, acquire permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.
Child Abuse: From January through June, police received reports of 470 cases of child abuse: 204 involved physical abuse (referring to victims younger than 14) and 266 involved sexual abuse (referring to victims younger than 17). The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse, such as battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation, and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.
The government provided parent-education programs, including instruction on child abuse prevention, in all 50 of the Department of Health's maternal and child health centers. It also provided public education programs to raise awareness of child abuse and alert children about how to protect themselves. The Social Welfare Department provided clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department ran a child witness support program. A law on child-care centers helped prevent unsuitable persons from providing childcare services.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16, and written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21. There was no evidence of early or forced marriage in the SAR.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. There were no reports FGM/C was practiced.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports of girls under the age of 18 from some countries in Asia being subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.
See the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
The legal age of consent for heterosexuals is 16. Under the law a person having "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a victim under 16 is subject to five years' imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim under 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.
The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child under the age of 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years' imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years' imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State's country-specific information at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/country/hong-kong-sar.html.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 5,000 to 6,000 persons and reported few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious sermons in the otherwise moderate Muslim community.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government generally implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.
The Disability Discrimination Ordinance states that children with special education needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. It is against the law for a school to discriminate against a student with a disability. According to the government, students with significant or multiple disabilities are placed in special segregated schools with parental consent, while students with less significant disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in education and mental health facilities; the most recent court case involving such abuses was in 2011.
The SAR implemented a range of legislative, administrative, and other measures for enhancing the rights of persons with disabilities. Some human rights groups argued that the SAR adhered to its own Disability Discrimination Ordinance, which they considered too limited and does not oblige the government to promote equal opportunities.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD), directly or in coordination with NGOs and employers, provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities. As of June 16,998 persons were participating in these various programs. As of June the SWD offered 12,504 places for subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently. As of June the SWD provided 6,245 places for preschool services to children with disabilities with the goal of improving their opportunity to participate in mainstream schools and extracurricular activities.
As of April the government employed 3,401 civil servants with disabilities. Persons with disabilities filled approximately 2 percent of LegCo secretariat positions, 1 percent of judicial positions, and 2 percent of nonjudicial positions in the judiciary.
Instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment, education, and the provision of some public services. The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate.
Despite inspections and the occasional closure of noncompliant businesses, access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities protested that the government discriminated against them. They claimed that persons with significant disabilities who lived with their families could qualify for social security only by moving out of their families' homes and living alone or if all family members quit their jobs. The government firmly refuted this claim, noting that the government instituted a disability allowance program for the more significantly disabled (defined as those with "100 percent loss of earning capacity") to help persons with disabilities meet specific needs arising from their condition. Additionally, as with all citizens of the SAR facing financial hardship, persons with disabilities may apply for comprehensive social security assistance.
According to the EOC, the SAR lagged in providing equal opportunities for students with disabilities, despite having operated an integrated education policy since 1997.
Although 94 percent ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The Race Relations Unit, which is subordinate to the Home Affairs Bureau, served as secretariat to the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony and implemented the committee's programs. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. The EOC's code of practice (along with selected other EOC materials) was available in Hindi, Thai, Urdu, Nepali, Indonesian, and Tagalog, in addition to Chinese and English.
The government introduced a Second Language Learning Framework for children of ethnic minorities in primary and secondary schools in the 2014-15 school year. Rights activists welcomed an apparent change of "mind set" by the government and pointed out what was needed was a curriculum for teaching Chinese as a second language, not a vague "framework."
The Race Relations Unit sponsored a cross-cultural learning program for non-Chinese speaking youth through grants to NGOs.
The government had a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into the SAR's schools. The government also provided a special grant for schools with a critical mass of non-Chinese students to develop their own programs, share best practices with other schools, develop supplementary curriculum materials, and set up Chinese-language support centers to provide after-school programs. According to the press, 31of the 852 government schools enrolled mostly ethnic minorities and offered limited Chinese language instruction.
Activists expressed concern that there was no formal government-provided course to prepare students for the General Certificate for Secondary Education examination in Chinese, a passing grade from which is required for most civil service employment. The government provided funds to subsidize the cost of taking these examinations. Activists also noted that government programs encouraging predominantly Chinese schools to welcome minority students backfired, turning certain schools into "segregated institutions." These schools reportedly did not teach Chinese to the nonethnic-Chinese students, although the government encouraged the parents of non-Chinese-speaking students to avail themselves of district-based programs for preprimary Chinese language learners. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, leading to unemployment and poverty, according to reports from the government and NGOs.
Minority group leaders and activists reported that government requirements for all job applicants to speak Chinese kept non-native Chinese speakers out of civil service and law enforcement positions. The Hong Kong Police Force reportedly employed 100 nonethnic-Chinese constables during the year.
Activists and the government disputed whether new immigrants from the mainland should be considered as a population of concern under antidiscrimination laws. While concerns were raised that new immigrants do not qualify to receive social welfare benefits until they have resided in the SAR for seven years, the courts upheld this legal standard. Such immigrants can apply on a case-specific basis for assistance.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) professionals are permitted to bring partners to the SAR only on a "prolonged visitor visa." Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency. The government claimed public education and existing civil and criminal laws were sufficient to protect the rights of the LGBT community and that legislation was not necessary. No additional legislative mechanisms existed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBT community.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the law allows employers simply to refuse to bargain. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively, something which the International Labor Organization (ILO) advised is too broad an interpretation of exclusions on collective bargaining rights allowed under the relevant ILO conventions. Trade unions must register with the government's Registry of Trade Unions and must have a minimum membership of seven persons for registration. Workers were not prevented from unionizing, but only Hong Kong residents could join unions or serve as union officers. Unions could affiliate, but the Trade Union Ordinance requires consent of the CE before a union can affiliate with an international organization. Through September authorities registered seven new trade unions, while three were deregistered at the unions' request. At the beginning of the year, there were approximately 3.43 million salaried employees and wage earners, of whom 813,897, or approximately 23.7 percent of the working population, belonged to unions.
The law allows the use of union funds for political purposes, provided a union has the authorization of the majority of its voting members at a general meeting.
The law provides for the right to strike, although there are some restrictions on this right for civil servants. According to the Employment Ordinance, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising his union rights. Under the Employment Ordinance, an employee unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed (including on the grounds of the employee exercising his trade union rights) is entitled to remedy in the form of an order for reinstatement or reengagement, subject to mutual consent of the employer and the employee. The ILO advised the Hong Kong government to take legislative action to make noncompliance with a reinstatement order a criminal offense. The government reported that as of September, four strikes involving 774 workers had occurred. Activists claimed that many more strikes took place but that the government did not want to tarnish the SAR's business-friendly image by acknowledging them.
The law provides for reinstatement and or compensation not exceeding HK$150,000 ($19,300) for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal.
The Workplace Consultation Promotion Division in the Labor Department facilitated communication, consultation, and voluntary negotiation between employers and employees. Tripartite committees for each of the nine sectors of the economy included representatives from some trade unions, employers, and the Labor Department. During a labor dispute, the Labor Relations Division of the Labor Department facilitates conciliation so that the dispute can be settled with minimum friction and disruption.
Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Prodemocracy labor activists alleged, however, that only progovernment unions were able to participate substantively in the tripartite process, while the prodemocracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was consistently excluded. Trade Unions reported isolated cases of antiunion dismissals.
Although there is no legislative prohibition against strikes and the right and freedom to strike are enshrined in the Basic Law, most workers had to sign employment contracts, which typically stated that walking off the job was a breach of contract and could lead to summary dismissal. Various sections of the Employment Ordinance prohibit firing an employee for striking and void any section of an employment contract that would punish a worker for striking. As in past years, thousands of workers participated in the annual May 1 Labor Day march calling for a raise in the minimum wage and better worker protections. According to the government, there were no reports that employers fired workers for participating in a strike during the year.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced such laws. There were concerns that some migrant workers faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the terms of employment, creating a risk they could fall victim to debt bondage. The SAR prohibits the collection of employment-related debt, but looser restrictions in some countries that send workers hampered prosecution. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with Indonesian agencies to profit from a debt scheme, and some local agencies illegally confiscated the passports, employment contracts, and automatic teller machine cards of domestic workers and withheld them until their debt had been repaid. The government conveyed its concerns about these cases to a number of foreign missions.
There also were reports that some employers illegally forbade domestic workers from leaving the residence of work for nonwork-related reasons, effectively preventing them from reporting exploitation to authorities. SAR authorities claimed they encouraged aggrieved workers to lodge complaints and make use of government conciliation services, as well as actively pursued reports of any labor violations.
Also see the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. Regulations prohibit employment of children under the age of 15 in any industrial establishment. Other regulations limit work hours in the manufacturing sector for persons ages 15-17 to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons under the age of 18.
Children ages13-14 may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection of their safety, health, and welfare.
The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. In the first eight months of the year, the Labor Department conducted 93,840 inspections. During the same period, there was one conviction for breaching child labor regulations.
d. Discrimination with respect to Employment or Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on these grounds.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The SAR's first statutory minimum hourly wage, HK$28 ($3.60), came into force in 2011. It was adjusted to HK$30 ($3.86) in May 2013. In September 2013 the government's Commission on Poverty set the official poverty line at half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,600 ($463), for a two-person household HK$7,700 ($990), for a three-person household HK$11,500 ($1,480), and so on. According to this definition, more than 1.31 million persons (in a population of approximately 7.18 million) were living in poverty. A study released in November 2013 by a group of Hong Kong and British academics claimed there were 160,000 more Hong Kong citizens ( a total of 1.47 million) living in poverty than shown in government estimates.
Employers and employer associations often set wages. Additionally, some activists claimed that employers used employment contracts that defined workers as "self-employed" to avoid employer-provided benefits, such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers' compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments. According to the Labor Department, there were cases in which employers faced heavy court fines for such behavior. The department held that it was seeking to promote public awareness, consultation, conciliation services, and tougher enforcement to safeguard employees' rights.
There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. For certain groups and occupations, such as security guards and certain categories of drivers, there are regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during the year, approximately 17 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays.
In September the government raised the minimum wages for foreign domestic workers from HK$4,010 ($515) per month to HK$4,110 ($530) per month for all new contracts signed after October 1. The government also increased the mandatory food allowance for such persons working in homes where their employers did not provide meals.
The government's Standard Employment Contract requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker's compensation insurance, travel allowances, and food or a food allowance in addition to the minimum wage, which together provided a decent standard of living. Foreign domestic workers could be deported if dismissed. After leaving one employer, workers have two weeks to secure new employment before they must leave the SAR. Activists contended this restriction left workers vulnerable to abuse by employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels could be granted leave to remain in the SAR but could not work, leaving them either to live from savings or depend on charitable assistance.
The government contended that the "two-week rule" was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking unauthorized work. Regarding maximum hours and rest periods, the government stated that the rules on these issues cover local and migrant workers. In its explanation of why live-in domestic helpers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained that "the distinctive working pattern – round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers – made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid."
Domestic workers were often required to live with their employers (who did not always provide separate accommodation for the worker), which made it difficult to enforce maximum working hours or overtime regulations. They could also be subject to physical and verbal abuse, poor living and working conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement.
During the first eight months of the year, the Labor Tribunal convicted three employers on 13 counts of wage default, annual leave default, and failure to pay awards in cases relating to the employment of foreign domestic workers. From January to August, 59 foreign domestic workers filed criminal suits, 25 of which were against employers for mistreatment, including rape (one), indecent assault (five), and wounding and serious assault (19).
In August a pretrial hearing of the case began involving Indonesian domestic helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who was allegedly severely abused while working for her former employer. The trial against her employers for violations of labor and criminal laws was slated to begin in December. The Hong Kong Police Force and Labor Department sent a team of officials to Indonesia in mid-January to collect voluntary testimony and evidence from Erwiana and to explain further her rights under Hong Kong's labor and criminal laws. Erwiana's case made international headlines after it came to light earlier this year.
Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace, and these laws were effectively enforced.
The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. In the first eight months of the year, the Labor Department conducted 85,538 workplace inspections and served 2,131 suspension/improvement notices. During the same period, authorities levied fines totaling HK$13,604,470 ($1.75 million) for 1,314 infractions identified through workplace inspections.
In the first quarter, the Labor Department recorded 8,219 occupational injuries, including 2,475 classified as industrial accidents. In the same period, there were 10 fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists raised the issue of the increase in deadly industrial accidents, mainly due to construction and infrastructure projects.
No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Nevertheless, the Labor Department issued a "code of practice" on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both progovernment and pandemocratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.