Uncertainties remained about the adequacy of human rights protection in Macao in anticipation of the territory's return to Chinese control in December 1999.

Concerns grew over increased criminal activity in Macao. The Macaonese and Chinese authorities stepped up police cooperation on crime and border issues. There were fears that new offences incorporated into law in 1997 to combat gang-related crime could be used to curb freedom of association (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Reports of press censorship continued, particularly of coverage of human rights violations and dissident activity in China.

The Portuguese authorities made moves to incorporate further safeguards for human rights into Macaonese law before the handover to China, but many ambiguities remained. The Basic Law of the Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which will govern Macao's affairs after 20 December 1999, fails to guarantee fully the rights enjoyed by Macao's citizens under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international human rights standards. The Basic Law and Macao's penal codes do not include adequate safeguards against torture and ill-treatment and for the independence of the judiciary and fair trials (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

In July the Portuguese President issued a series of decrees extending to Macao several international human rights standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The measures were suspended after the Legislative Assembly of Macao protested that it had not been consulted, but were subsequently reinstated in August.

Although China has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the ICCPR, both of which had been extended to Macao by Portugal in 1992, there were no moves to incorporate these instruments in specific legislation for the MSAR. It was not clear whether China or the Macaonese authorities would continue reporting to the UN Human Rights Committee on their implementation of the ICCPR, as directed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Ambiguities remained concerning the application of other international human rights treaties to Macao. Although the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment had been extended to Macao under Portuguese law, it was unclear whether China's failure to make a declaration under Article 22 of the Convention would prevent the UN Committee against Torture hearing individual complaints concerning Macao.

A new law regulating freedom of religion published by the Macao authorities in August contained important safeguards for religious practice. It was not clear, however, if provisions in the law dealing with conscientious objection would apply in all situations, such as the refusal by medical personnel to conduct forcible abortions.

Procedures to apply after December 1999 for the extradition of people wanted by jurisdictions in other parts of China remained unclear, giving rise to concerns that prisoners could be transferred to elsewhere in China in cases where they might face the death penalty. The rights of detainees of Chinese origin but with Portuguese nationality (who would be considered by the Chinese authorities to be nationals of the PRC) to consular assistance also remained unclear. Uncertainty continued about whether immigrants, including East Timorese and other refugees, would be authorized to remain in Macao after the handover.

The Chinese and Macaonese authorities gave no formal assurances that the death penalty would not be introduced into MSAR laws. Ambiguities concerning the respective jurisdictions of the PRC and Macaonese courts made it conceivable that PRC courts might apply the death penalty for offences committed in Macao.

Amnesty International representatives visited Macao several times during the year to discuss the organization's human rights concerns with members of the legal and human rights communities.

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