For a long time, Hong Kong has been criticized for a lack of adequate legal provisions to promote racial equality and prevent and remedy discrimination on the ground of race.
Finally, in December 2006 the Hong Kong Government introduced the Race Discrimination Bill (RDB). However, the proposed RDB contains significant weaknesses which would reduce the effectiveness of the Bill, and even legalize some discrimination on the ground of race. Four fundamental weaknesses of the Bill are:
1. non-application to many Government acts;
2. limited definition of direct and indirect discrimination;
3. the broad exemptions, especially those on language and education; and
4. the distinction between permanent residents (PRs) and non-PRs.
The Government is trying to put itself outside the Equal Opportunities Commission’s jurisdiction and is clearly afraid of challenges to its policies. It has broken its promise that the Race Discrimination Bill would be ‘modeled on the structure and format’ of the three existing anti-discrimination ordinances, namely the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO). The RDB is much weaker than these three laws. The proposed RDB paves the way for Government abuses and justifications of existing racially discriminatory policies and practices. It will weaken the cultural sensitivity of decision-makers and service providers. The law as currently drafted would send a clear message to Government departments and officials that they do not need to promote racial equality as the law does not require them to do so. The RDB should have been a pledge in the form of law by the Government to combat racial discrimination and to promote racial equality and harmony. It now becomes a signal of non-commitment and a tool for entrenching and institutionalizing racial discrimination.
We thus urge the Government to make substantive improvements to the proposed RDB, otherwise, the Bills Committee should consider rejecting the Bill. It should be noted that if the Government insists on pushing through the current RDB, we foresee that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would take vigorous action in early 2008 and the Government shall be seriously criticized.