Equal Opportunities Commission


E-news Issue 199


Piecemeal reform not enough to ensure equality, says EOC Chairperson as world celebrates UDHR 70th Anniversary

As celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) spring up across the world this month, EOC Chairperson, Prof Alfred Chan Cheung-ming released an article on InMedia on 7 December, remembering the spirit of UDHR and calling on the Government to step up its commitment to promoting equal rights by filling longstanding gaps in anti-discrimination laws. The article was also published in the South China Morning Post on 9 December 2018, and in Ming Pao Daily (online version) and Hong Kong Economic Journal on 10 December 2018 respectively.

Adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, the UDHR proclaimed that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and paved the way for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, two treaties that were domesticated in Hong Kong through the Bill of Rights Ordinance and four anti-discrimination ordinances.

Prof Chan wrote, “Back in 2016, the EOC recommended 73 revisions to the anti-discrimination ordinances to the Government under the Discrimination Law Review (DLR). Yet, only eight of our recommendations have been taken forward in the Discrimination Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill gazetted last month. This piecemeal approach, often chalked up to controversy over more comprehensive reforms, has left the marginalised and disadvantaged an easy target for discrimination, harassment and vilification.”

Loopholes in the law include an exemption granted to the Government’s powers and functions under the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO); a narrow definition of race under the RDO that does not cover nationality, citzenship and residency status; the lack of an express provision under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance requiring employers, education establishments and providers of goods and services to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities; and the absence of an ordinance dedicated to outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

“To quote from the Chief Executive of the HKSAR, ‘divergence of views should not become an obstacle to the Government’s leading Hong Kong to make progress and more importantly, it should never bring Hong Kong to a standstill’,” continued Prof Chan. “One could only hope that the Government would apply the same logic to its work in protecting marginalised groups and promoting equality.”