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Hong Kong Failing to Uphold Human Rights
U.N. report accuses government of neglecting minorities
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-10 09:48 (KST)   
In a move that has stunned human rights advocates, the Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) awarded a contract to educate teachers on human rights and anti-discrimination to a conservative Christian group, the Society For Truth and Light.

In an open letter to Education Secretary Arthur Li on Oct. 6, Amnesty International expressed "grave concerns as to the content of courses run by the Truth and Light Society to fully explain and uphold the rights enshrined in international standards and international law given the group's very public opposition to proposed anti-sexual orientation discrimination legislation and its apparent dislike of legislation promoting equal rights for all members of society."

Proposals to conduct the course were rejected from more experienced human rights educators, including University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, and a group headed by Hong Kong Institute of Education and Human Rights Monitor Leung Yan-wing.

The Society For Truth and Light has lobbied the government against legislation outlawing discrimination toward sexual minorities, stating that some rights need to be limited. It has also made spurious interpretations of scientific data, describing homosexuals as "unhealthy and dangerous to society" in newspaper advertisements, including Ming Pao, the Chinese language daily.

Society For Truth and Light General Secretary Choi Chi-sum said that human rights advocates were "taking their 'rights' too far," and added, "To equate gay rights and human rights is just wrong."

Human rights groups have accused the EMB of granting the contract in an unlawful manner without transparency. Chairman of Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities Roddy Shaw has called on the EMB "to disclose the grounds on which it considered the Society for Truth and Light the best candidate to deliver such trainings."

"Choosing a group that is not only anti-gay, but clearly anti-human rights, over experienced academics to teach human rights is simply a joke," Shaw added.

Education bureau spokeswoman Jeanne Tam said the selection was conducted fairly and openly.

Beginning Oct. 5, Shaw and several other human rights activists staged a 48-hour hunger strike outside Hong Kong's government offices to protest the EMB's decision.

In a related story, on Sept. 30 the Hong Kong government lodged an appeal against a High Court ruling that had normalized consent for anal sex from 21 to 16, the age permitted for other forms of consensual sex. In his ruling, Justice Michael Hartmann said the law had unfairly discriminated against homosexual men.

Citing "significant public concerns," the government stated that the original law was not discriminatory as it protected both male and female adolescents "from engaging in the conduct of buggery." The Society for Truth and Light welcomed the government's move.

These two events have led human rights advocates to conclude the government is trying to institutionalize discrimination against Hong Kong's gay community.

In further developments, also on Sept. 30, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child released a highly critical report on the state of human rights in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government has been dogged in the past by repeated criticism for its failure to pass laws protecting children, refugees, immigrants, and other minorities from discrimination.

Among its findings the committee found "the persistence of discrimination against refugee, asylum-seeking and undocumented migrant children in Hong Kong SAR, and the lack of legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or sexual orientation."

The committee recommended the government take concrete steps to speed up its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Thumbnail credit: David Stowell
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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