Legal Practice
9/4/2008 12:17:44 AM EST
Will the Race Discrimination Ordinance Eliminate Race Discrimination in Hong Kong?
Sunny Chiang reviews the history and controversy surrounding the new race discrimination legislation and examines whether the law as passed will be effective in fulfilling Hong Kong’s domestic and international obligations to combat racial discrimination.

In the time before British colonisation, the population of Hong Kong was essentially homogenous and race discrimination was barely existent. During British colonial rule, many expatriates came to work in Hong Kong and the paradigm shifted. British citizens were generally offered top positions, higher pay, better terms and more attractive fringe benefits of all sorts in the governmental hierarchy. Chinese, on the other hand, had difficulty securing equal treatment no matter how outstanding they were at school and how competent they were at work.

Race discrimination has not disappeared since Hong Kong ceased to be a colony. Over time there has been an influx of new immigrants from many different countries, including India, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal and particularly Mainland China. The victims of discrimination are no longer the local Hong Kong people but the new immigrants. Over the past decade, many voices have called out for legislation against race discrimination in Hong Kong.

The first race discrimination consultation paper was introduced in 1997 based on a study paper produced by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). It was however shelved due to a lack of support in the Government. It was not until 2004 that the Government finally took steps to consult the community on legislation against race discrimination. In addition to the prevention and combating of race discrimination, the consultation paper cited the need to fulfill Hong Kong's obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Race Discrimination (ICERD), which had been applicable to Hong Kong since 1969.

Article 2 of ICERD states that the state party has the obligation to: 'prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate measures, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization? Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adds, in clear terms: 'all persons are equal before the law and ... the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race' The ICCPR is applicable to Hong Kong by operation of Article 39 of the Basic Law, which states that the treaty as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force and shall be implemented through the laws of the HKSAR.

The Race Discrimination Bill was finally introduced in 2006. However, it fell short of many people's expectations. Many clauses were drafted in a way which was contrary to the Bill's overall objectives, leading to noticeable weaknesses in its application. Following abundant public criticism and extensive debate in the Legislative Council (LegCo), the Government made some significant concessions and amendments to certain controversial areas of the Bill and, more than a decade after the Bill was first proposed, lawmakers were eventually unanimous in passing it on 9 July 2008. It was gazetted on 18 July 2008 as the Race Discrimination Ordinance and will be implemented in several phases. After more than 40 years, the operation of ICERD rules against race discrimination will be extended to Hong Kong.

The Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) is a significant step forward in the elimination of race discrimination in Hong Kong. Hong Kong should welcome a law to eradicate prejudice on grounds of race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, particularly given its nature as a cosmopolitan and multi-cultural city. But it must be asked whether the RDO is really equipped to eliminate race discrimination in Hong Kong. The most controversial issues which require further discussion include acts of the Government, the definition of indirect race discrimination, the protection of new immigrants from mainland China and discrimination based on language.

Acts of the Government

The Government in its 2004 consultation paper stated that the RDO would bind the Government. It proposed that the RDO would be as broadly and generally effective as the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO).

The Proposed Exemption for Government
During the drafting stage, the Government fundamentally changed its position. The draft Clause 3 stated: 'This Ordinance applies to an act done by or for the purposes of the Government that is of a kind similar to an act done by a private person.' In so restricting the clause, it became inapplicable whenever the Government would do things that private persons do not do. The Bill would therefore not bind the Government in many of its primary capacities, such as providing education, law enforcement, immigration services, customs and excise services, correctional services, taxation, issuing licenses, and many other areas of governmental responsibility.

Such an exemption placed the provisions of the Bill in stark contrast to those of the SDO, the DDO and the FSDO, which cover acts of the Government without such a restriction. Raymond Tang, the Chairman of the EOC, opined that in handling discrimination complaints, 'regulatory consistency' is the 'cardinal rule'. The regulatory inconsistency of the Bill as against the SDO, the DDO and the FSDO would result in weaker protection of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong as against the protection available to victims of sex and disability discrimination. EOC statistics on sex and disability discrimination cases show that a significant percentage of complaints are directed at public authorities. It is reasonable to expect that such numbers would be repeated in the case of race discrimination. There are therefore compelling reasons against shielding the Government from accountability for racially discriminatory acts. Unfavourable legislative treatment of ethnic minorities may even be regarded as a breach of the ICERD by the Hong Kong Government.

The Government sought to justify its exemption on the ground that the Bill of Rights Ordinance (BORO) was sufficient to cover race discrimination by the Government and public authorities. Section 7(a) stipulates that 'the Ordinance binds the Government and all public authorities'. Article 22 states that 'the law shall prohibit any discrimination ... on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status?(emphasis added).

Such an explanation is not acceptable because the EOC has no authority to enforce the BORO. This is different from the SDO, the DDO and the FSDO, which allow the EOC to investigate complaints and initiate legal action against public authorities. Victims of race discrimination are usually ethnic minorities who may not have the financial resources to litigate against the Government, which has unlimited resources with which to defend itself. It is impractical to say that the fight against race discrimination can be carried out through the BORO without the assistance of the EOC.

The Ordinance Binds the Government
In response to overwhelming public pressure, the Government changed its position on the issue of its own immunity. Its administrative response in March 2008 stated the following:

'.. we wish to reiterate the Government's commitment to combating racial discrimination through the application of the Ordinance, if enacted, both to the Government and the private sector. Clause 3 as presently drafted should not be misconstrued as providing a broad exemption to the Government ... we will introduce a Committee Stage Amendment so as to amend Clause 3 as: "This Ordinance binds the Government."

At the same time, the Government stated in the same document that 'the scope of Clause 3 would not expand to cover all government functions' Consequently, the scope of governmental acts which are included under cl 3 is still unclear. This is likely to fall to the determination of the courts.

Despite its uncertainty, the amendment was actualised in the Ordinance as gazetted. On the day the Bill was passed, the Government press release added that EOC would be empowered to exercise its functions under the Ordinance. This should be seen as a positive move in legislating against race discrimination. The RDO is now, at least, in line with other Hong Kong anti-discrimination ordinances regarding acts of the Government.

Definition of Indirect Race Discrimination

A Restrictive and Outdated Definition
Another weakness of the RDO can be seen by looking at cl 4(1)(b), the definition of indirect race discrimination. Such discrimination occurs when an unjustified adverse impact is had upon a class of persons by an apparently class-neutral action. The definition of indirect race discrimination is copied from the old version of the UK Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA). There are two major criticisms of this clause.

First, the clause states that 'the discriminator applies to that other person a requirement or condition which the discriminator applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same racial group as that other person' (emphasis added). The problem is that 'requirement or condition' has been interpreted narrowly by the courts. In Perera v Civil Service Commission and Department of Customs & Excise (No 2) [1983] IRLR 141 (CA), followed by Meer v London Borough of Tower Hamlets [1988] IRLR 399 (CA), it was held that only if a certain requirement or condition constituted an 'absolute bar' against the claimant's hiring, promotion or other benefit, would it be regarded as indirect discrimination. As Hong Kong has adopted the RRA definition, it is foreseeable that Hong Kong courts will follow a similarly narrow interpretation, making it difficult for victims to obtain redress without proving absolute bar. It is easy for the defendant to argue that a rejection decision made during the selection process for employment, education or some other benefit was based on factors not discriminatory in nature.

Second, the clause states that 'the proportion of persons of the same racial group as that other person who can comply with it is considerably smaller than the proportion of the persons not of that racial group who can comply with it' (emphasis added). This triggers the need for statistical evidence which may be difficult to produce. Moreover, the case can only be raised after actual harm is done. Both of these hurdles, the narrow interpretation and the requirement of statistical evidence, are likely to deter victims from raising cases of indirect discrimination.

Many commentators have suggested that the Government should refer to the more modern EC Directive definition, which was adopted by the UK in the Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003. In Art 2(2)(b) Council Directive 2000/43/EC, indirect discrimination is taken to occur where an apparently 'neutral provision, criterion or practice' 'would put' a person of a racial or ethnic origin at a 'particular disadvantage' compared with other persons. First, 'requirement or condition' is replaced by 'neutral provision, criterion or practice' which provides the space for a wider interpretation and resolves the 'absolute bar' problem. Second, the 'particular disadvantage' requirement appears to have removed the necessity for statistical evidence. Third, the use of the words 'would put' suggests that the particular disadvantage need not to be already done; it can be potential. (See Oran Doyle, 'Direct Discrimination, Indirect Discrimination and Autonomy' 2007 27 OJLS at 537.)

It is disappointing that the Government insisted on adopting the outdated RRA definition of indirect discrimination throughout the three readings of the Bill. The 2004 Consultation Paper stated that the Government would follow the UK model to prohibit indirect discrimination. But instead of following an updated version, the Government chose to follow an outdated one. As an international city, this is an embarrassing failure by Hong Kong to keep abreast of international standards upheld by EU countries in the protection of the rights of racial minorities.

'Rational and Proportionate' and 'Reasonably Practicable'
The tests imposed by cll 4(2)(a) and (b), as to whether a requirement or condition is justifiable, make it more difficult again for a claim of indirect discrimination to succeed. Clause 4(2)(a) stipulates a 'rational and proportionate' test, stating that a requirement or condition is justifiable 'if it serves a legitimate objective and bears a rational and proportionate connection to the objective' Clause 4(2)(b) of the Bill stipulated a 'reasonably practicable' test, stating that a requirement or condition is justifiable 'if it is not reasonably practicable for the person who allegedly discriminates against another person not to apply the requirement or condition'.

A defendant could therefore defeat a claim of indirect discrimination by satisfying either the rational and proportionate test or the reasonably practicable test. The reasonably practicable test has been particularly criticised for setting a low standard by which a defendant may defend his discriminatory act. A defendant could justify a requirement or condition simply by showing that it was not reasonably practicable for him not to apply it, regardless of how irrational and disproportionate the requirement or condition may be in relation to the legitimate objective. (See Carole Petersen, 'A Critique and Comparison with SDO and DDO,' June 2007 Submission to Bills Committee at 16.)

Extra Qualifications
Clauses 4(3), (4) and (5) of the Bill provided extra qualifications as to whether a requirement or condition is justifiable or not. These clauses contained a long list of qualifications which had the effect of making a claim of indirect discrimination more difficult and complex for the victim. The combined effect of these extra qualifications and cl 4(1)(b) was to create further obstacles for victims of indirect discrimination.

There are no such extra qualifications in the SDO, the DDO or the FSDO. In response to criticisms from various groups during the consultation period, the Government made some partial concessions in the finally passed RDO. On the positive side, the Government proposed at Committee Stage to delete both the reasonably practicable test in cl 4(2)(b) and the extra qualifications in cll 4(3), (4) and (5). LegCo accepted the amendments. This has helped reduce unnecessary barriers to claims and bring consistency to Hong Kong's anti-discrimination laws.

On the negative side, the cl 4(2)(a) rational and proportionate test has been retained. This is a fact-based provision, calling for factual or statistical evidence in support of a claim, and it may therefore still be a harsh provision for victims to satisfy. By comparison, the European Union applies a 'particular disadvantage' test which is broader and less statistical. The Hong Kong Government, without giving reasons, chose not to adopt this test. It merely offered a weak assertion that the rational and proportionate test is in line with internationally accepted principles of rationality and proportionality. No further explanation was given as to how cl 4(2)(a) accords with the internationally accepted principles.

In summary, although the Government has made some concessions in the final RDO by deleting the reasonably practicable test and extra qualifications, it has ignored the updated definition of indirect discrimination which mitigates the harshness of the burden of proof for victims, and it has preserved the highly questionable rational and proportionate test.

Protection of New Immigrants from Mainland China
Race discrimination is possible between members of the same racial group. According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, more than 380,000 new immigrants from Mainland China have settled in Hong Kong in the past seven years. A survey conducted by the Society for Community Organization in 2001 found that over 80% of interviewees complained of discrimination because of their identity as new immigrants, their behaviour or their appearance. This figure rose to over 91% in 2004. Among the complaints, 30% claimed to have been rejected for employment when the employer discovered that they were  not permanent residents or because their dialect was different to that of Hong Kong people.

Such discrimination intensified after the right of abode saga. According to a survey conducted by Oxfam in 2007, 60% of respondents believed that the majority of the recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance were new immigrants from Mainland China. However, the real number was only around 20%. Many other reports from non-government organisations and newspapers indicate that new immigrants suffer from factual race discrimination in areas including education, criminal justice and health care services.

Hong Kong's Special Circumstances
Hong Kong has its own special circumstances. Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese, despite their common race, colour and nationality, have many differences informed by their respective cultures, political systems, ideologies, education and so on. Hong Kong is, in fact, unique around the globe, particularly since adopting the 'one country, two systems' principle. While Hong Kong is part of China, there is still a strictly controlled border between the SAR and the Mainland. It is not an issue of biological ethnicity, but an issue of identity which distinguishes locally born Hong Kong residents from new arrivals from Mainland China.

A controversial question is whether cl 8 of the RDO should exclude protection for new immigrants from Mainland China. In the 2000 submission by the Government to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, new immigrants were initially considered to be a protected group. However, there was an abrupt change of attitude which led to the exclusion of new immigrants in the Bill. The main reason for this was the belief that once the huge number of immigrants were under the protection of the RDO the Government would have to bear the considerable cost of providing social benefits to them.

The Government's submission to LegCo in October 2007 therefore excluded new immigrants, citing the grounds that: (a) new immigrants are of the same race, colour, nationality and ethnicity as local people, and the Bill should not serve as a means to separate two groups of Chinese nationals from each other; and (b) the type of discrimination new immigrants are facing is a type of 'social discrimination' rather than race discrimination.

Race Discrimination to be Interpreted More Broadly
Many other countries have taken a very different view, recognising that race discrimination should be interpreted more broadly and flexibly. For example, the UK Race Relations Act 1976 as revised in 2003 states that a person may discriminate against another who is of the same race as the discriminator. Earlier, in Mandla v Dowell-Lee [1983] IRLR 209, the House of Lords ruled that the test of an ethnic group should broadly include the two essential characteristics of its long shared history and its own cultural tradition. Subsequently, BBC v Souster [2001] IRLR 150, the Scottish Court of Session, following the decision in Mandla v Dowell-Lee, ruled that national origins should be interpreted broadly and flexibly. It found that as England and Scotland were once separate nations, the English and the Scottish people had separate national origins and therefore the RRA did cover discrimination between them.

Singapore is another country to demonstrate a wider view of race discrimination in law. Singapore's population is more ethnically diverse than Hong Kong's. Article 12 of the Singapore Constitution calls for: 'no discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law' (emphasis added), protecting its citizens from discrimination even if they are from same race but from different places of birth. In Australia, s 5 of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 expressly protects 'immigrants' from discrimination in employment and other specified areas. By comparison, Hong Kong's RDO is relatively narrow in its application.

At present, the scope of protection for victims in the RDO is minimal. Hong Kong should extend the coverage to meet international standards. This is demonstrated not only by the domestic laws of other jurisdictions, but by Hong Kong's international obligations under applicable treaties. Article 29 of the ICCPR clearly states:

'.. all persons are equal before the law and ... the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.' (emphasis added)

By Article 39 of the Basic Law, this clause is directly applicable to Hong Kong and shall be implemented in domestic law. Discrimination on grounds of social origin and birth should therefore be proscribed by the RDO.

New Arrivals Neither Precluded Nor Included
In response to pressure from the public and NGOs during the consultation period, the Government modified its position on cl 8 in the Bills Committee. The RDO was finally passed not to preclude race discrimination against new arrivals from the Mainland. However, neither did cl 8 include these new arrivals as a distinct racial group for protection. It appears that Hong Kong courts will decide, as a matter of fact, whether individual Mainland arrivals will be regarded as belonging to a distinct racial group based on common law principles.

A potential problem with this is that there is very limited precedent available on the subject of race discrimination in Hong Kong. The vast majority of cases are resolved through the EOC's complaints channel. In fact, as at July 2008, Hong Kong courts had not made a single judicial decision on the issue of race discrimination in relation to the ICERD. Faced with a dearth of local case law on the question of whether litigants belong to a distinct racial group, the courts may look to cases from beyond Hong Kong, but such cases are merely persuasive and their applicability in Hong Kong may be uncertain. As such, the status of the new arrivals will be unclear until such a time as cases come before the courts. Although the Government, on the one hand, has said that new arrivals are protected under the law, it is, on the other hand, unwilling to commit to this in legislation, and the protection for new arrivals under cl 8 is therefore still questionable.

Even though protection under the RDO for Mainland immigrants remains uncertain, it has still taken a forward step. The Government has promised, in its administrative response, that appropriate support services will be provided to facilitate the integration of new arrivals into the community. For example, the Family Council will explore new initiatives and measures to strengthen its support services on top of the existing support work undertaken by related bureaux and departments.

Discrimination Based on Language
Last but not least, the question of language discrimination generated considerable controversy throughout the legislative process. The Bill defined race discrimination in line with the ICERD, which only includes discrimination based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

Attempted Exclusion of Language Discrimination
Obviously, this definition does not include race discrimination based on language. Clause 58 of the Bill expressly excluded language from the definition of discrimination on ground of race. This exemption inevitably weakened the effect of the Bill. Under this regime, failure to use a specific language in areas such as training, education, provision of goods, services and facilities, disposal of premises or access to clubs would not be illegal.

According to the Home Affairs Bureau, only 11.2% of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities are fluent in Chinese and only 60.4% claim to be fluent in English. The rest are not fluent in the official languages of Hong Kong; in other words, about one third of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities has communication problems. The most frequently encountered difficulty for these minorities is language, and as a result they are unlikely to be properly integrated into society. This can have serious results, such as in cases of illness where they may be unable to adequately express their problem to hospital staff.

The United Nations letter dated 7 March 2008 raised such concerns over the omission of provisions as to language discrimination. Indeed Hong Kong has both international and domestic legal obligations to legislate against language discrimination, as stipulated in Article 2(2) of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC) and Article 1 of the BORO, which state that the rights must be exercised without discrimination as to 'race, colour, sex, language, religion ... national or social origin' (emphasis added). In regard to public medical services, Article 5(e)(iv) of ICERD also states that 'every person has the right to receive public medical services'. However, if ethnic minority patients cannot communicate effectively with hospital staff, how can the Government provide medical services to them on an equal basis with their majority counterparts?

In the administrative response in March 2008, the Government maintained its refusal to delete or amend cl 58 of the Bill, stating that: 'Language is not a ground of race ... it would not be practicable or reasonable for service providers in the private or public sectors to conduct their business in all languages or in the language of their client's choice'.

Language Exemption Voted Down
Against the Government's expectations, its motion to exempt language discrimination in the Bill was marginally voted down by 26 to 24 in LegCo on 9 July 2008, and the Bill was ultimately passed without such an exemption. This was hailed as a victory by many in the general public and various organisations. The Government, however, refused to comment on whether a language exemption clause would be tabled again in the future.
On the day the Bill was passed, the Government stated its position via press release as follows:

'While the original Clause 58 of the Bill regarding the "use of language" has not been incorporated as part of the Ordinance, this does not necessarily mean that a particular language is to be used or interpretation service is to be provided in all circumstances. As to whether Government and private sector organizations should use a particular language or provide interpretation service would depend on the proportionality test as set out in Clause 4 of the Ordinance.'

The Government's reluctant acceptance of the result is demonstrated by its emphasis of the cl 4(2) proportionality test. In the face of public speculation as to what language services will be provided by the Government in response to the rejection of the language exemption, the Government is attempting to lower expectations. For example, the Government has emphasised that the RDO does not require a vocational training institute or an education establishment to modify or make different arrangements regarding the medium of instruction in according with cll 20 and 26.

Initiatives to Eliminate Language Discrimination
On the other hand, the Government has said that it will establish four regional interpretation support service centres to facilitate access to public services by ethnic minorities and to organise language classes and other programmes to facilitate their integration into the community.

Another effect of the removal of the language exemption is that public authorities will have to implement measures to avoid any potential language discrimination. For instance, the Vocational Training Institute and the Medical Authority have stated that they will consider hiring more interpreters to assist ethnic minorities in accessing their services. The Labor Department has said that it will translate its pamphlets into the languages of various Asian countries, such as the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan.
It is foreseeable that interpretation and translation needs will increase in the near future due to the legal requirement of provision of translation and interpretation services. Although there are some operational cost concerns for businesses and public services, the benefits of enhanced equality of opportunity and harmony in the community certainly outweigh the cost.

Conclusion

Thanks to the overwhelming force of public opinion, the Government has made concessions which have partially resolved some of the most controversial aspects of the RDO. However, further discussion and scrutiny of the effectiveness of the law will certainly be required. The EOC will be extended the power to enforce the law. Its first task is to prepare a code of practice, which will be subject to amendment by LegCo, after which it faces the weighty responsibility of ensuring that the RDO is used successfully in combating discrimination, harassment and vilification in connection with race. The Government commits to bring into effect the relevant sections which empower the EOC within three months of the legislation's passage. Thereafter, the Government expects that the relevant sections will be applied to various departments and the private sector within one year.
On top of the work carried out by the Government, and notwithstanding the remaining weaknesses in the RDO, individuals can contribute to racial and social harmony by learning to tolerate, love, care for and trust one another. With the passage of the RDO and the fulfillment of Hong Kong's international legal obligations coming at a similar time to the Olympic Games, which themselves seek to emphasise the cultivation of a peaceful and harmonious multicultural society, we may borrow that event's slogan: 'One world, One Dream'. Hong Kong's commitments to equal opportunity and the elimination of race discrimination will benefit both its Government and its people, and help to fulfill the ultimate goal of truly being an 'Asian World City'.


Sunny CH Chiang
Instructor I
City University of Hong Kong
lwsunny@cityu.edu.hk


《種族歧視條例》是否會消除香港的種族歧視?
鄭志行先生檢視了新種族歧視法例的歷史與爭議,並探討通過的法律是否將有效履行香港打擊種族歧視的本地與國際義務。

在香港成為英國殖民地之前,香港的人口構成主要是單一性的,幾乎不存在任何種族歧視。在英國殖民統治時期,許多外國人來到香港工作,情況遂起了變化。英國公民在政府機構裡通常獲得高層職位、更高的薪酬、更好的待遇條件,以及各種各樣更具吸引力的附帶福利。反觀中國人,不論他們學業表現有多好,工作有多出色,都難以得到平等的待遇。

香港的殖民地統治結束後,種族歧視並未消失。多年以來,有大量來自不同國家的新移民湧入香港,包括印度、巴基斯坦、越南、菲律賓、印尼、尼泊爾,以及特別是中國內地移民。被歧視的受害者不再是香港本地人,而是新移民。過去十多年來,曾有許多人士呼籲香港制定反對種族歧視的法例。

首份種族歧視諮詢文件於1997年訂定,它是以平等機會委員會撰寫的一份研究報告為依據。然而,由於在政府中缺乏支持,該文件被束之高閣。直到2004年,政府才最終採取步驟,就反種族歧視立法諮詢社會意見。除了防止與打擊種族歧視外,該諮詢文件還指出香港必須履行《消除一切形式種族歧視國際公約》(ICERD)所規定的義務。該公約自1969 年起便適用於香港。

ICERD第2條規定,締約國有義務「以一切適當方法,包括依情況需要制定法律,禁止並終止任何人、任何團體或任何組織所施行的種族歧視」。另外,《公民權利和政治權利國際公約》(ICCPR)第26條明文規定:「所有的人在法律前平等 … 法律應禁止任何歧視並保證所有的人得到平等的和有效的保護,以免受基於種族等任何理由的歧視」。ICCPR藉由《基本法》第39條適用於香港。該條規定,適用於香港的條約須繼續有效,並通過香港特別行政區的法律來實施。

《種族歧視條例草案》最終於2006年制定。然而,它並沒有達到許多人的期望。很多條款的草擬,是違背了《草案》的總體目標,造成在實施中產生明顯的缺點。由於公眾批評意見眾多,經過立法會的廣泛辯論,政府對《草案》的某些爭議地方作出了一些重大的讓步與修訂,而在《草案》於最初提出的十多年後,立法會終於在2008年7月9日一致予以通過,並在2008年7月18日以《種族歧視條例》的名稱刊憲和分期實施。經過了40多年,反對種族歧視的ICERD規則終擴展至香港。

《種族歧視條例》被視為香港消除種族歧視的一項重大進步。香港應當歡迎這樣一種法律,以消除基於種族、膚色、世系、民族或人種的歧見,特別是香港作為一個國際都會和具備多元文化的城市。但必須要問的是,《種族歧視條例》能否消除香港的種族歧視。最富爭議並需要進一步討論的問題包括:政府的行為;間接種族歧視的定義;對中國內地新移民的保障;以及基於語言的歧視。

政府的行為

政府在其2004年的諮詢文件中稱,《種族歧視條例》將對政府具有約束力。政府還提出,《種族歧視條例》將會像《性別歧視條例》、《殘疾歧視條例》,以及《家庭崗位歧視條例》那樣具有廣泛、普遍的效力。

對政府實施豁免的提議
在起草階段,政府改變了其基本立場。草案第 3條稱:「本條例適用於政府作出的或為政府的目的而作出的、與私人作出的作為相類似的作為。」對條款進行如此限制後,只要政府作出私人不會作的事情,條款便不適用。因此,《草案》將在政府的許多主要職能中對其失去約束力,例如:提供教育;執法;出入境服務;海關服務;懲教服務;稅收;簽發牌照;以及其他許多政府職責。

如此的豁免使《草案》條文與《性別歧視條例》、《殘疾歧視條例》及《家庭崗位歧視條例》形成鮮明對比,後者涵蓋政府的行為,而並不受該等限制。平等機會委員會主席鄧爾邦認為,在處理歧視申訴時,「法規一致性」是「基本規則」。《草案》與《性別歧視條例》、《殘疾歧視條例》及《家庭崗位歧視條例》的法規不一致,將會造成香港少數族裔得到的保障,弱於性別與殘疾歧視的受害人所獲得的保障。根據平等機會委員會關於性別與殘疾歧視案件的統計資料顯示,相當大比例的申訴是針對政府機關。我們可以合理預期,此類案件的數量亦會在種族歧視情形中出現。因此,有充分理由表明政府不應當不必為種族歧視行為承擔責任。對少數族裔實施對其利益有損的立法,甚至可視為香港政府違反了ICERD。

政府力圖為其獲得豁免尋找合理辯解。政府的理由是,《香港人權法案條例》足以涵蓋政府及公共主管當局的種族歧視行為。第7(a)條規定﹕「本條例對政府及所有公共主管當局具有約束力」。第22條規定﹕「法律必須禁止基於任何理由的任何歧視 …譬如種族、膚色、性別、語言、宗教、政治或其他觀點、民族或社會出身、財產、出生或其他身份」(加以強調)。

這樣的解釋不可接受,因為平等機會委員會無權強制執行《人權法案條例》。這有別於《性別歧視條例》、《殘疾歧視條例》及《家庭崗位歧視條例》,因其允許平等機會委員會調查所提出的申訴,並對公共主管當局提起法律訴訟。遭受種族歧視的受害人通常是少數族裔,他們可能沒有財力向政府提起訴訟,而政府則擁有無限的資源來為自己辯護。因此,認為可以通過《香港人權法案條例》來對抗種族歧視,而無須得到平等機會委員會的協助,乃是不切實際的想法。

《條例》對政府具有約束力
政府為因應強大的公眾壓力,乃改變了關於其自身免責的立場。2008年3月,政府作出了以下的回應:

「… 我們希望重申政府對透過將本《條例》(若通過)應用於政府及私營部門而打擊種族歧視的承諾 。目前草擬的第3條不應當錯誤地理解為向政府提供寬泛的豁免… 我們將引入一項委員會階段修訂,以便將第3條修訂為:『本《條例》對政府具有約束力。』」

同時,政府在同一份文件中稱,「第3條的範圍不會擴大至涵蓋所有政府職能」。因此,第3條所包含的政府行為其範圍依然不清晰。這可能須由法院來確定。

儘管存在不確定因素,該項修訂如憲報所載的,於《條例》中落實。在《草案》通過的當日,政府的新聞公告補充稱,平等機會委員會將獲授權行使《條例》規定的職能。這應當視為乃一項打擊種族歧視的積極立法行動。至少就政府行為而言,《種族歧視條例》目前已經與香港的其他反歧視條例一致。

間接種族歧視的定義

過時的限制性定義
在審視第4(1)(b)條後,便可發現《種族歧視條例》的另一個不足之處,就是關於間接種族歧視的定義。該等歧視的發生,是當某一個階層的人士,因著一項看似不涉及階層的行動而蒙受不公平的不利影響時。間接種族歧視的定義乃照搬舊版的英國《1976年種族關係法》(《種族關係法》)。對於該條款,有兩大主要批評意見。

首先,該條款規定,「該歧視者對該另一人施加一項要求或條件,而該歧視者同樣地對或會對與該另一人屬於不同種族群體的人施加該項要求或條件」(加以強調)。問題在於,法院對「要求或條件」作了狹義的闡釋。在 Perera v Civil Service Commission and Department of Customs & Excise (No 2) ([1983] IRLR 141)(CA)一案以及在隨後的 Meer v London Borough of Tower Hamlets [1988] IRLR 399(CA)案件中,法院認為只有在某項要求或條件對申索人的聘用、擢升或其他利益構成「絕對妨礙」的情況下,方可視為間接歧視。由於香港採納了《種族關係法》的定義,可以預見,香港法院將遵循同樣狹義的闡釋,使受害人難以在未證明存在絕對妨礙的情況下獲得糾正。被告人可以輕易辯稱,在僱傭、教育或某些其他利益的遴選過程中所作出的拒絕決定,是基於非歧視性的因素。

其次,該條文還規定,「與該另一人屬於同一種族群體的人能符合該項要求或條件的人數比例,遠較與該另一人屬於不同種族群體的人能符合該項要求或條件的人數比例為小 」 (加以強調)。這促使人們需要收集難以獲取的統計證據。並且,人們只有在蒙受實際損害後才能提出申訴。上述兩項障礙(即狹義闡釋與統計證據要求)極可能嚇阻受害人提出間接歧視申訴。

許多評論人士提出,政府應當參照較為現代的歐委會指令定義,而英國在《2003年〈1976年種族關係法〉(修訂)規例》中採納了該定義。2000/43/EC理事會指令第2(2)(b) 條稱,倘若表面上「中性的條文、標準或常規」「會讓」某個種族或民族出身的人處於較其他人「特別不利」的境況,則構成間接歧視。首先,「要求或條件」由「中性的條文、標準或常規」所取代,這為更加寬泛的闡釋提供了餘地,並解決了「絕對障礙」問題。其次,「特別不利」的要求似乎取消了提供統計證據的必要性。再者,使用「會讓」一詞表明,「特別的不利」並非一定已經實行,而可以是潛在性的。(參見Oran Doyle,「直接歧視、間接歧視與自治」,2007 27 OJLS at 537.)

令人失望的是,政府在《草案》的整個三讀過程中,始終堅持採用《種族關係法》中對間接歧視的過時定義。2004年諮詢文件稱,政府將遵循英國的模式禁止間接歧視。但政府不是遵循最新模式,而是選擇遵循過時的模式。作為國際性城市,香港在保障少數種族群體的權利方面,未能與歐盟國家採納的國際標準保持一致,這一點確實令人尷尬。

「合理和相稱」與「合理地切實」
第4(2)(a)及(b)條就要求或條件是否有理可據所設定的驗證,再度使間接歧視申索更加難以勝訴。第4(2)(a)條規定了「合理和相稱」的驗證,即是:該等要求或條件須為有理可據,「如果該項要求或條件為某合法的目的而施加,並與該目的有合理和相稱的關聯」。《草案》第4(2)(b)條規定了「合理地切實」驗證,即是:該等要求或條件須為有理可據,「如果該名被指稱歧視另一人者不施加該項要求或條件,並非合理地切實可行」。

因此,被告人可以通過滿足「合理和相稱」驗證或「合理地切實」驗證,令間接歧視申索敗訴。「合理地切實」驗證尤其受到批評,因為它設置了較低的標準,被告人可藉此為自己的歧視行為辯護。被告人僅須證明自己不施加該項要求或條件並非合理地切實可行,便可以令某項要求或條件有理可據,而不論就合法的目的而言,該項要求或條件是多麼不合理或不相稱。(參見 Carole Petersen, 'A Critique and Comparison with SDO and DDO,' June 2007 Submission to Bills Committee at 16)

額外限制
《草案》第4(3)、(4)和(5)條就某項要求或條件是否合理可據規定了額外限制。這些條款包含一系列的限制條件,其結果是讓受害人提出間接歧視申索的過程更加困難和複雜。上述額外限制和第4(1)(b)條所共同產生的結果,給間接歧視的受害人造成進一步的障礙。《性別歧視條例》、《殘疾歧視條例》或《家庭崗位歧視條例》中沒有這樣的額外限制規定。

因應諮詢期間多個群體提出的批評意見,政府在最終通過的《種族歧視條例》中作出了某些讓步。從積極方面來說,政府提議在委員會階段刪除第4(2)(b)條中的「合理地切實」驗證,以及第4(3)、(4)和(5)條中的額外限制規定。立法會接受了修訂,這有助於減少不必要的申索障礙,並令香港的反歧視法例更加統一。

從消極方面來說,第4(2)(a)條的「合理和相稱」驗證仍被保留。這是一項以事實為依據的條文,要求提供事實或統計證據以支持申索,而它因此可能仍是受害人難以符合要求的苛刻規定。與此相比,歐盟所採納的是「特別不利」驗證,它更為寬泛及對統計資料要求較低。香港政府在未說明理由的情況下選擇不採納該項驗證。政府僅是淡淡地聲稱,「合理和相稱」驗證符合國際公認的合理和相稱原則。但第4(2)(a)條如何符合國際公認原則,則沒有給予進一步解釋。

總括而言,雖然政府在最終的《種族歧視條例》中作出某些讓步,刪除了「合理地切實」驗證和額外限制,但卻忽視了間接歧視的最新定義(該定義減輕了受害人在舉證責任方面的難度),並且保留了大有疑問的「合理和相稱」驗證。

保障來自中國內地的新移民
同一種族群體的成員之間亦可能產生種族歧視。據香港入境事務處的統計,在過去七年中,共有超過38萬名中國內地新移民來港定居。香港社區組織協會於2001年開展的調查顯示,百分之八十以上的受訪者抱怨稱由於自己的新移民身份、行為或外表而遭受歧視。2004年,該數字上升至超過百分之九十一。在申訴中,百分之三十的人聲稱當僱主發現他們並非香港永久居民,又或是由於他們的方言不同於香港居民時即被拒絕僱用。

自居港權事件發生後,該等歧視更為加劇。樂施會於2007年開展的一項調查顯示,百分之六十的接受調查者認為,接受綜合社會保障援助的人士主要是來自中國內地的新移民。然而,真實數字僅為約百分之二十。非政府組織和報章的其他許多報告表明,新移民在教育、刑事司法及醫療服務等方面遭受事實上的種族歧視。

香港的特殊情況
香港具有其自身的特殊情況。香港和內地的華人儘管種族、膚色和民族相同,但同時亦有眾多差別,這是由於各自的文化、政治制度、意識形態、教育等因素使然。事實上,香港在全球領域中具有其獨特性,尤其是在採納「一國兩制」原則後。雖然香港屬於中國,但在特區和內地之間依然存在嚴格管制的邊界。將香港本地居民與新來港的內地人士區別開來的,並非種族問題,而是身份問題。

一個富爭議性的問題在於,《種族歧視條例》第18條是否應當豁除對中國內地新移民的保障。在政府於2000年向「消除一切形式種族歧視委員會」提交的意見書中, 新移民從一開始便被認為是受保障群體。然而,政府的態度隨後突然改變,導致《草案》將新移民排除在外。這樣做的主要原因在於政府認為,一旦數量龐大的新移民受《種族歧視條例》所保障,政府將需要承受向他們提供社會福利的龐大費用。因此,政府在10月2日向立法會提交的意見書中將新移民排除在外。政府所提出的理由是: (a) 新移民與本地居民具有相同的種族、膚色、民族與人種,而《草案》不應當成為一種將兩個華人族群彼此分離的手段;(b) 新移民面臨的歧視類型是某種「社會歧視」而非種族歧視。

更加寬泛地闡釋種族歧視
許多其他國家採取了迥然不同的觀點。它們認為,應當更加寬泛、靈活地闡釋種族歧視。例如,2003年修訂的英國《1976年種族關係法》規定,一個人有可能被與其屬同一種族的另一人歧視。較早前,在 Mandla v Dowell-Lee ([1983] IRLR 209) 一案中,上議院裁定,民族群體的驗證應當寬泛地包含兩個關鍵特徵,即:該民族的共同悠久歷史;該民族自身的文化傳統。隨後在 BBC v Souster ([2001] IRLR 150)一案中,蘇格蘭高等民事法院遵循Mandla v Dowell-Lee案件的決定,裁定民族源流應作廣泛、靈活的闡釋。法院裁定,由於英格蘭和蘇格蘭一度曾是獨立的國家,英格蘭人和蘇格蘭人擁有各自的民族淵源,因此《種族關係法》亦須涵蓋兩者之間所發生的歧視。

新加坡是在法律中展示更寬泛的種族歧視觀點的另一個國家。新加坡的人口比香港更具民族多樣性。《新加坡憲法》第12條規定:「在任何法律中,不得僅基於宗教、種族、 世系或出生地理由,對新加坡公民進行歧視」(加以強調),從而保障其公民免受歧視,即使其源自相同種族但來自不同出生地。在澳洲,《1975年種族歧視法》第5條明文保障「移民」在僱傭及其他指明範疇中免受歧視。比較而言,香港《種族歧視條例》的適用範圍較為狹窄。

目前,《種族歧視條例》給予受害人的保障範圍非常小。香港應當擴大覆蓋面,以符合國際標準。這不僅體現在其他司法管轄區的當地法例中,亦體現在香港根據適用條約所承擔的國際義務中。ICCPR第29條明確規定:

「… 所有的人在法律前平等 … 法律應禁止任何歧視並保證所有的人得到平等的和有效的保護,以免受基於種族、膚色、性別、語言、宗教、政治或其他見解、國籍或社會出身、財產、出生或其他身份等任何理由的歧視。」(加以強調)

根據《基本法》第39條,該項條款直接適用於香港,並須在本地法例中實施。因此,基於社會出身和出生的歧視,應當被《種族歧視條例》所禁止。

新來港者既不被排除,亦不被包含
因應諮詢期間來自公眾及非政府組織的壓力,政府在草案委員會中修正了有關第8條的立場。最終通過的《種族歧視條例》,並不排除對內地的新來港者的種族歧視。但是,第8條亦不包含上述新來港者,將其作為一個獨特的種族群體加以保障。看來事實上,這將需要由香港法院根據普通法原則,決定個別內地的新來港者是否被視為屬於某個獨特的種族群體。

一個潛在的問題是,香港有關種族歧視問題的可資借鑒先例非常不足。絕大多數的案件是通過平等機會委員會的申訴管道而得到解決。事實上,時至2008年7月,香港法院尚未就與ICERD有關的種族歧視問題作出過任何司法裁決。鑒於在訴訟人是否屬於一個獨特的種族群體的問題上,極為缺乏本地的判例法,因此法院可能需要借鑒香港以外的法庭判例,但此類判例僅具有說服性,它們是否適用於香港尚難以確定。因此,新來港者的地位只有當案件訴諸法院時方可確定。雖然政府一方面已經表示新來港者受法律保障,但另一方面卻又不願意在立法中恪守該項原則。因此,第8條是否能為新來港者提供保障仍然存疑。

即使《種族歧視條例》在能否保障內地新移民方面依然不明確,但它仍向前跨出了一步。政府在其行政答覆中,承諾將提供適當的支援服務,以利新來港者融入本地社會。例如,家庭理事會將探索新的舉動與措施,在相關的局署已經開展的現有支援工作基礎上,加強其支援服務。

基於語言的歧視
最後,但也是相當重要的一點是,語言歧視問題在整個立法過程中產生了相當大的爭議。《草案》對種族歧視的定義與ICERD一致,僅包括基於種族、膚色、世系、民族或人種
的歧視。

試圖排除語言歧視
明顯地,該項定義並不包含基於語言的種族歧視。《草案》第58條明文規定,將語言從基於種族的歧視定義中排除。這項豁免無疑削弱了《草案》的作用。根據該項制度,在培訓、教育、貨品提供、服務和設施、處所的處置或會所的加入等方面,不使用某一種特定語言並不屬違法。

據民政事務局的資料顯示,僅有11.2%的香港少數族群能操流利的中文,而僅有60.4%的人聲稱自己英文流利,其餘的人不能流利地操香港的官方語言。換句話說,香港有大約三分之一的少數族裔存在溝通上的問題。 對這些少數族裔來說,最常遭遇的困難便是語言,因此他們難以適當地融入社會。這可能會造成嚴重後果,例如在患病時,他們可能無法向醫務人員充分述說自己的病情。

在2008年3月7日發出的聯合國函件中,其對沒有制訂語言歧視方面的條文表示了關注。確實,香港應遵行國際與本地法律義務,立法反對語言歧視。正如《經濟、社會和文化權利國際公約》(ICESC)第2(2)條和《人權法案條例》第1條所規定的那樣,行使權利時不得歧視「種族、膚色、性別、語言、宗教 … 國籍或社會出身」(加以強調)。關於公共醫療服務方面,ICERD第 5(e)(iv) 條亦規定,「人人有享受公共衛生服務的權利」。但是,如果少數族群的病患者無法與醫務人員進行有效的溝通,則政府如何能在與大多數人相同的基礎上向他們提供醫療服務呢?

在2008年3月的行政答覆中,政府依然拒絕刪除或修訂《草案》第58條,聲稱「語言並非種族理由 … 要求私營或公共部門的服務提供者以所有語言或以客戶選擇的語言開展業務,既不切實,亦不合理」。

語言豁免遭否決
儘管政府有此期望,但政府要求在《草案》中豁免語言歧視的動議於2008年7月9日在立法會以26對24的微弱多數遭到否決,最終通過的《草案》並無該等豁免。社會上以及若干組織中的很多人歡呼這項勝利,但政府拒絕就今後是否會再度提出語言豁免條款作出評論。

在《草案》通過的當日,政府通過新聞公告陳述自身立場如下:

「雖然條例並沒有包涵原擬條例草案在有關語文使用的第58條,但這並不表示在所有的情況下均需要使用某一種語文或需要提供傳譯服務。至於政府或私人機構是否需要使用某一種語文或要提供傳譯服務,則要視乎是否符合條例中第4條的『相稱原則』驗證。」

政府勉強接受結果的態度,表現在強調第4(2)條的相稱性驗證。面對公眾關於政府會否因應語言豁免遭否決而提供哪些語言的推測,政府試圖將期望降低。例如,政府已強調,《種族歧視條例》並不要求職業培訓機構或教育機構遵照第20條和第26條的規定,在教學媒介方面作出修改或不同的安排。

消除語言歧視的舉措
另一方面,政府已表示將設立四個地區性的傳譯支援服務中心,以便少數族裔能享受公共服務,並會舉辦語言及其他課程,以利他們融入本地社會。

去除語言豁免的另一個後果是,公共主管當局將必須採取措施,避免任何潛在的語言歧視。例如,職業培訓機構和醫務當局已經表示將考慮聘用更多傳譯人員,幫助少數族裔取得其服務。勞工處已經表示會將其手冊翻譯成多個亞洲國家的語言,例如菲律賓、印度、印尼、泰國、越南及巴基斯坦。

可以預見,由於法律要求提供翻譯和傳譯服務,傳譯和翻譯的需要在不久的將來會上升。雖然商業與公共服務會關注到若干營運成本方面的問題,但提升社會機會平等與和諧的益處肯定會大於成本。

結論

由於壓倒性的公眾意見,政府已經作出讓步,解決了《種族歧視條例》方面部分最富爭議的問題。然而,我們必須對該法律的成效開展進一步的討論與檢討。平等機會委員會的執法權力將會擴大,而該機構的首要任務是制定一份可經由立法會修訂的實務守則。之後,平機會便要肩負繁重的責任,確保《種族歧視條例》成功得以運用,打擊與種族有關的歧視、騷擾和中傷。政府承諾在該法例通過後三個月內,讓賦予平機會權力的相關條款生效。之後,政府預期相關條款將在一年內適用於各個政府部門和私營範疇。

儘管《種族歧視條例》依然存在缺陷,但除了政府開展的工作之外,個人亦可以學習彼此寬容、友愛、關懷、信任,從而促進種族及社會和諧。由於《種族歧視條例》的通過,以及香港履行國際性法律義務,恰逢奧運會的舉行,而奧運本身又強調建立一個和平與和諧的多元文化社會,我們在此可以借用奧運的口號:「同一個世界,同一個夢想」。香港對機會平等和消除種族歧視的承諾,對政府和社會大眾將同樣有利,並有助於實現其真正成為「亞洲國際都會」的最終目標。



鄭志行
導師
香港城市大學
lwsunny@cityu.edu.hk

 


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