The Committee considered, at its fifteenth session,
the third periodic report submitted by the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on articles
1 to 15 of the Covenant as applied in Hong Kong (E/1994/104/Add.10).
The Committee considered this report at its 39th,
41st, 42nd and 44th meetings held on 26, 27 and 28
November 1996. After having considered the report,
the Committee adopted at its 55th meeting, held on
6 December 1996, the following concluding observations.
The Committee notes with satisfaction that the report
submitted by the State party was prepared in accordance
with the Committee's guidelines. It welcomes the large
and high-level delegation composed of representatives
from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland and from Hong Kong. The information submitted
in the report and that provided by the delegation
in reply to both written and oral questions enabled
the Committee to obtain a broad view of the extent
of the State party's compliance with its obligations
under the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights. The Committee also expresses
its appreciation for the written replies to its list
of questions (E/C.12/Q/HON.1). The Committee notes
with satisfaction that this information enabled it
to engage in a constructive dialogue with the State
party, particularly concerning the applicable law.
However, it is regretted that a number of the Committee's
questions relating to reports of what actually happens
in practice were not answered.
The Committee also welcomes the presence of a significant
number of non-governmental organizations from Hong
Kong. The information provided by these non-governmental
organizations greatly assisted the Committee in its
understanding of the human rights situation in Hong
B. Positive aspects
The Committee notes with satisfaction that both the
Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law affirm
that the Covenant will continue to apply to Hong Kong
after the resumption of sovereignty over the territory
by the People's Republic of China as at 1 July 1997.
The Committee notes that the Government of Hong Kong
has established conditions for a high level of economic
The Committee welcomes the fact that non-governmental
organizations, members of the Legislative Council
and other interested parties have had an opportunity
to contribute their comments on topics included in
the report. The Committee lauds efforts made by the
Hong Kong government to promote public awareness of
the Covenant, and to make available to the public
at large a substantial number of copies of the report,
in English and Chinese, both in printed form and on
The Committee welcomes the enactment of the Sex Discrimination
Ordinance and the Disability Discrimination Ordinance,
in July and August 1995, respectively. It also notes
with interest the establishment of the Equal Opportunity
Commission in May 1996.
The Committee notes that the housing policy of the
government of Hong Kong endeavours to elaborate a
long-term programme for public housing construction
and to encourage private-sector housing construction
so as to make adequate and affordable housing available
to all residents of Hong Kong.
C. Factors and difficulties impeding the implementation
of the Covenant
The Committee notes that the uncertainties arising
from the resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong
by the People's Republic of China have clearly caused
some difficulties for the Hong Kong government in
undertaking measures to its maximum capacity towards
the protection and promotion of the economic, social
and cultural rights of its constituents.
The Committee notes that constraints arising from
limited habitable land in Hong Kong and from the significant
influx of immigrants into its territory may result
in difficulties in implementing certain articles of
the Covenant. However, it is also noted that Hong
Kong has considerable resources at its disposal to
overcome most problems posed by these obstacles.
The Committee notes that while the government of Hong
Kong has established conditions for a high level of
economic prosperity, while the latest figures show
a Gross Domestic Product per capita in Hong Kong of
US$ 23,500, the fourth highest in the world, and while
the Hong Kong government has accommodated reserves,
as of March 1996, of US$ 20 billion, Hong Kong has
one of the most uneven distributions of income in
the world: 20 per cent of the population hold 50 per
cent of the national wealth, but
households, i.e. 11 per cent of the population, live
in absolute poverty and 850,000 citizens live below
the poverty line.
D. Principal subjects of concern
The Committee deeply regrets that the recommendations
expressed in its concluding observations in 1994 have
largely been ignored by the Hong Kong government.
The Committee is concerned that the modalities for
the continued submission of reports by Hong Kong after
the resumption of sovereignty by the People's Republic
of China are still at the stage of negotiation and
have not been resolved to date.
The Committee expresses its disappointment that the
principal subjects of concern listed in its concluding
observations in 1994 remain unresolved. The Committee
reiterates its serious concern on the following issues:
(a) The provisions of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights continue to be
excluded from the domestic law of Hong Kong, which
already contains the provisions of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
(b) The level of awareness among the judiciary of
international human rights law in general and of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights in particular remains low.
(c) The Hong Kong government continues to object to
the establishment of a human rights commission;
(d) The number of split families continues to grow
at an alarming rate;
(e) The treatment of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong,
particularly those who refuse repatriation to Viet
Nam, is repressive and discriminatory;
(f) The two-week rule imposed upon foreign domestic
helpers upon expiration of their contract continues
to hinder their enjoyment of economic, social and
(g) The phenomenon of subhuman cage homes remains
(h) The level of social security payments available
to the elderly does not allow them to enjoy their
rights under the Covenant.
The Committee is concerned that the Sex Discrimination
Ordinance does not protect those individuals whose
right to work is violated by inappropriate account
being taken of their private sex lives. The Committee
further considers it a serious matter that women above
the age of 30 suffer discrimination in employment.
The Committee regrets the step-by-step approach according
to which legislation for the protection of vulnerable
minorities is adopted primarily on the basis of public
opinion surveys, that is, based on majority views.
The Committee is concerned that the principle of equal
pay for work of equal value as elaborated in the non-binding
Code of Practice of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance
has not been reflected in Hong Kong labour law, thus
giving rise to discrimination against women.
The Committee expresses its concern over the unfavourable
status of Hong Kong residents who possess British
Overseas residence, but who are not entitled to citizenship
of any British territory after 1997 although they
are allowed to reside in Hong Kong under Chinese law
even if they are not Chinese citizens.
The Committee is concerned that in the field of employment,
the Sex Discrimination Ordinance provides relatively
insufficient remedies owing to the absence of provisions
of reinstatement and full recovery compensation, while
both of these remedies are foreseen in the Disability
The Committee expresses its concern about the extent
of unemployment or underemployment as a result of
rapid economic restructuring. In this connection,
the Committee is particularly concerned about the
significant numbers of women who are thereby forced
out of the labour force and must sometimes resort
to precarious activities.
The Committee is concerned that Hong Kong labour legislation
does not provide protection against unfair dismissal,
nor does it provide for a limitation on hours of work,
for a paid weekly rest period and compulsory overtime
pay. This situation is a major hindrance to the enjoyment
of just and favourable conditions of work.
The Committee expresses its concern that trade union
rights are unduly restricted in Hong Kong. In particular,
the Committee is of the view that restrictions applied
to affiliation with international trade union organizations,
the prohibition on the formation of confederations
of trade unions from different industries, as well
as the legal right of employers to dismiss persons
involved in strike activities, are incompatible with
The Committee expresses its deep concern that there
is no comprehensive mandatory old-age social security
scheme in Hong Kong and that approximately 60 per
cent of the population is not protected by any public
or private pension plan.
The Committee expresses its concern that large numbers
of individuals and families who are eligible for comprehensive
social security assistance (CSSA) do not apply for
it, either because they are not aware of CSSA, because
they fear the cultural stigma attached to the concept
of welfare assistance, or because they are discouraged
from applying by certain practices of the authorities
which are not in conformity with Hong Kong law, such
as the requirement of children's consent before parents
may receive CSSA benefits.
The Committee is concerned that CSSA recipients are
not granted reimbursement for expenses for traditional
medicine, given the fact that Hong Kong residents
frequently use traditional medicine and that Hong
Kong courts grant such reimbursements in civil liability
The Committee reiterates its deep concern over the
growing numbers of split families in Hong Kong. The
Committee is of the view that the Hong Kong government
has an obligation to ensure that the criteria applied
in deciding on those eligible for legal migration
into Hong Kong are consistent with the provisions
of the Covenant.
The Committee expresses its concern at the absence
of a holistic policy for the protection of children
from all forms of abuse.
The Committee is deeply concerned that the standard
of living of elderly singletons in the lowest 20 per
cent income group who are not receiving CSSA is lower
than that of the CSSA recipients. The Committee notes
that many of these singletons live in substandard
The Committee regrets that the Hong Kong government
has not given any clear indication of a time-frame
within which it expects to eradicate the deplorable
phenomenon of cage homes. The Committee is particularly
concerned over the inadequate conditions of the housing
offered by the Hong Kong government to new immigrants
from China, resulting in many of them living in deplorable
The Committee expresses its concern over the inadequate
care and protection of the mentally ill and disabled
in Hong Kong. In particular, the Committee notes with
concern the apparent lack of initiative on the part
of the Hong Kong government to undertake public education
to combat discrimination against those with mental
The Committee takes note with concern that, while
the Hong kong government has adopted an educational
policy in relation to children of immigrant families
from China, it has not undertaken sufficient efforts
to ensure school placements for these children and
to protect them from discrimination.
E. Suggestions and recommendations
In the light of the terms of the Sino-British Joint
Declaration and of the recent practice of United Nations
human rights treaty bodies, the Committee is of the
firm view that, following the resumption of sovereignty
over Hong Kong by the People's Republic of China,
the People's Republic of China is under an obligation
not only to ensure the enjoyment in the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region of the rights guaranteed
by the Covenant but also to submit reports pursuant
to article 16 of the Covenant. The Committee therefore
considers that it is competent to examine the implementation
of the Covenant after 1 July 1997 on the basis of
reports or such other material as will be before the
Committee, and reiterates its willingness to receive
reports in respect of the Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region from the People's Republic of China or, if
the authorities so decide, directly from the Hong
Kong Special Administrative Region. The Committee
encourages all parties concerned to work out as soon
as possible the modalities of submitting such reports
and to inform the Committee of these modalities. The
Committee is convinced, however, that the best way
to resolve this issue would be for the People's Republic
of China itself to become a party to the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Committee urges the Hong Kong government to consider
with the utmost care the Committee's suggestions and
recommendations embodied in its concluding observations
of 1994, as well as those that follow, and to undertake
whatever relevant concrete measures may be necessary.
The Committee strongly urges the Hong Kong government
to take every possible measure to develop a fair and
open one-way permit approval mechanism in order to
facilitate rapid family reunification.
The Committee recommends that the Government should
undertake more effective measures for the retraining
of those who have lost employment or are underemployed
as a result of economic restructuring.
The Committee urges the amendment of the Sex Discrimination
Ordinance to include provisions on reinstatement in
employment as well as the removal of the current maximum
amount for recovery compensation.
The Committee recommends that the Government lift
repressive provisions and limitations in relation
to trade union federations including the prohibition
on establishing international affiliation.
The Committee recommends a review of government policy
in relation to unfair dismissal, minimum wages, paid
weekly rest time, maximum hours of work and overtime
pay rates, with a view to bringing such policy into
line with the government's obligations as set forth
in the Covenant.
The Committee strongly recommends that the Hong Kong
government should reconsider the adoption of a universal,
comprehensive retirement protection scheme which seeks
to ensure that disadvantaged groups are accorded full
access to social security.
The Committee reiterates in the strongest possible
terms its recommendation that the Hong Kong government
should undertake, as a matter of high priority, the
total eradication of cage homes.
The Committee urges the Hong Kong government to review
the seven-year residence rule applied before providing
housing to immigrant families from China, with a view
to ensuring their right to adequate housing.
The Committee requests that, within 45 days, it receive
a comprehensive response to its inquiry regarding
three Vietnamese refugees who were denied medical
and dental treatment, mainly for refusing to return
voluntarily to Viet Nam.
The Committee strongly recommends that the Hong Kong
government review the situation concerning persons
with mental illness and disability and to ensure that
their rights under the Covenant are fully protected.
The Committee recommends that measures to integrate
children of immigrant families from China into the
general education system be implemented with maximum
possible attention from government authorities.
The Committee recommends that these concluding observations
be made widely available in English and Chinese within
Hong Kong and that copies be provided by the government
to all members of the judiciary and to the relevant
echelons of the public service.