no human rights problem in hong kong?

posted in: hong kong 0

the topic of today’s governance & law class was “monitoring government processes” (ie, ombudsmen, commissions of inquiry, judicial review, etc.). there is currently no human rights commission in HK, so our prof was suggesting that perhaps we could expand the powers of the (independent) ombudsman, so as to have a supervisory role with respect to human rights issues. (kind of an interesting way to create a pseudo-HR commission, since apparently there would not be enough political support to establish a HR commission on its own.)

one comment from a student that made me nearly livid: “I don’t really think we need a human rights commission in Hong Kong, since we do not have as much of a problem with human rights violations as in other jurisdictions…”

my hand shot up right away, but thankfully (for that student) the professor made an adequately long (although tempered) rebuke of that statement, referring to the need for legal protections for minorities. so I left it at that.

but I find it unbelievable that an upper-year law student could possibly think that Hong Kong is some magical city with few human rights violations. it then occurred to me that, being a member of the (98% ethnic) majority, he must have a completely different perspective from what I am used to (though I would hardly say that I needed to be a minority in Canada to realize that human rights violations occur all the time).

can someone be that oblivious to how disadvantageous it can be as a minority? how can someone honestly not notice the thousands of filipinas and indonesians that fill hong kong island on sundays, the one day that domestic workers get off a week? what about the various TV ads on the bus explaining that we are legally obligated to pay the minimum allowable wage (MAW) to these workers (currently set at a paltry HKD$3400 per month, and of course difficult to enforce). there is no other minimum wage legislation in HK (milton friedman’s favourite capitalist society)–and amazingly for breaches of the MAW, it is the worker that can be barred from ever working in HK again.

unfortunately it is this gov & law class–my only undergraduate law course–that has coloured my impression of students at HKU, and in hong kong in general. this is supposed to be the best university in HK, but from the quality of the students… it clearly doesn’t show. (to be fair, I cannot complain about the students in my grad courses, nor about the professors, since they do seem to be more open-minded. but then most of these people have lived or studied abroad.)

[end rant]