An NGO delegation has criticised the Hong Kong government for dodging questions raised by a United Nations committee on racial discrimination at a Geneva hearing last week.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) held hearings on China, Hong Kong and Macau on August 10 and 13. They were attended by a Hong Kong government delegation and a delegation of representatives from 11 local NGOs.

UN CERD NGO delegation
The Hong Kong NGO delegation. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said on Friday that the government’s performance was “exceptionally bad,” and worse than in previous hearings.

“Instead of answering questions, [the government representative] only read out a few paragraphs, and then told the committee members to read the document themselves due to lack of time,” Law said.

Before a CERD hearing, the government submits a report to the committee. The CERD then lists “themes” that it plans to address. The first hearing is typically used for questioning, and the government will reply in the second hearing, held a few days later.

Law said that the Hong Kong government – represented by Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Andy Chan Shui-fu – was supposed to use the interval between two hearings to prepare specific, targeted replies.

Andy Chan Shui-fu
Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Andy Chan Shui-fu. Photo: GovHK.

However, Law said Chan only read out parts of a document. He said committee members usually prefer direct oral answers, instead of being told to read.

Law added that the government did not share the document with the NGO delegation until the day of the hearing.

Former lawmaker Emily Lau, who also attended the hearings on behalf of Human Rights Monitor, said she had bumped into Chan on a day trip to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc of the French Alps in the interval between the two hearings. She challenged Chan to publicly explain the government’s performance in Geneva.

In a statement to HKFP, a government spokesperson said that oral replies would suffice for the hearing, but the government delegation had prepared a “detailed written response” beyond what was needed.

Andy Chan Shui-fu UN
Andy Chan Shui-fu speaking at the UN. Photo: UN screenshot.

“The response was tabled at the hearing on August 13, to facilitate the Committee’s work,” the spokesperson said. “During the hearing, [Chan] spoke twice to give highlights of the written response.”

The 43-page written response was indeed compiled in the interval between the two hearings, the spokesperson said.

As for Chan’s trip, the spokesperson said that it was a private activity conducted on a Sunday. “No official engagement was required on that day, nor was public money incurred,” the statement read.

China factor

The CERD’s hearing also covered racial discrimination issues in China, with one main focus being the Uyghur camps in Xinjiang.

On August 10, CERD experts said there are an estimated two million ethnic minorities held in large-scale “internment camps,” the majority of whom are Muslim Uyghurs.

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The Hong Kong NGO delegation said the Chinese government spoke for too long, which limited the time that could be spent on Hong Kong issues. Each of the hearings was three hours long.

NGO delegation members recalled that about 30 Hong Kong-related questions were raised, and Chan spent about 15 to 20 minutes in total giving a response.

Law expressed concern that the government’s behaviour in Geneva may reflect a larger trend: “I think this situation shows the Hong Kong government is starting to shirk from its international responsibilities.”

“If they send representatives to Geneva and don’t answer questions at all, it is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he added.

law yuk kai
Law Yuk-kai. Photo: HKFP.

China, Hong Kong and Macau are supposed to submit reports to the CERD every four years, but the last hearing was held in 2009.

The CERD is expected to publish its concluding observations at around the end of this month. The government delegation will report to the Legislative Council after that, the spokesperson said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.