19 April 2018
Phyllis Cheung (extreme left) of Hong Kong Unison addresses a news conference to discuss matters related to anti-discrimination laws. Photo: Hong Kong Unison
Phyllis Cheung (extreme left) of Hong Kong Unison addresses a news conference to discuss matters related to anti-discrimination laws. Photo: Hong Kong Unison

Rights group outlines need for amending race discrimination law

Hong Kong Unison, a non-government organization fighting for ethnic minority rights, said it is disappointed with a local court’s decision on a race discrimination case involving an Indian-origin boy. 

A district court’s ruling Sunday to dismiss claims on race discrimination and unlawful arrest of Arjun Singh, following an incident that took place six years ago, is deeply troubling, it said.

The NGO said it kept a close watch on the case as it was “the first case adjudicated under the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) involving a public authority” since the ordinance came into effect in 2009.

Arjun Singh, a Hong Kong-born Indian boy who is now 17, had filed a case against the police for discriminating against him on the grounds of race in relation to provision of services.

He sought compensation and an apology for a 2010 arrest and detention. 

The court heard that Singh had an accidental collision with a middle-aged local woman on an escalator at Wan Chai MTR station on Jan. 6, 2010 when he was 11 years old.

Singh apologized but the woman became irate and grabbed him, following which the police arrested Singh and held him for hours before releasing him without charges.

Singh said he was arrested solely on the basis of the woman’s claim that she had been assaulted.

But District Court Judge Justin Ko dismissed Singh’s claim for compensation for lack of evidence, and also ruled that no apologies are necessary from the police.

HK Unison said the case “highlights a key weakness in the RDO as it is the only ordinance amongst the four discrimination ordinances that does not mention that it is unlawful for the government to discriminate against persons on the grounds of race in the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers”.

This judgment had been eagerly awaited, particularly as the complainant was a minor, it said.

Singh’s mother brought the case on his behalf.

Although Arjun and the Chinese woman with whom he was involved in a clash both called the “999” emergency number, the Chinese was not arrested or investigated, while Singh was taken to the Wan Chai police station and detained for several hours, HK Unison pointed out.

“Ethnic minorities are often unfairly treated by the police, so much so that they are reluctant to seek help from the police even when they are in trouble. Singh chose to brave the system, which took great courage. Yet, Singh had to spend one-third of his life waiting for justice to arrive since the time of the incident until the delivery of the judgment,” the NGO said.

The adverse ruling shows that it is very difficult to bring a case under the RDO, and that the scope of the law is vague, it said.

The case also underlines the need to carry out some amendments to the ordinance, something that has also been recommended by the Equal Opportunity Commission, the NGO added.

In other comments, the group called for the police “to step up training and develop clear guidelines to raise awareness of police officers on human rights and racial discrimination”.

“Without prejudging the motive of any party, the police should be aware of possible racial undertone in situations involving ethnic minorities,” it said.

While the police have recruited a handful of ethnic minority constables in the last few years, “the task of enhancing racial sensitivity of the force is far from being done”, HK Unison added.

Court rules against HK-born Indian boy in race bias lawsuit (May 31, 2016)

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