Hong Kong: A Tale of Two Cities


The recent tragic case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih in Hong Kong has again highlighted the plight of foreign domestic helpers (FDH) in the city. 23 year old Sulistyaningsih is an Indonesian FDH who has alleged that she has been subject to serious acts of cruelty amounting to torture by her employer over an eight month period. Recent photos of Ms. Sulistyaningsih shows her underweight with broken teeth, bruised and with feet black in color with open sores. Quite telling of the Hong Kong attitude to FDH is that this woman, very obviously seriously abused and beaten, was able to go through customs at Hong Kong airport and return home without being asked any questions as to her physical state. Since this story has come to light two more FDH have come forward with of similar abuse at the hands of the very same employer and there are already reports that employment agency staff took her back to the employer after she previously tried to escape, saying that she cannot leave yet without completing her payment to the agency. To anyone working with migrant workers in Hong Kong this will come as no surprise as they are often the forgotten population of this hyper wealthy state.  Indonesian Kartika Puspitasari made headlines last year when her two-year-long torture in the hands of a HK couple was made public and a 2012 Mission for Migrant Workers survey found that 18% of migrant domestic workers in the city had been physically abused.

There are more than 300,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, with about half from Indonesia, many others from the Philippians and nearly all are women. A recent Amnesty International reportExploited for Profit, Failed by Governments” emphasized the abuse that many FDH are subjected to in the affluent city. Lured with the promise of well-paid jobs the reality could not be more different for many of the women who arrive here. The Amnesty report found that systemic failures by both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments to protect FDH from exploitation. The findings of the report are based on in-depth interviews with 97 Indonesian migrant domestic workers and supported by a survey of nearly 1,000 women by the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union.

The first discriminatory aspect of Hong Kong’s law is that there is a mandatory live-in rule for FDH. Given the space restrictions in housing in Hong Kong a survey by the Mission for Migrant Workers found that 30% of helpers are told to sleep in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and closets. Under Hong Kong Law, employment agencies are permitted to charge up to 10% of the FDH’s minimum monthly pay and there are numerous government websites with FAQs on these issues. In addition in their home countries, there are also laws regulating recruitment and training fees. The Amnesty report again found that in Indonesia, FDH’s are compelled to go through government-licensed recruitment agencies including for pre-departure training. These agencies, and the brokers that act for them, routinely deceive women about salaries and fees, confiscate identity documents and other property as collateral, and charge fees in excess of those permitted by law. Full fees are imposed from the outset of training, trapping the women with crippling debt should they withdraw. Their Filipina counterparts do not have to find employment through an agency and are as such not as subject to the unscrupulous middlemen who levy exorbitant charges and insist that FDH stay with abusive employers until they have worked off their debts.
Some of the Hong Kong’s most recent actions put women at even greater risk of abuse. Underpayment is a widespread problem. Yet, in the two-year period up to May 2012, just 342 cases of underpayment were lodged out of a total population of more than 300,000 FDH. Hong Kong’s laws stipulate that migrant domestic workers must find new employment and get an approved work visa within 14 days of the termination of their contract, or they must leave Hong Kong. This pressures workers to stay in an abusive situation because they know that if they leave their job, they are unlikely to find new employment in two weeks and therefore must leave the country. For many this would make it impossible to repay the recruitment fees or support their families. Given that an application for a work visa takes approximately six weeks any FDH who leaves their job will be effectively forced to leave Hong Kong. Jason Y Ng of the SCMP states that this particular rule is designed to achieve two objectives:

First, the government wishes to deter employer-shopping and job-hopping. Even though it is perfectly normal for everyone else in Hong Kong to look for a better job and jump ship every now and then, it is not so for a migrant worker. Maids who quit and work for another home are looked upon as greedy and irresponsible. The second objective is as unspoken as it is ignoble: to put arbitrary restrictions on the domestic helper’s stay to distinguish them from other expatriates.

Vallejos “Right of Abode” Case

The  seconddistinction as applied has had particularly harsh consequences for domestic helpers. A recent case before the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (CFA) dismissed the appeal of the appellants, Vallejos Evangeline Banao and Domingo Daniel, who were seeking permanent residency status pursuant to Article 24(2)(4) of the Basic Law. The appeal came before the CFA on 26 February 2013. Ms Vallejos had lived and worked in Hong Kong since 1986 and Mr Domingo since the early eighties.  In 2008, Vallejos applied for a permanent identity card but her application was rejected by the Commissioner of Registration upon which this case was taken. The CFA case was an appeal from a Court of First instance decision which had held that  FDHs could be considered to be in ordinarily residence in Hong Kong  and were thus eligible to acquire the right to permanent residence under  Art  24(2)(4)2  of the Basic Law. Article 24(2)(4) of the Basic Law provides that persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 7 years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence shall be permanent residents of Hong Kong. If I was to have stayed working in Hong Kong for 7 years I could have applied to be a permanent resident in the normal manner.

However, section 2(4)(vi) of the Immigration Ordinance states that a person employed as a FDH who is from outside Hong Kong is not to be treated as “ordinarily resident” in Hong Kong and so cannot become a Hong Kong permanent resident. The CFA held that the immigration status of persons must be taken into account in deciding whether they satisfy the 7-year ordinary residence requirement. In particular they noted that:

The nature of FDHs’ residence in Hong Kong is highly restrictive. Permission for a FDH to enter Hong Kong is tied to employment solely as a domestic helper with a specific employer with whom the FDH must reside under a specified contract. The FDH is obliged to return to the country of origin at the end of the contract and is told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement and that dependents cannot be brought to reside in Hong Kong. The quality of their residence is therefore far-removed from what would traditionally be recognised as “ordinary residence” and the Court thus held that FDHs do not, as a class, come within the meaning of “ordinarily residence” as used in the Article.  As the meaning of the Article interpreted purposively and in context was clear, there was no basis for referring to any extrinsic materials in aid of its interpretation

Michael Fordham, representing Vallejos and Domingo, focused on the constitutionality or lack thereof in the use of a blanket exclusion to prevent all people belonging to certain classes of residents from falling within the definition of ordinarily resident and thus eventually becoming entitled to apply for right of abode. Lord Pannick, for the state, stated that foreign domestic helpers “don’t form part of the permanent population” and thus it was legitimate for lawmakers to create a legislative definition of “ordinarily resident” which excluded them. The CFA issued its judgment that the restrictions on FDH residence and employment in Hong Kong meant that they did not fall within the definition of ordinarily resident for immigration purpose and  a person like Ms Vallejos, diligently working and contributing to Hong Kong for over 27 years could be subjected to removal 14 days after her employment contract was terminated.

In the aftermath its is also interesting to see the barrage of racist and xenophobic comments by Hong Kong legislators in respect of the case. In particular those made by Starry Lee, Regina Ip, Chan Kam-lam and Paul Tse who directly attacked one of the barristers representing Vallejos and Domingo. These are the very same legislators who seek to deny any form of rights to those seeking asylum in Hong Kong and contribute to a culture of distrust and suspicion of the most vulnerable in society.

Migrant workers send home billions every year to their home countries in remittances, bolstering the economies of some of the world’s most poverty stricken jurisdictions. They also significantly contribute to their adopted countries. Yet they are being failed by their own governments and by the governments of the countries they work in. I have been proud to see the growth over the past number of years of organizations run by migrant workers fighting for their rights and those of their compatriots and I hope that we will see “Justice for Erwiana” and for the other migrant workers who are abused to suit the needs of the wealthy.

What Hong Kong as a society is currently saying with it’s lack of protection is that those working as domestic helpers do not matter as human beings as much as those working in international banking, business and law firms do. If not directly complicit in the exploitation, abuse and discrimination these women face on a daily basis, they are certainly enjoying the benefits of this modern day form of slavery.  As Abraham Lincoln once said “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

Hong Kong: A Tale of Two Cities

Training: Defending Human Rights of Roma and Travellers


The Support Team of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues, the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre and the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Centre are organizing a training session on 5th December 2013 for barristers and solicitors for up to 20 persons who have acted or who wish to act for Roma and Travellers before national Courts. This training session aims to strengthen and supplement the knowledge and the legal capacity of legal practitioners in the field of Roma and Travellers rights. The training session will include:

  • Relevant standards set by the Council of Europe (European Convention on Human Rights, Resolutions, Recommendations, Opinions and Reports of the bodies of the Organisation); relevant European Union law.
  • Identification of the issues Roma and Travellers face with a focus on housing and equality law;
  • Practical cases and a simple moot court

The training session will be conducted by Council of Europe and Irish legal experts including  Ms Nuala Mole of the AIRE Centre, Eilis Barry BL and David Joyce BL.

Certificates of Attendance will be provided in order to claim Law Society & Bar Council CPD accreditation.

The Council of Europe will cover expenses related to participation to the training session (transport, accommodation, dinner (for those coming from outside Dublin), lunch and teas/coffees).  A cover letter, as well as a CV, written in English must reach leaholearyitm@gmail.com no later than 12pm Monday, 18th November 2013.  If selected, participants will be expected to attend the full day.

Training: Defending Human Rights of Roma and Travellers

Romani in Europe: Persecution & Poverty


One week after she had originally been removed from the Romani camp in which she has been raised for the past four years, DNA tests show that a Bulgarian couple are the birth parents of the girl we only know as ‘Maria’. After what has been deemed an ‘international search’ it turns out that ‘Mystery girl” Maria is in fact exactly who the Greek Romani family said she was.  A particularly insipid CBS article from Monday decried that

 It was the girl’s looks that were the first clue. She has blond hair and blue eyes, which alerted an official that she did not belong. She did not have the typical Gypsy dark hair and dark eyes.

I have already written in detail about the racist elements of meda reporting on the case here but in another not exactly shocking twist to this sordid tale, the birth mother of Maria is also of Romani origin. So it transpires that we now have had a week long media circus about what appears to be an informal adoption arrangement after a poverty-stricken mother could not care for her child. In a country where the laws of adoption are very complex and bureaucratic and legal adoptions are difficult to obtain (especially for the poor) is it that hard to believe that an informal care arrangement was reached in this case? Informal adoption or informal care arrangements are very common worldwide. So common in fact that alternative care for children is defined under a United National General Assembly resolution entitled the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

…children in alternative care are without parental care and live with relatives or family friends without State involvement in selecting or monitoring those arrangements. They, like all children, are entitled to protection and care, but little is known about them.

A UNICEF report on informal care in Africa from 2011 illustrates the prevalence of informal care arrangements in African countries. in particular, in Namibia in 2006–2007, 16.2% of urban households and 41.8% of rural households were providing care to “other” or non-biological children. In Swaziland 40.1% of all rural households were providing care to non-biological children. The Guidelines are intended to enhance the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and relevant provisions of other international instruments regarding the  protection and well-being of children who are deprived of parental care or who are at risk of  being so deprived. Informal care is defined in the Guidelines as

…any private arrangement provided in a family environment, whereby the child is looked after on an ongoing or indefinite basis by relatives or friends  (informal kinship care) or by others in their individual capacity, at the initiative of the child, his/her parents or other person without this arrangement having been ordered by an  administrative or judicial authority or a duly accredited body. (Part III, 29 (b)(i))

The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that children have the best chance of developing their full potential in a family environment. The primary responsibility for their care rests upon their parents and legal guardians, who are entitled to support from the government in raising their children. When parents are not able or willing to fulfil this responsibility, kinship and community resources may be relied upon to provide care for the children. However, the ultimate responsibility falls on the government to ensure that children are placed in appropriate alternative care.  It appears in this case that the Greek government didn’t care very much about Maria’s well being until they thought that she was a Caucasian child.

Maria is currently being held by Smile of the Child, a Greek Charity that ‘launched the international search’ for Maria’s parents and whose President, Kostas Yannopoulos, has continued to make racist and inflammatory comments throughout the week

It shows that it could be kidnapping and combined effort of these people to buy and sell children, and when you have a good commodity like this one, they try to find a better price.

After it had been conclusively shown that Maria was the child of a Bulgarian Romani couple he suddenly had no comments to make to the media on this issue. This case doesn’t illustrate a kidnapping ring looking for a price for a blonde, blue-eyed girl. While we do not know larges aspects of this case to date, what we do know is that Maria has been in the care of this family since almost her birth, which doesn’t point them them being interested in her as a commodity, in particularly as they have kept family videos of her life growing up, as any family would do.  What this case does illustrate is the plight of Romani in Europe, many of whom spend their lives in extreme poverty due to social exclusion, engineered by the states that they have been born and live in. The European Public Health Alliance states that one of the most universally disadvantaged communities living in Europe are the Roma.

The great majority of the Roma population is found at the very bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. It is generally accepted that the Roma suffer worse health than the other populations in the countries where they live due to their higher exposure to the range of unfavourable factors that influence health. Poverty, inadequate education and lower social integration result in poor life outcomes. Moreover, discrimination and unregulated civil status (including lack of personal documents, birth certificates, insurance) make it particularly difficult for Roma to access social services. Due to the multiplicity of their discrimination and social exclusion, the inequalities faced by the Roma population highlights the cause for combating the social determinants across the board. A July 2011 report by the European Commission on social exclusion of Romani in Greece found that

Today, almost ten years after the launching of the Integrated Programme, the state of affairs as regards the Roma people in Greece, the causes of their social exclusion, the multiple problems which they are faced with, the adherence to discrimination remain, more or less, the same. Their living conditions continue to be inhuman and degrading, while they remain deprived of a wide range of their fundamental rights. Besides, given the serious pressures exercised on Greek society by the fiscal and economic crisis that the country currently undergoes, fears are expressed for an increase in discrimination for Roma people.

The question now remains as to what will happen to Maria? She has been ripped from the only family she knows and is currently staying with a charity that has made a number of unsavoury comments this week in respect of Romani. Has anyone really considered what are her rights and what is best for her at this moment as a Romani child with a distinct cultural background? I am uncertain that a young Romani child in the care of Smile of the Child, who originally refused to even communicate with her though her own language and instead choose to use sign language are the right institution to do that.  A social worker from the organisation, Athanasia Kakarouba, has also stated to the media that Maria is learning Greek and ‘has already spoken her first words, because up until now, she had only learned the Roma language’. This is a clear attempt to force cultural assimilation on Maria after less that a week in their care and raises questions about her care that need immediate answers.


Romani in Europe: Persecution & Poverty

My Blue-Eyed Girl: Moral Panic and Racial Profiling of Romani

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The world has been watching intently this week as a ‘Greek blonde mystery child” was found in a Romani camp and subsequent DNA tests confirmed that the couple who were raising her were not her biological parents, although they had never claimed to be. Two children were subsequently taken from their homes and their families in Ireland, on the basis of what appears to be the fact that their racial identity did not conform to that of their alleged parents. DNA Tests concluded that both children were biologically related to their respective families. Mairead Enright has already covered issues in respect of the Child Care Act here and I would like to delve a little further into the issue of ethnic or racial profiling and institutional racism in Ireland and Greece.

Ethnic profiling is defined as the use by police, security, immigration or customs officials of generalisations based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin – rather than individual behaviour or objective evidence – as the basis for suspicion in directing discretionary law enforcement actions. It is most often manifest in police officers’ decisions about whom to stop for identity checks, questioning, and searches and also arrest. It usually involves the targeting of people for the purposes of security, border control and policing using stereotypes based on nationality, colour and religion.  It is a form of racism and is prohibited under international human rights law. One news story yesterday reported the following after the return of one of the children

The father said he was asked questions about the child’s appearance. Concerns had been raised over the toddler’s identity, as he has fair hair and features, in contrast with the rest of the family

I would argue that this was a clear case of racial profiling. What makes these incidents so much more disturbing is the fact that historically speaking, it has been an international practice to remove the children of ethnic minorities from their families in such a way, from the stolen generations in Australia, to Romani in Europe and Irish Travellers. The European Romani Rights Centre notes that

The forced removal of children from their Romani families is, in and of itself, inherently symptomatic of wider systemic issues that emanate from the historic and continued victimisation, segregation, and oppression of the Romani peoples

In the aftermath of these incidents the Immigrant Council of Ireland has called on the Government to immediately outline what procedures are in place across all public services to prevent racial profiling. There are clear Article 14 ECHR discrimination issues at play here. Article 14 states that

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

An ECRI report released at the start of the year by the Council of Europe while welcoming some developments in Ireland in regards to dealing with racism also noted that

… legislation does not proscribe racial profiling by the Garda Siochána (Police) and  other law enforcement agencies, although the High Court in 2011 struck down as  unconstitutional legislation requiring non-Irish nationals to produce identity documents  upon demand of law enforcement personnel, which had a discriminatory effect on the  basis of individuals’ colour. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) was closed down in December 2008 and its functions were transferred to the Office of the Minister for Integration. The expertise gathered by the NCCRI, the bridge between authorities and the civil society and the unique reporting system about racist incidents were lost.

The report also stated that Travellers continue to face significant challenges in relation to adequate accommodation and that Ireland is not very well prepared to help new immigrants enter the school system.The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland report “Singled Out: An Exploratory study on ethnic profiling in Ireland and its impact on migrant workers and their families” also highlights many of these issues. The report covered the concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Irelands 3rd and 4th Reports to the Committee published on March 11th 2011. The Committee expressed concern at the lack of legislation preventing racial profiling by the Gardai and other law enforcement personnel and notes that non Irish people are subjected to police stops and required to provide identity cards. It also recommended that the state adopts legislation prohibiting any form of racial profiling.

International research from Open Society has shown that ethnic profiling is widespread and pervasive. Stop and search rates for visible minority ethnic groups range from being 2.3 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, to  up to 26.6 times. Ethnic profiling damages relations between migrants, minorities and the authorities. It also exacerbates racism and xenophobia. When the media wholeheartedly embrace the reporting style we have seen the past week in respect of ethnic minorities and especially at times of a specifically perceived crisis like this, the atmosphere of outrage and fear causes a moral panic which can result in ill-conceived actions with long term effects. We can be reminded of the TV3 ‘investigative report’’ on ‘bogus beggars’ from the Romani community in 2011 when rumours of organised criminal begging gangs operating around the county were widespread. Despite the extremely misleading and hyperbolic headline of the programme it ended with reporter Paul Connolly acknowledging that he had found Romani living in Ireland suffering from “extreme poverty, desperation and a community struggling to survive” and found no link to organised crime.

According to Sotirovic, the use of the media is important in defining the relationship between people’s knowledge of events and how they are affected by those events. Earlier this year groups working with minorities in Ireland reported that racism is rising with the Government doing scant to deal with it. I would argue that this type of media reporting on ethnic minority issues has facilitated the rise in racism in Ireland and also pushes the public towards submitting to reconfigurations of civil liberties (like arguing in favour of the detention and DNA testing of a minor in the cases at hand) at a time of a perceived moral crisis. When the public perceives that a threat is high then the voice opposition is difficult to hear. The mood of panic means that the public passively support measures adopted.

In the case of the ‘blonde angel’ in Greece, even before charges were brought before the court, it was widely reported as a case of abduction by the Greek media. Despite the frenzied nature of the initial international reporting indicating that the child was most likely kidnapped or trafficked there has been no evidence offered to show that anything more than an informal private adoption had occurred and the child was being raised as a member of the Romani family. In May of this year Lambros Kanellopoulos of UNICEF Greece said that nearly 600,000 children, up from 439,000 a year ago are living below the poverty line. Mhairi McAlpine makes the excellent point that given people in Greece are currently having huge difficulties caring for children due to austerity measures which have been imposed, such an occurrence is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility. However it must be recognised that Greece is a transit, destination and a limited source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and for men, women, and children in forced labour and those criminal organisations bring do bring Balkan children to Greece.

Greece has a long history of institutional racism, in particular against Romani minorities. Despite three separate European Court of Human Rights rulings, Greece has failed to change its on-going discrimination against Romani schoolchildren. The latest ruling Lavida and Others v. Greece was handed down in May this year. The Greek Helsinki Monitor reports that Romani children continue to be segregated or excluded from education while Romani families were evicted or threatened with eviction from their settlements without alternative and adequate accommodation being provided. In June 2013 Human Rights Watch reported that Athens police were conducting abusive stops and searches and had detained tens of thousands of people in a crackdown on irregular migration. Their report documents frequent stops of people who appear to be foreigners, unjustified searches of their belongings, insults, and, in some cases, physical abuse. Before that, in July 2012, Human Rights Watch also published the report, Hate on the Streets: Xenophobic Violence in Greece, which documented a surge in xenophobic attacks and the failure of the Greek police and the judiciary to prevent, investigate, and punish vigilante violence targeting migrants and asylum seekers.

The European Roma Rights Centre has urged restraint and responsible reporting in child removal cases. Whatever the result in the Greek case, we should be highly concerned by increasing reports of children being removed from Roma families based on their ethic appearance. They have stated that

If a crime has been committed in Greece, and this is still by no means clear, those who committed it should be treated as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnicity. Such a case could arise in any racial, ethnic, religious or national group. Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page

If children of Asian or African appearance were being removed from their Caucasian parents we should ask ourselves would the media reaction be different? In addition between 2000 and 2010, Barnardo’s reports that 513 separated children went missing from State care in Ireland with 440 of them are still unaccounted for in 2011. Where was the media coverage for these children who fled persecution alone only to be failed by our state care system?

My Blue-Eyed Girl: Moral Panic and Racial Profiling of Romani

Towards a Unified Protection System for Hong Kong


I have previously written on this blog about how a landmark judgement on international refugee law was handed down by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in March which will see the foundation of a unified, government led protection screening mechanism implemented in Hong Kong. As an organisation UNHCR has always stated that refugee status determination is a responsibility that should primarily be undertaken by governments. In certain countries where a government determination process does not exist, UNHCR carries out refugee status determination pursuant to its mandate to provide international protection. This has been the case in Hong Kong, where UNHCR has been conducting refugee status determination for a number of years as Hong Kong has not had the Refugee Convention extended to it by China.

On 25 March 2013, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal delivered a judgement in C & others v Director of Immigration and the Secretary for Security (C)  which found that the Director of Immigration has a duty to conduct his own independent inquiry of refugee claims in order to legally exercise his discretionary powers of removal from Hong Kong. The practical implication of this decision was to require the Government to independently screen refugee claims in order to prevent refoulement, although not signatories to the Convention.

The Convention Against Torture (CAT) has been extended to Hong Kong since 1992.  Article 3(1) of that Convention provides that “no State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to tortur”. Since Hong Kong has had CAT extended to it, the Government has been subject to a plethora of legal challenges  to its implementation due to systematic deficiencies in the application process to claimants. The deficiencies are most easily illustrated by the fact that since the Convention was extended in 1992 there have been 12555 Torture claims and as uo to 30 June 2013 only 9 recognised claimants, 8 of whom have been recognised in the past year. In June 2004, the Court of Final Appeal ruled in Sakthevel Prabakar v. Secretary for Security that given the momentous importance of a determination on CAT claims to claimants that high standards of fairness must be demanded in the making of such a determination. An administrative screening mechanism for CAT claims was implemented thereafter but in December 2009, the administrative screening mechanism was further enhanced in light of another judicial review case FB & Ors v. Director of Immigration and Secretary for Security (HCAL 51, 105-107 & 125-126/2007).  Legislative provisions underpinning the enhanced administrative mechanism have commenced operation since December 2012 and have resulted in an increased number of successful applicants as illustrated above.

On 2 July 2013, before the Panel of Security of the Legislative Council, the Hong Kong Government announced its plan to introduce a Unified Screening Mechanism, or USM, to assess claims for non-refoulement protection. Such claims are those lodged by persons not having the right to enter and remain in Hong Kong, on the basis that removing them to another country would expose them to a risk of:

(a) Torture as defined under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

(b) Torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights; and/or

(c) Persecution with reference to the principle of non-refoulement under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Role of UNHCR in the New System

UNHCR has stated that it will cease conducting refugee status determination in Hong Kong after the USM has launched. It is assumed by the author that those who have a pending asylum claim registered with UNHCR will then have their cases handled by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. The same argument could be made for those whose asylum claims have been previously rejected by UNHCR. Last Friday on 16 August 2013 UNHCR proceeded to hand out a briefing document to those who were scheduled on that date for their ‘slip exchange.’  Those who have an active case with UNHCR in Hong Kong obtain a piece of paper on each visit which states the next time and date they are to attend the office and this is called the slip exchange. The briefing document stated the following:

As required by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, the Hong Kong Government will soon begin screening refugee claims in Hong Kong. The Government has indicated that this will begin before the end of 2013, but has not yet announced the exact date. Once the Government begins screening refugee claims, UNHCR will cease conducting refugee status determination in Hong Kong, and you will be required to approach the Hong Kong Immigration Department to apply for protection.

In the meantime, UNHCR screening of refugee claims will slow down significantly, and it is unlikely that we will reach a decision on your case. Although UNHCR’s role in Hong Kong will be changing, our office in Hong Kong is not closing, and we will continue to seek durable solutions for refugees. We understand the hardship that asylum seekers face in Hong Kong, and we ask for your patience and understanding in this time of transition. For more information about the transition, please call 2780 9271 to make an appointment for an information session, or visit our website at:


A number of initial points must be made about this briefing document. First, it appears to have been mostly given to asylum seekers in English which is not a language the vast majority those seeking asylum speak. Second, on slip exchange day asylum seekers do not attend UNHCR with their lawyers and as such even if many had some understanding of English, the content of the document is difficult to comprehend for a person not legally trained. Third, this document was given on a Friday and the phone number asylum seekers were asked to call was not operative during the weekend nor would many have had access to their own lawyers over the weekend period to explain the document. Fourth, the web site that the briefing document refers to is still not active and contains no data of relevance. At the time of writing it simply stated “The information of Unified Screening Mechanism will be uploaded soon.”  Fifth, the briefing document is vague and gives no idea as to who could potentially still have their cases assessed by UNHCR and when asylum seekers will be provided with this knowledge. Finally those who ask for an individual meeting in regards this cases appear to be told that they can only use the telephone number and website at present for information. This has created an atmosphere of fear and apprehension among those within the system, many of whom have been in the initial UNHCR process for a number of years and especially among those who do not have legal representation.

Given the manner in which CAT claimants have already been asked to waive confidentiality of their UNHCR documentation for their CAT claims, the author believes that for cases currently or previously assessed in the Hong Kong UNHCR system, the Immigration Department will seek to obtain from UNHCR relevant case information for its own assessment under the USM. This is an interesting development, as of particular note in the C case was that the Appellants complained that the screening process conducted by the UNHCR was inadequate.  These inadequacies range from problematic interviews, sub-standard interpretation, insufficient access to evidence or reasoning for decisions in some jurisdictions, the lack of an independent appeal, and the lack of the ability of lawyers or caseworkers in some jurisdictions, to attend interviews, and in others, to intervene, except on very limited grounds.  In its judgment the Court of Final Appeal, opted for a similar legal interpretation which had paved the way initially for a government-led torture screening mechanism. Li CJ stated that:

“43.     The question in this appeal concerns the standards of fairness that must be observed by the Secretary in determining in accordance with the policy the potential deportee’s claim that he would be subjected to torture if returned to the country concerned. One is concerned with procedural fairness and there is of course no universal set of standards which are applicable to all situations. What are the appropriate standards of fairness depends on an examination of all aspects relating to the decision in question, including its context and its nature and subject matter: R v Home Secretary, ex p Doody [1994] 1 AC 531 at p.560D-G.

44.       Here, the context is the exercise of the power to deport. The determination of the potential deportee’s torture claim by the Secretary in accordance with the policy is plainly one of momentous importance to the individual concerned. To him, life and limb are in jeopardy and his fundamental human right not to be subjected to torture is involved. Accordingly, high standards of fairness must be demanded in the making of such a determination.”

In addition to that, it was held that it was for the Secretary to assess the materials and to come to an independent judgment:

“ … having regard to the gravity of what is at stake, the courts will on judicial review subject the Secretary’s determination to rigorous examination and anxious scrutiny to ensure that the required high standards of fairness have been met. R v Home Secretary, ex p Bugdaycay [1987]] 1 AC 514 at p.531 E-G.”

Given that the C decision essentially held that Director of Immigration has a duty to conduct his own independent inquiry of refugee claims it is difficult to see how an independent inquiry could be conducted by the Director of Immigration using documentation collected under UNHCR’s inadequate RSD process. In addition, given that UNHCR determinations are immune from judicial scrutiny, the documentation collected under that process surely does not meet “the standard of fairness” required and we will continue to see a range of Judicial reviews challenging the new system should any documentation be handed over from UNHCR to the Immigration Department.

The Government has indicated that the USM should be functional before the end of 2013. In the interim, UNHCR appear to be continuing to register applicants; however as noted in their briefing document the adjudication of cases will be suspended for the majority of applicants.  It is unknown at present what exact role UNHCR will play in any future government led RSD process. Given that the judgement only deals with the issue of non-refoulment and not resettlement (or the rights associated with) it is assumed that UNHCR will have to remain in the jurisdiction in some capacity. The judgment of C noted UNHCR’s stated role to continue to assist in seeking durable solutions for refugees, specifically through resettlement. As such, it is likely that UNHCR will continue to seek durable solutions for persons of concern to UNHCR.

Where to now: A Unified Protection System

It is understood that negotiations are currently on-going between interested parties as to what shape the system will take. There are many potential benefits to such a process both to asylum seekers and the government in terms of costs effectiveness and expediency. Under the current system in addition to applying under the UNHCR RSD system many asylum seekers also seek relief under CAT system. This dual system adds to the length of time it takes for a client to be processed.  For asylum seekers, many of whom have undergone terrible trauma before they arrived in Hong Kong, it means years of living in uncertainty. For the government, it means potential for abuse by those who are not genuinely seeking asylum as they can linger in the system for a number of years.  It is argued that such a protection system should include:

  • A statutory unified protection procedure encompassing CAT, CIDTP and Refugee non-refoulement claims
  • An independent appeals process
  • Clear, good-quality and transparent decision-making by qualified persons
  • Access to legal representation by lawyers who are adequately trained in international human rights and refugee law
  • Access to humane living conditions
  • Care for unaccompanied minors
  • Special consideration for the needs of vulnerable individuals and groups

According to the Security Bureau’s paper in June, the government will base the new system on the current statutory CAT mechanism but it will not necessarily be statutorily based. In terms of support from the legal community, the Hong Kong Law Society and Bar Association have long called on the HKSAR Administration to put in place a comprehensive legislative framework to ensure high standards of fairness for screening claimants under the Convention Against Torture and for determination of the refugee status of asylum seekers since they published a joint position paper on the ‘Framework for Convention Against Torture Claimants and Asylum Seekers’ in 2009. This position was cemented in statements by the Bar Association and the Law Society in the aftermath of Ubamaka Edward Wilson v. The Secretary for Security published in February 2013 and by a paper submitted by the Law Society before the Panel of Security in July 2013. In addition the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre and other NGOs working on behalf of refugees in Hong Kong have long advocated for the creation of a single, government led unified mechanism to process both refugee status determination and CAT claims and have made submissions as regards the USM in that regards.

If a unified system is put in place it must be noted that questions have been raised about the adequacy of the existing government led screening system. While the government has rejected that they run an ‘effective zero-per-cent recognition rate’ it must again be noted that out of 12555 torture claims received by the government since the Convention Against Torture was applied in Hong Kong in 1992, only nine have ever been accepted. Former UN Special rapporteur on Torture  Manfred Nowak recently remarked on the startlingly low recognition rate in a country which receives a high percentage of torture claims from countries like Sri Lanka. All nine claimants have been since the implementation of an enhanced mechanism implemented in December 2009. In its discussion paper before the Panel on Security of the LegCo in respect of screening of non-refoulement claims, it was stated that

“To ensure that decision-makers under the USM have proper  understanding of the expanded scope of the screening mechanism, relevant and updated international and local jurisprudence, training to be  conducted by qualified and experienced authorities (e.g. the UNHCR, the  United Kingdom Border Agency, medical experts, etc.) will be arranged  for them before the USM commences operation.”

This can only be a positive move forward by the Immigration Department given the standards currently in place, but it is difficult to see how this will all be implemented before the end of 2013. In order to reform the system, the Government should first review the adequacy of the current system for determining CAT claims. Hong Kong now has an opportunity to achieve a reform of the protection system which is human rights centred and which upholds the rule of law. It is argued that a protection system that embodies the principles of efficiency, justice and transparency as well as representing value for money would ensure that Hong Kong met its human rights obligations while protecting some of the most vulnerable in society.

Towards a Unified Protection System for Hong Kong

Edward Snowden: What protection can the Hong Kong legal system offer?


As most are now aware, in an article published on June 6, the Guardian reported that the US National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of users of the telecommunications company Verizon. The following day the press revealed that the NSA had directly accessed information from the systems of technological giants such as Apple, Facebook,and Google. The “Prism” programme allows the NSA to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live discussions. Almost simultaneously Google and Facebook denied the existence of the Prism programme, while President Barak Obama has confirmed that the programmes exists.

These disclosures have made headline news worldwide over the past week. An unexpected twist to this story arose this weekend when it was revealed that a 29 year old contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, a large US based defence contractor and former CIA technical assistant named Edward Snowden was the source of this information and that he has currently based himself in Hong Kong.  By revealing his identity Mr Snowden has exposed himself to potential prosecution in the US. The chairman of the US House of Representatives homeland security subcommittee, Peter King, has already called for Mr Snowden’s extradition and a spokesman for the director of national intelligence has stated that

“Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”

Mr Snowden has stated that he came to Hong Kong because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”. But what protections exist in Hong Kong for someone like Snowden? This case presents an opportunity to reflect on the Hong Kong’s current extradition and asylum regimes.

Protection in Hong Kong

As previously discussed, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China (HKSAR). China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997 after almost 150 years of British colonial rule. Under the Hong Kong Basic Law, the HKSAR government has control over immigration matters and the right to develop its own laws and policies. While China has responsibility for foreign relations and defence, Hong Kong operates under different political and legal systems and maintains an independent judiciary and a common law framework.

Hong Kong concluded an extradition agreement with the US just before Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The treaty states that the executive authority of Hong Kong reserves the right to refuse surrender when the requested extradition relates to “the defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy of the PRC”.  Article 3(5) provides that in cases in which extradition is refused on the grounds of its relation to defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy, the requesting Party may ask that the case be submitted to the competent authorities of the requested Party who will consider whether to bring a prosecution. However both Countries have expressed their shared intention that this Article would rarely be invoked.

If the US were to invoke the extradition treaty against Mr Snowden he might rely on two separate, but parallel paths for protection from removal: these include a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) screening mechanism for refugee claimants conducted by UNHCR and a screening mechanism for torture claimants set up by The Hong Kong SAR government in 2004 in order to meet its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The authorities enhanced the CAT screening mechanism in 2009 and adopted legislation governing the scheme in 2012. Despite these developments, the effectiveness, transparency and fairness of the CAT mechanism have been called into question in large part due to its low rate of recognition, which at the last count was 5 recognitions out from approximately 12,000 applicants.

A high percentage of CAT claims in Hong Kong are initiated by a person writing to the Director of Immigration after arrest or when resisting deportation on the grounds that they are at risk of being tortured upon return to a particular country. Torture claims are processed by the Shatin Torture Claim Assessment Section (TCAS). As a matter of policy, the Director of Immigration will not entertain a person’s torture claim until a person has “overstayed” and is therefore unlawfully present in Hong Kong. If you still have a valid visa, your application will not be considered. This policy has been subject to criticism because an individual is effectively forced to commit an immigration offence, rendering them liable to prosecution and detention, before they can make a torture claim.

Although China has ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, these instruments have not been extended to Hong Kong and there are no national or municipal laws that provide protection specifically for refugees. While the HKSAR does not to grant asylum in the sense of allowing local integration, refugee claimants are not simply expelled to their countries of origin. A Memorandum of Understanding between the authorities and the UNHCR has allowed the UNHCR to complete refugee status determination of asylum seekers in Hong Kong, independently of the Hong Kong government.

A previous post on the HKRAC blog explained that refugees often have to leave their countries in hurry, with limited means and little or no planning. “Push factors”, such as civil war, torture or repression, are the main driving force behind a refugee’s flight. Asylum seekers often come to Hong Kong as a point of transit, and do not intend to stay. For various reasons, however, they are often forced to remain rather longer than they had originally expected. Sometimes, in desperation, asylum seekers pay agents exorbitant fees without fully knowing where they will eventually end up. Many have not have ever heard about Hong Kong before arriving.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sub-Office in Hong Kong currently conducts RSD for persons claiming asylum. However, the UNHCR, which operates on a limited budget, assumes this role because the HKSAR has not accepted its own responsibilities. UNHCR’s RSD process is fraught with procedural problems. For example, it lacks an independent appeals mechanism and the HKSAR courts cannot judicially review UNHCR’s decisions.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as:

Any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country

If Mr Snowden were to apply for asylum before the UNHCR in Hong Kong the Director of Immigration would likely follow established practice and afford him temporary refuge until the UNHCR has completed a determination of his claim. This is in keeping with the principle of non-refoulement as reflected in Article 33(1) of the Refugee Convention which prohibits the expulsion or return of ‘a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.

While the Convention has not been extended to Hong Kong and Article 33 had no direct application, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal has held – in a landmark judgment in C,KMF and BF v Director of Immigration and Secretary for Security (FACV Nos. 18/19/20 2011) handed down in March 2013 –that high standards of fairness are required in this context since the determination of the claim is one of momentous importance to the individual concerned and involves fundamental human rights. This decision could result in the foundation of a unified, government-led protection screening mechanism implemented in Hong Kong. In another judgment handed down in December 2012, the court confirmed that Hong Kong also has a duty to refrain from sending individuals to places where they might face cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment – a concept that is much broader than “torture”. The Hong Kong authorities have not yet announced how they will respond to these decisions which require enhanced protection for refugees and others who fear serious harm if repatriated. The system is, as such, currently in a state of flux.

One of the key issues with the current dual system is the length of time it takes to process claims. For asylum seekers, many of whom have undergone terrible trauma before they arrived in Hong Kong, it means years of living in uncertainty. In a joint position paper produced in 2009 and recently repeated in February 2013,the Hong Kong Law Society and Bar Association have called on the Hong Kong SAR Administration to put in place a comprehensive legislative framework to ensure high standards of fairness when screening claimants under CAT and determining refugee status. HKRAC and other NGOs working on behalf of refugees in Hong Kong have long advocated for the creation of a single, government-led unified mechanism to process both refugee status determination and torture claims. It is unknown at present what role the UNHCR will play in any future system. Given that the judgment only deals with the issue of non-refoulement and not resettlement (and other, associated rights) the UNHCR will probably need to remain in some capacity.

Fleeing persecution is not a crime. The right of everyone to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution is guaranteed in Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many people in Hong Kong have family members, friends and loved ones who indeed, at one point in their lives, were refugees, coming from mainland China in the 1950s. Hong Kong should have solidarity with refugees, but unfortunately, they are frequently met with fear, mistrust or outright rejection. Because myths propagate hostilities and discrimination, ending them is all the more crucial for achieving a more just and tolerant society. While we cannot know what step Edward Snowdon will take next, what his case does highlight is the fact that any person, from any part of the world, can find themselves seeking refuge from an oppressive government in the blink of an eye.


Job Opportunity: Staff Attorney HKRAC

hkrac_logo_no outline

The Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre Limited (HKRAC) is a non-profit, human rights organisation dedicated to the provision of free legal services to refugees applying for protection. Since our establishment in 2007, we have provided life-changing legal services to over 1,300 refugee men, women, and children. HKRAC operates on a partnership model, with partners including law firms, academic and research institutions, and community volunteers.

Purpose of position:

The Staff Attorney (SA) is responsible for contributing to all aspects of HKRAC’s refugee legal aid service provision.  The SA provides direct legal services, supports partners providing legal services, and contributes to the work of the legal team.

Reporting relationships:

The SA is supervised by the Legal Director (LD) for all technical matters related to HKRAC’s legal services. The SA is managed by the Executive Director (ED) for tasks related to partnerships and human resource matters.

Duration of position:

12 months, with review after this date


  • Provide assessment; direct legal services, including advice, limited and full representation; and referrals, and manage a caseload assigned by the LD;
  • Support partners and contribute to the work of the legal team by training, supervising, and overseeing legal services provided by partners and other members of the legal team, including pro bono and community volunteers, clinic students, and staff;
  • Contribute to HKRAC’s monitoring and evaluation system;
  • Participate in refugee legal aid training weekends by presenting at least one core session, and contribute to other HKRAC trainings;
  • Contribute to maintaining positive working relationships within the staff team and with other stakeholders;
  • Contribute to developing organisational strategy, networking with strategic partners, fundraising, and whole-of-office initiatives;
  • Perform other duties as assigned by the ED.

Minimum qualifications:

  • Qualified lawyer in any jurisdiction, preferably Hong Kong;
  • A minimum of 2 years’ experience in refugee or human rights law preferred;
  • A minimum of 2 years’ experience in managing and supervising pro bono and/or community volunteers, students, or staff preferred;
  • A minimum of 2 years’ experience as an associate in a US or UK corporate law firm preferred;
  • Excellent interviewing skills, preferably including through interpreters, and legal research and drafting skills;
  • A demonstrated commitment and sensitivity toward vulnerable and/or displaced people, including women, children, families, and those from diverse cultural backgrounds;
  • Fluent in both spoken and written English;
  • Strong public speaking, training and group facilitation skills.

HK$19,000 per month plus insurance and pension benefits

To apply:
Please send your statement of interest, CV, and a 5-page legal writing sample to info@hkrac.org by 14 June with the subject line “Staff Attorney”. Interviews will be conducted before the end of June, with overseas candidates being interviewed via Skype. The selected candidate is expected to commence employment by the beginning of September 2013.  Due to the high volume of applications, only short-listed candidates will be contacted.

Job Opportunity: Staff Attorney HKRAC

Protecting Transgender Rights in Hong Kong: Equal Marriage Rights

Hong KongThis morning Hong Kong took a giant leap forward in protecting transgender rights in a judgment of the Court of Final Appeal  which will allow a trans* woman to marry her partner. In a judgment that some Irish politicians could do well to take note of the Court concluded that in multicultural jurisdiction such as Hong Kong, the nature of marriage as a social institution had undergone many alterations in that the importance of procreation as an essential constituent “has much diminished”. In a 4-1 running, the Court held that it is “contrary to principle to focus merely on biological features fixed at the time of birth and regarded as immutable” and held in favour of the Appellant.

The appellant, W, is a post-operative transsexual woman who wishes to marry her male partner. However the Registrar of Marriages (Registrar) declined to confirm that the appellant was permitted to marry her partner. The appellant commenced judicial review proceedings against the Registrar on the ground that the Registrar misinterpreted ss 21 and 40 of the Marriage Ordinance (Cap 181). This raised the issue of construction of whether a post-operative male-to-female transsexual was a woman or female for the purposes of the Marriage Ordinance. The same issue also arose in respect of s 20(1)(d) of the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (Cap 179). The appellant sought an order quashing the Registrar’s decision and a declaration that the decision was unlawful on the basis that the Registrar misdirected himself in law by misinterpreting ss 21 and 40 of the Marriage Ordinance. The appellant’s alternative case, in the event it was held that the Registrar had not misinterpreted the statutory provisions in question, was that ss 21 and 40 of the Marriage Ordinance, in failing to recognise her as a woman or female, were unconstitutional Continue reading “Protecting Transgender Rights in Hong Kong: Equal Marriage Rights”

Protecting Transgender Rights in Hong Kong: Equal Marriage Rights

Refugee Non-Refoulement in Customary International Law: An Asian Perspective

Human Rights in Ireland welcomes guest contributor, Sonya Donnelly. Sonya is currently working as a Staff Attorney with the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre Limited (HKRAC.) HKRAC is the only NGO that provides pro-bono legal aid for asylum seekers undergoing the UNHCR refugee status determination process in Hong Kong.  Sonya has written extensively on human rights issues and co-wrote a legal text for first year barristers, The Devil’s Handbook.

The week sees an important case on international refugee law argued before the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Central to the case is whether non-refoulement of refugees has attained the status of jus cogens. C, KMF and BF v Director of Immigration and Secretary for Security (FACV Nos. 18/19/20 2011) (the C case) opened in the Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday and is due to run until today with the UNHCR acting as an intervener in the case.

Article 33(1) of the Refugee Convention contains a prohibition against refoulement, which is a prohibition against returning a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened.  The article states that:

No contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The four main issues before the court in the Court of Final Appeal are:

  1. Is there a norm of customary international law (CIL) requiring non-refoulement of refugees?
  2. If this is so, is it a part of the domestic law of Hong Kong?
  3. If it is not part of the domestic law of Hong Kong, has the Director of Immigration (the Director) as a matter of practice exercised his discretion such that it has de facto recognised that concept?
  4. If it is part of the law of Hong Kong, is the Director obliged to determine the claims for refugee status, or are they delegable to the UNHCR?

As a brief background note, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China (HKSAR). China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in Continue reading “Refugee Non-Refoulement in Customary International Law: An Asian Perspective”

Refugee Non-Refoulement in Customary International Law: An Asian Perspective

The Children's Referendum: Donnelly on the Referendum Process

Human Rights in Ireland welcomes guest contributor, Sonya Donnelly. Sonya is a practicing barrister who also lectures in Dublin Business School. She has spent the last year in Africa working as a project coordinator with Irish Rule of Law International on an access to justice project focusing on pre-trial detention in Malawian prisons.  She has written extensively on criminal justice issues and co-wrote a legal text for first year barristers, The Devil’s Handbook. In this post Sonya outlines the Referendum process as part of the Children’s Amendment Blog Carnival.

On Saturday, the 10th November 2012 you are being asked to vote in a referendum which concerns changes to the Constitution in respect of the rights of children.  On the page below, I will set out a short description of some of the key terms of relevance to the referendum process in order to give you a greater understanding of how this process will work.

What is the Constitution?

The Constitution is the fundamental legal document that sets out how Ireland should be governed. The Oireachtas cannot introduce laws in Ireland that are inconsistent with what is stated in the Constitution. Therefore it is sometimes necessary to change the Constitution and this is done by holding a referendum.

What is a referendum?

A referendum is a vote by the people of Ireland on a proposed amendment to the Constitution. A referendum gives the people the opportunity to express their opinion and vote for or against the proposed change. If a simple majority vote yes the amendment is approved and the appropriate words in the Constitution are removed and/or inserted. If a simple majority vote no then the Constitution remains unaffected.

What is the process for a referendum in Ireland?

In order to call a constitutional referendum, Continue reading “The Children's Referendum: Donnelly on the Referendum Process”

The Children's Referendum: Donnelly on the Referendum Process