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US Department of State

Macau Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2005

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006.

(This original report was appended to the China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2005.)

Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs. Macau's population is approximately 450 thousand, and its citizens have basic freedoms and enjoy legally protected rights. The SAR constitution, also called the basic law, was promulgated by the PRC's National People's Congress (NPC) in 1993. The government is led by a chief executive, chosen by a 300-member election committee, which in turn is chosen by a preparatory committee composed of 60 SAR and 40 mainland representatives appointed by the NPC. In September voters elected 12 of the legislature's 29 members in direct elections based on geographical constituencies. Interest groups in functional constituencies elected 10 others, and the chief executive appointed the remaining 7 members. The basic law does not posit the election of all members of the legislature by universal suffrage as an ultimate aim. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. The following human rights abuses were reported:


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

  1. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life.

Unlike the previous year, there were no reports of suspicious deaths in custody. In 2004 the public prosecutions office filed a criminal investigation concerning one of the judiciary police officers involved in the 2002 death of a prisoner in custody. An investigation into the conduct of a second officer was ongoing at year's end.

  1. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  1. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions in practice. During the year, there were 18 reports of police brutality, compared with 21 reports for the same period in 2004.

  1. Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions met international standards, and the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

  1. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

  1. Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Civilian authorities, specifically the secretary for security, supervised and controlled the police. The Public Security Police were well disciplined. The Commission Against Corruption acted to preclude problems with corruption.

  1. Arrest and Detention

Police must present persons remanded in custody to an examining judge within 48 hours of detention. The examining judge, who conducts a pretrial inquiry in criminal cases, has a wide range of powers to collect evidence, order or dismiss indictments, and determine whether to release detained persons. The accused person's counsel may examine the evidence. The law provides that cases must come to trial within six months of an indictment. The estimated average length of pretrial incarceration was three to six months. Judges often refused bail in cases where sentences could exceed three years.

There were no reports of political detainees.

  1. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice. There are four courts: the primary court, with general jurisdiction of first instance; the administrative court, with jurisdiction of first instance in administrative disputes; the court of second instance; and the court of final appeal. The courts have the power of final adjudication in all cases that are within the authority of the SAR. The courts also may rule on matters that are "the responsibility of the Central People's Government or concern the relationship between the central authorities and the [Special Administrative] Region." However, before making their final judgment (a judgment not subject to appeal), the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the NPC's Standing Committee. When the Standing Committee makes an interpretation of the provisions concerned, the courts, in applying those provisions, "shall follow the interpretation of the Standing Committee." The Standing Committee must consult the NPC's Committee for the Basic Law of the SAR before giving an interpretation of the law. This committee is composed of 10 members, 5 from the SAR and 5 from the mainland. The chief executive, the president of the Macau SAR Legislative Assembly, and the president of the court of final appeal nominates the SAR members.

The basic law provides for the use of Portuguese, in addition to Chinese, as an official language used by executive authorities, the legislature, and the judiciary. The need to translate laws and judgments from Portuguese and a severe shortage of local bilingual lawyers and magistrates hampered development of the legal system. At year's end there were 105 lawyers in private practice in the SAR: 14 spoke Mandarin and Cantonese and 27 spoke only Cantonese. The government sponsored a postgraduate training program for magistrates who had received legal training outside of the SAR. The judiciary was relatively inexperienced and lacked locally trained lawyers.

According to the basic law, the chief executive appoints judges at all levels, acting on the recommendation of an independent commission, which he appoints. The commission is composed of local judges, lawyers, and "eminent persons." The basic law stipulates that judges must be chosen on the basis of their professional qualifications. Judges may be removed only for criminal acts or an inability to discharge their functions. With the exception of the chief justice, who must be a Chinese citizen with no right of abode elsewhere, foreigners are permitted to serve as judges under the basic law.

  1. Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. By law trials are open to the public, except when publicity could cause great harm to the dignity of the persons, to public morals, or to the normal development of the trial. The law provides for an accused person's right to be present during proceedings and to choose an attorney or request that one be provided at government expense. The Organized Crime Ordinance provides that "certain procedural acts may be held without publicity and witness statements read in court are admissible as evidence." There also are additional restrictions on granting bail and suspended sentences in organized crime cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, and have a right of appeal.

The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process; however, due to an overloaded court system a period of up to a year sometimes passed between filing a civil case and its scheduled hearing.

A public prosecutor general heads the Public Prosecutions Office. It enjoys substantial autonomy from both the executive and the judiciary. The basic law stipulates that the Public Prosecutions Office's functions be carried out without government interference, and the government respected the law in practice.

  1. Political Prisoners

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  1. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  1. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom and the Internet. The dominant newspapers, mainly Chinese-language, supported PRC government positions in their editorial line. The Union for Democracy Development Macau (UDDM), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) headed by prodemocracy legislators, charged that newspapers did not give equal attention to liberal and prodemocracy voices. In February the chief editor of Open Magazine- which is openly critical of the mainland Chinese government–-was refused entry to Macau "based on Macau Special Administrative Region internal security guidelines," according to a letter from the government. Although the editor had been barred from the mainland for a number of years, this was the first time he was barred from Macau. In response to a letter of concern from a Hong Kong legislator, the chief executive's office replied that it was concerned about the case and investigating it.

  1. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

  1. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

  1. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year, and the size of Macau's Jewish population remains extremely small.

  1. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice. Approximately 100 thousand residents held Portuguese European Union passports, and an increasing number held SAR passports that allowed visa-free entry into many countries. Most residents also held special permits that allowed travel to and from the mainland. There was a separate pass for travel to and from Hong Kong.

The internal security legal framework allows the government to refuse entry or expel any nonresident considered inadmissible or constituting a threat to internal security, or suspected of having a relationship with transnational crime or terrorism. During the first half of the year, no person was refused entry based on suspicion of having a connection to terrorism or transnational crime; however, 12 persons were refused entry for internal security reasons, primarily for violations of immigration law.

During the first half of the year, 214 illegal migrants and 3,757 overstayers were returned to the mainland.

In January Macau immigration officials refused entry to a Hong Kong resident who was a spokesperson for the Falun Gong. The spokesperson said she had entered Macau many times without incident. This denial of entry occurred during a period of heightened security on the mainland, just three days after the death of former Communist Party Chairman Zhao Ziyang in Beijing.

The basic law prohibits forced exile by guaranteeing the right of permanent residents to leave and enter the SAR, and the government respected the law.

  1. Protection of Refugees

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. In practice the government granted refugee status or asylum and provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared prosecution. The Migration Department cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in handling refugees. As of October, there were no refugee cases.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The basic law restricts citizens' ability to change their government. The government is led by a chief executive, chosen by a 300-member election committee, which in turn is chosen by a 100-member preparatory committee, composed of 60 SAR and 40 mainland representatives appointed by the NPC.

  1. Elections and Political Participation

In 2004 Chief Executive Edmund Ho was re-elected to a second five-year term.

In September the SAR's democratic development was enhanced when a record 58 percent of registered voters participated in Macau's third legislative elections. As required by the basic law, two directly-elected seats were added to the legislature during the elections. Voters directly elected 12 of the 29 legislators (versus 10 of the 27 in 2001) from geographic constituencies. Local community interests, such as business, labor, professional, welfare, cultural, educational, and sports associations, indirectly elected 10 members, and the chief executive appointed 7 members.

There are limits on the types of legislation that legislators may introduce. The basic law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR's political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation relating to government policies must receive the chief executive's written approval before they are submitted.

A 10-member executive council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving all draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly.

There were six women in the 29-member assembly, including the president of the assembly. Women also held a number of senior positions throughout the government. There were three ethnic minorities in the 29-member assembly. One member of the executive council was also an ethnic minority, as was the police commissioner.

  1. Government Corruption and Transparency

The Commission Against Corruption (CAC) investigates public-sector corruption and has the power to arrest and detain suspects. In the first half of the year, the CAC received 602 complaints against public officials in a variety of agencies. The CAC pursued 229 of these complaints, of which 100 were criminal cases and 129 were administrative cases. The CAC transferred 11 cases to the Public Prosecutions Office. A monitoring body established to review complaints of maladministration or abuse by the CAC received no complaints during the same period.

The law does not provide for public access to government information. However, the executive branch published online, in both Chinese and Portuguese, an extensive amount of information including laws, regulations, ordinances, government policies and procedures, and biographies of government officials. The government also issued a daily press release on topics of public concern. The information provided by the legislature was less extensive. For example, it did not publish a legislative agenda or a list of pending bills.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The basic law stipulates that residents shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of their nationality, descent, race, sex, language, religion, political persuasion, ideological belief, educational level, economic status, or social condition, and the government effectively enforced the law. In addition many local laws carry specific prohibitions against discrimination. For example, under the law that established the general framework for the educational system, access to education was stipulated for all residents regardless of race, religious belief, or political or ideological convictions.

  1. Women

The government effectively enforced criminal statutes prohibiting domestic violence and prosecuted violators. Domestic violence is punishable by 1 to 15 years in prison. In the case of spousal abuse and violence against minors, the penalty is 2 to 8 years' imprisonment, and 5 to 15 years if the abuse leads to the death of the victim.

The government provided hospital treatment for victims of abuse, and medical social workers counseled victims and informed them about social welfare services. The government may provide victims of domestic violence with public housing until their complaints are resolved, but it did not reserve facilities expressly for this purpose.

Private and religious groups sponsored programs for victims of domestic violence, and the government supported and helped to fund these organizations and programs. The Bureau for Family Action, a government organization subordinate to the Department of Family and Community of the Social Welfare Institute, helped female victims of domestic violence by providing a safe place for them and their children and furnishing advice regarding legal actions against the perpetrators. A family counseling service was available to persons who requested such services at social centers. Two government-supported religious programs also offered rehabilitation programs for female victims of violence. In the first half of the year, 112 cases of spousal abuse and 51 cases of family violence were reported to the Social Welfare Institute. The law on rape covers spousal rape. In the first half of the year, there were 10 reported rapes.

Prostitution is legal, but procuring is not. Trafficking in persons also is illegal; however, there were 10 suspected cases of trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution (see section 5, Trafficking in Persons).

There is no law specifically addressing sexual harassment, although there is a law prohibiting harassment in general. Sexual harassment was not considered to be a major problem.

Equal opportunity legislation applicable to all public and private organizations mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work, prohibits discrimination based on sex or physical ability, and establishes penalties for employers who violate these guidelines. The law allows for civil suits, but few women took their cases to the Labor Affairs Bureau or other entities. There were no cases alleging sexual discrimination during the first half of the year.

Women also have become more active and visible in business. However, wage discrimination occurred in certain sectors of the job market, notably construction.

  1. Children

The government protected the rights and welfare of children through the general framework of civil and political rights legislation that protects all citizens. For example, the law provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procuring that involves minors.

School attendance is compulsory for all children between ages 5 and 15. Basic education was provided in government-run schools and subsidized private schools, and it covered the preprimary year, primary education, and general secondary school education. The Education Department provided assistance to families that could not pay school fees. The children of illegal immigrants were excluded from the educational system. Experts believed this exclusion affected only a few children. Boys and girls attended school in equal proportions, and the government provided free medical care for all children. Child abuse and exploitation were not widespread problems. In the first half of the year, 87 cases of child abuse were reported to the police. During the same period, the government received three reports of rape of minors and nine reports of sexual abuse of minors.

  1. Trafficking in Persons

The law makes trafficking in persons a crime punishable by two to eight years in prison. The law increases this penalty by one-third (within minimum and maximum limits) if the victim is under 18 years of age. If the victim is under 14 years of age, the penalty is increased by 5 to 15 years. If the trafficker rapes the victim, the two offenses are treated as different crimes. While prostitution is not illegal, a "procurement" law makes it a crime to instigate, favor, or facilitate the practice of prostitution by another person for the purposes of profit or as a way of life.

From January to November, the SAR investigated 42 cases of procurement. While most of these cases involved women who were believed to be willing participants in the sex industry, 10 women claimed to have been brought to the SAR under false pretenses and 3 complained of abuse. SAR authorities believed that Chinese, Russian, and Thai criminal syndicates were involved in bringing women to the SAR for the purposes of prostitution. Prostitutes were primarily from mainland China, Russia, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, and Thailand.

There were no government assistance programs for victims of trafficking. No local NGOs specifically dealt with the problem; however, there were charitable organizations that provided assistance and shelter to women and children who were the victims of abuse.

  1. Persons with Disabilities

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions in practice. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or provision of state services.

The Social Welfare Institute provided financial and rehabilitation assistance to persons with disabilities, and it helped fund 24 rehabilitation facilities and 12 rehabilitation associations. These services included day centers, preschool training and education centers, vocational training and employment centers, and rehabilitation bus service. Other special programs helped persons with physical and mental disabilities gain better access to employment, education, and public facilities. For facilities that received financial support, approximately 80 percent of their income came from the government. In 2004 the government provided approximately $3.3 million (25.4 million patacas) in subsidies to such facilities and programs. During the year, 37 NGOs provided services for persons with disabilities and received regular assistance from the Social Welfare Institute and subsidies from other governmental departments. During the 2004-05 school year, 13 schools had programs for persons with disabilities and provided special education programs for 757 students with disabilities.

The law mandates accessibility for persons with reduced mobility to public administration buildings, buildings open to the public, collective dwellings, and pavements. The government's social security fund may grant subsidies for the elimination of architectural barriers to facilitate access by persons with a physical or behavioral disability. Many sidewalks and public buildings have been modified to comply with the law.

  1. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although no specific laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of racial or ethnic background, the government generally respected the rights of ethnic minorities, particularly the Macanese (Eurasians who comprise approximately 2 percent of the population). Although Portuguese officials no longer dominated the civil service, the government bureaucracy and the legal system placed a premium on knowledge of the Portuguese language, which was spoken by approximately 2 percent of the population. The Chinese language has official status and the use of Chinese in the civil service has grown in recent years.

Section 6 Worker Rights

  1. The Right of Association

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirement, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The basic law stipulates that international labor conventions that applied before the handover remain in force. The UDDM has expressed concern that local law contains no explicit provisions that bar discrimination against unions. The law also specifically excludes public servants and migrant workers from labor law protections.

Nearly all private sector unions were part of the pro China Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), and they tended to stress the importance of stability and minimum disruption of the work force. The UDDM and some local journalists claimed that the FTU was more interested in providing social and recreational services than in addressing trade union issues such as wages, benefits, and working conditions. At the beginning of the year there were 173 registered independent trade unions. All classes of workers have the right to join a union. Approximately 79 percent of public sector employees were members of a union. There was no data on private sector unionization.

  1. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides that agreements concluded between employers and workers shall be valid, but there is no specific statutory protection that provides for the right to collective bargaining; however, the government did not impede or discourage collective bargaining. Market forces determined wages. Unions tended to resemble local traditional neighborhood associations, promoting social and cultural activities rather than workplace issues. Local customs normally favored employment without the benefit of written labor contracts, except in the case of migrant labor from the mainland and the Philippines. Pro-PRC unions traditionally have not attempted to engage in collective bargaining.

There is no specific protection in local law from retribution if workers exercise their right to strike. The government argued that striking employees are protected from retaliation by labor law provisions, which require an employer to have "justified cause" to dismiss an employee; the government generally enforced these provisions. Strikes, rallies, and demonstrations were not permitted in the vicinity of the chief executive's office, the Legislative Assembly, and other key government buildings. There were no reports of labor protests, strikes, or work stoppages during the year.

Workers who believed that they were dismissed unlawfully may bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Department or the High Commissioner against Corruption and Administrative Illegality, who also functions as an ombudsman.

There are no export processing zones.

  1. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

  1. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working, although minors between the ages of 14 and 16 can be authorized to work on an "exceptional basis." Some children reportedly worked in family-run businesses and on fishing vessels, usually during summer and winter vacations. Local laws do not establish specific regulations governing the number of hours these children can work, but International Labor Organization conventions were applied. The Labor Department enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and violators were prosecuted. In July, the Labor Department Inspectorate conducted a special inspection specifically aimed at enforcing child labor laws. During this inspection, 476 companies were visited, 17 of which were found to have violated child labor laws by employing 29 minors aged 14 to 16.

  1. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements, but there was no mandatory minimum wage. Average wages provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

Labor legislation provides for a 48-hour workweek, an 8-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. Although the law provides for a 24-hour rest period for every seven days of work, workers frequently agreed to work overtime to compensate for low wages. The Labor Department provided assistance and legal advice to workers on request.

The Labor Department enforced occupational safety and health regulations, and failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. During the first half of the year, the Labor Department inspectorate conducted 1,745 inspections and uncovered 1,826 violations carrying fines totaling $62,640 (494,856 million patacas). There were five work related deaths during the first half of the year. Although the law includes a requirement that employers provide a safe working environment, no explicit provisions protected employees' right to continued employment if they refused to work under dangerous conditions.

Migrant workers, primarily from the PRC, made up approximately 8.4 percent of the work force. They often received less than local residents for performing the same job, lived in controlled dormitories, worked 10 to 12 hours per day, and owed large sums of money to labor-importing companies for purchasing their jobs. They had no collective bargaining rights and no legal recourse in the case of unfair dismissal.


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