Former Hong Kong civil service chief wins global justice prize

By on 27/10/2017 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Anson Chan Fang On-sang wins the annual O’Connor Justice Prize for advancing the rule of law, justice and human rights, which issues the prize to those who make "extraordinary efforts” to advance the three goals.

Hong Kong’s former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang has been awarded an international prize for advancing the rule of law, justice and human rights.

She was named on Tuesday as the fourth recipient of the annual O’Connor Justice Prize, which was created to honour the first female judge appointed to the United States’ Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Chan served as the Hong Kong government’s second most senior official under both its last governor Chris Patten and first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, and is widely regarded as a steadying hand who guided the administration through the handover from Britain to China.

Since retiring from the government in 2001, she has been a vigorous advocate for faster progress towards universal suffrage in elections of the territory’s chief executive and Legislative Council.

Announcing the award, the college said that like O’Connor, Chan has broken through “significant demographic barriers in her remarkable career”. In the run-up to the handover she was “viewed as one of the most powerful women in Asia and the face of Hong Kong”, and in retirement has been “a champion of transparent and accountable government”.

Chan will be formally presented with the gong on 10 February, at a dinner held by the State University of Arizona’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law – which issues the prize to those who make “extraordinary efforts” to advance the three goals. Previous winners include former US president Jimmy Carter.

“I am deeply honoured and delighted to accept this prestigious award in honour of a great lady whom I deeply admire,” said Chan, adding that she looks forward to meeting the retired judge at the awards event.

Chan, 77, joined the Hong Kong civil service as an administrative service cadet in 1962, and was appointed a senior administrative officer in 1970. Over the following decade, she fought for equal pay for female civil servants as chair of the Association of Female Senior Government Officers.

In 1984, she was promoted to director of social welfare, making history as the first woman to reach director grade in the Hong Kong civil service.

Chan broke another glass ceiling in 1993, when she became both the first woman and the first Chinese person to be appointed chief secretary of Hong Kong. As head of the civil service, she oversaw increased recruitment of local civil servants and the construction of the territory’s new airport.

Chan served for more than six years in the role, which was renamed chief secretary for administration at the handover. This reflected a change in the job’s status under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, from head of the civil service to most senior principal official in the SAR government.

In 2005 she returned to the public eye to campaign for faster progress towards universal suffrage, joining pro-democracy marches and setting up the Core Group and Hong Kong 2020 campaign to advance debate on constitutional reform in Hong Kong.

She also served as an independent legislator for Hong Kong Island for 10 months in 2007-8, after winning a by-election.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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