Civil Society Decries Deteriorating Rights in HK

A group of 45 organizations has submitted over 100 suggestions to the United Nations regarding the “deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment” in Hong Kong ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on China. The coalition of groups includes organizations working on the environment, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, domestic worker rights, ethnic minority rights, open data, and others. At the Hong Kong Free Press, Kris Cheng reports:

[Spokesperson for the coalition Simon] Henderson said that the review on Hong Kong is considered part of China’s, but although the UN made 300 suggestions relating to China in 2013, none were made for Hong Kong. He said it was the first time Hong Kong groups had come together to provide such a large number of suggestions.

[…] “The submission provides a roadmap of specific, measurable and achievable recommendations for Hong Kong to abide by its human rights commitments and restore its international standing. Many reflect long outstanding recommendations by the which the Hong Kong government has ignored,” Henderson said.

[…] The groups called upon the government to adopt a comprehensive human rights ordinance to incorporate all international human rights treaties that apply to Hong Kong in domestic legislation. It should also amend the Public Order Ordinance – including sections on disorder in public places and unlawful assembly – to ensure it is in line with international regulations.

[…] They said the government should enable all political parties – including pro-independence ones – to register as societies or companies, as some have not been able to do so in recent years. The government should legislate to protect the rights of all persons to stand for election, regardless of their political views, they said. […] [Source]

In 2016, four elected pro-democracy lawmakers were barred from taking seats on the Hong Kong Legislative Council after refusing to pledge their support for a unified Hong Kong and China. More recently, this year 21-year-old Agnes Chow saw her bid to run for political office in Hong Kong quashed due to her association with the Demosisto pro-democracy party.

The Standard reports further on the UPR coalition’s concerns regarding deteriorations of the rule of law and human rights in Hong Kong:

The report warns that civil society fears that the future introduction of Article 23 national security legislation “will be used to suppress human rights and democratic development”. It says such legislation should only be put forward once universal suffrage has been implemented in Hong Kong.

Other issues raised include people from ethnic minorities reporting that they are being targeted by the police, and official documents being published only in Chinese and not the other official language, English.

A spokesman for the coalition, Simon Henderson from the Justice Centre, said many of their recommendations have already been made by United Nations treaty bodies or the Law Reform Commission.

“For example, there is no legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Henderson said.

“That is a measure that should be relatively straightforward to implement. Surveys have demonstrated that the Hong Kong public support such a measure and the delay in actually implementing such a measure is out of step with similar like-minded jurisdictions.” [Source]

Another issue that raised concerns for the coalition were the suspected abductions and detentions of publishers and booksellers associated with the Causeway Bay bookstore in 2015. One of the booksellers detained in 2015, Gui Minhai, is again in detention on the mainland after being released last October. At the South China Morning Post, Raquel Carvalho reports on the coalition’s recommendation that the Hong Kong government launch a public investigation into the 2015 episode, and take action to urge mainland counterparts to release Gui:

The report calls on the administration to launch an “independent and public investigation” into the detention and abduction of the Causeway Bay booksellers, urging officials to act on behalf of the only one of them officially still under arrest in mainland China.

Hong Kong “should take immediate actions to ensure the safety of and call for his unconditional release”, the report read.

[…] Gui’s situation remains murky. In early March, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said a Swedish doctor had been denied permission to meet him.

Shirley Yam, a member of the executive committee at the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said that since the arrests, “writers are not to write, printers are not to print, booksellers are not to sell and truckers are not to carry books critical of the mainland government”. [Source]

Beijing has long faced accusations of attempts to interfere with U.N. rights work and hearings in front of the U.N. by obstructing inspections, intimidating activists, and suppressing civil society participation. Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a Chinese resolution on international cooperation that critics saw as being aimed at autocratically reshaping international norms on human rights. At China Change, rights lawyer Andrea Worden situates Beijing’s recent win at the UNHRC into earlier efforts to internally disrupt U.N. rights work, urging other U.N. members to resist Chinese attempts to turn its upcoming UPR into a watershed moment for the development of “human rights with Chinese characteristics”:

During the past year, China, supported by authoritarian allies like Russia, Turkey and Egypt, has taken an increasingly aggressive anti-human rights posture at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) and elsewhere in the UN system where human rights are a core focal point. Its aim appears to be nothing less than “disappearing” the existing human rights framework –– one of the UN’s three pillars established by the UN Charter — from the mission and work of the UN, and replacing it with a Chinese version that focuses almost exclusively on “the right to development,” “dialogue” and “mutually beneficial cooperation.” China hasn’t won yet, but it’s seizing the moment of the Trump presidency, Brexit, the rise of authoritarianism globally, and Xi Jinping’s elevation as “president for life,” to push its agenda at the Human Rights Council with an unprecedented pace and boldness.

China’s first-ever HRC resolution, titled “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” was adopted by the Council in June 2017. I discuss this resolution in China Pushes ‘Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN. On March 23, 2018, the HRC adopted China’s second resolution, titled “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights” (hereinafter “MBC resolution”). The MBC resolution is almost mind numbing in its repetitive use of bromides and lack of any apparent substantive content. But, as with China’s June 2017 resolution, more is going on than meets the casual observer’s eye.

[…] It’s incumbent on the U.S. and those states that abstained on the MBC resolution vote to make China’s Universal Periodic Review count — for the sake of the countless victims of human rights abuses in China, and for the human rights defenders in China who are working at great personal risk to protect and promote human rights on the ground. Wang Quanzhang, Liu Xia, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Huang Qi, among many others, should be named, and Liu Xiaobo, Li Baiguang, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and Cao Shunli remembered. We must do what we can to prevent China from turning its upcoming Universal Periodic Review into a victory celebration for “human rights with Chinese characteristics.”  [Source]