Last week, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee held a session to review the situation in Hong Kong. Based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Committee examines the extent to which Hong Kong is meeting its obligations every four years.
The current review is the first since the introduction of the National Security Law and Beijing’s electoral reform. Result: serious setbacks in civil and human rights. The questions from the legal experts focused, among other things, on the passage of the security law, its constitutionality, its compatibility with the principles of the pact – but also on the disproportionate use of police force during demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019.
For example, the Security Act requires cases of alleged national security violations to be heard by judges appointed by the head of government. According to the UN experts, this undermines judicial independence and the right to a fair trial.
In addition, in 2019, riot police commanders ordered their people to shoot the heads of demonstrators. According to the committee, this constitutes a disregard for the life and safety of other people. It therefore violates not only human rights principles, but also general legal bases for the use of countermeasures.
During the review, experts from the UN Commission also asked the Hong Kong government almost every day whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are violating the security law when they provide the UN with information on the human rights situation on the ground. To which the Hong Kong government responded vaguely, without saying clearly whether it classifies the UN as a “foreign power”. That was not enough for the legal experts. So they asked again – for example, whether the UN Human Rights Commission counted as a “foreign political organization” and contact with it violated the security law.
Those responsible in Hong Kong emphasized that the usual international exchange would be protected by the Basic Law. The extent to which communication between NGOs and the UN would be problematic “depends on the facts, the circumstances and the activities of the organizations concerned” and therefore cannot be generalized. In other words, you refuse to answer.
In about a week, the UN Commission will publish its report and make recommendations. They are binding for Hong Kong as an ICCPR contracting party. However, it is almost certain that the Hong Kong government will ignore these recommendations and claim that everything it does is in line with international standards and Hong Kong law.
Other parties to the pact, including European countries, have a duty to implement UN recommendations to protect treaty rights. These states should make their concerns clear now that the UN has also made clear statements on the situation in Hong Kong.
Glacier Kwong alternates writing this column with Joshua Wong. The two young activists from Hong Kong are fighting against the growing influence of China in their homeland. Since Wong is currently imprisoned, Kwong is continuing this column alone for the time being.