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FCC joins more than 40 groups in highlighting Hong Kong human rights concerns to United Nations

Hong Kong’s deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment will come under the spotlight as the SAR is profiled in a landmark submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on China.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city will be put to the test. File Photo: GovHK. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city will be put to the test. File Photo: GovHK.

A review of the submission will take place in November.

The Hong Kong UPR Coalition (the Coalition) submission; endorsed by 45 civil society organisations including the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong; represents the collaborative efforts of civil society to hold the Hong Kong SAR government accountable to its human rights commitments.

“The increasing erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong will be under the international spotlight in the coming months. The UPR is an opportunity for the government to show it is serious in upholding its human rights obligations,” said Simon Henderson, the spokesperson for the Coalition and Senior Policy Advisor at Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Much has changed in Hong Kong since 2013 when the last UPR was held. Election candidates have been disqualified based on their political beliefs, booksellers have been abducted and detained, freedom of the press has deteriorated and civil society is increasingly marginalised.

Mr. Henderson added: “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 United Nations which the Hong Kong government has ignored.”

The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

The submission details 109 recommendations. For example, it calls for the government to:

  • adopt a comprehensive human rights ordinance to incorporate all international human rights treaties that apply to Hong Kong in domestic legislation;
  • only propose national security legislation on the basis of Article 23 after universal suffrage has been fully implemented, ensuring that any proposed legislation fully complies with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the rule of law;
  • not set an inappropriate high threshold for granting international protection and grant asylum seekers and refugees the right to work;
  • amend the Public Order Ordinance, in particular section 17B on “disorder in public places” and section 18 on “unlawful assembly”, ensuring it is consistent with the ICCPR;
  • take measures to ensure persons with disabilities are not arbitrarily deprived of their liberty through institutionalisation and provide adequate resources for 24-hour community support and/or small group homes;
  • adopt a comprehensive law to combat human trafficking and forced labour; and
  • adopt legislation to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.

“Our submission reflects the aspirations of the Hong Kong people who want to build a fairer and more equal society for all,” continued Mr. Henderson. “Importantly, it also echoes Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city.”

Engagement with civil society is crucial to the UPR process. Unfortunately, quite often, civil society is on the sidelines when it comes to major legal and policy developments, in contrast to the Chief Executive’s pledge to “connect”.

“Having meaningful consultations, meeting regularly and promptly responding to correspondence will go a long way in engaging civil society.

“Hong Kong’s competitive edge is supported by respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Civil society is a critical part of that process. Human rights are not a matter of ‘internal affairs’, but of interest to the international community.

“The UPR is a test for the government to show that it is truly committed to protecting Hong Kong’s core values. We look forward to working with the government to implement these recommendations,” he concluded.

The upcoming UPR on China, including Hong Kong and Macau, will take place in Geneva in early November 2018. The UPR Working Group, which consists of the 47 member states of the UNHRC, will conduct the review.

Amnesty International investigating possibility of genocide in Rohingya crisis

The persecution of the Rohingya people is a humanitarian crisis, but evidence is yet to determine whether genocide has occurred, said Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and Pacific regional director.

Dr James Gomez talked about the Rohingya crisis at the FCC on November 1. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Dr James Gomez talked about the Rohingya crisis at the FCC on November 1. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Dr James Gomez told members attending a club cocktail event on human rights crises in the region that evidence had so far shown the systematic burning of Rohingya villages in the Rakhine region of Myanmar, and that women and children were separated and some subjected to rape. However, reports that men and boys of fighting age were taken into forests and executed were still being investigated.

Dr Gomez said genocide was “a very technical and legal term” and that satellite imagery was being used to determine whether there were mass graves in forest areas.

The displacement of the Rohingya, described as the world’s most persecuted people , and made up mostly of Muslims, is the biggest crisis currently facing the Asia Pacific region. Since violence broke out in northern Rakhine state on 25 August this year, when militants killed government forces, Myanmar’s military has launched a “clearance operation” that has been described as ethnic cleansing, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. It has also forced 600,000 to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, spoke about China's role in the crisis. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, spoke about China’s role in the crisis. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Myanmar refuses to recognise Rohingya as citizens, and places restrictions on their freedom of movement, access to medical assistance, education and other basic services. The de facto head of Myanmar’s government, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticised for remaining silent on the militia campaign against the Rohingya.

Amnesty International, a non-profit organisation that promotes human rights and has a global supporter base of seven million, has spent the last few weeks investigating materials submitted by international aid workers, journalists, medics and witnesses to the ongoing oppression of the Rohingya. It is the responsibility of Dr Gomez, a former Singaporean politician, to verify that material to determine whether crimes against humanity have occurred.

He told the FCC event on November 1: “There was systematic and targeted burning of Rohingya villages and houses. People were shot as they fled.” He added that evidence from medics on the ground had shown bullet wounds in the backs and backs of legs of victims.

FCC board member and journalist Florence de Changy was one of the audience members to pose a question. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC FCC board member and journalist Florence de Changy was one of the audience members to pose a question. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Dr Gomez said those responsible for the violence against the Rohingya were Myanmar’s Western Command, and Light Infantry 33 and 99 divisions. He said Amnesty International was also investigating the role of the senior general commander of the Myanmar military.

Of Aung San Suu Kyi, he said she was isolated and “sitting on a thin crust” with her party, the National League for Democracy, because there appeared to be no communication with other “old boy’s club” members.

China also took some criticism for not participating in diplomatic discussions on the matter due to its economic interests in Myanmar. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East Asia, said that for China to claim with any credibility that the situation in Myanmar was only an internal issue was “ridiculous”.

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