Lord Ashdown report highlights duty of UK and China to protect human rights in Hong Kong

Lord Ashdown’s report on his visit to Hong Kong highlights the ongoing duty of the UK and China to protect human rights in Hong Kong.

 Photo: @hongkongfp

Photo: @hongkongfp

A new report on human rights in Hong Kong by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown of Norton Sub-Hamdon is published by Hong Kong Watch today. The report is based on Lord Ashdown’s recent visit to Hong Kong in November. During the visit, Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, heard from legislators, legal experts and political activists in Hong Kong. He is presenting the findings of the report at an event in the Houses of Parliament on 17 January 2018.

Lord Ashdown, a Patron of Hong Kong Watch and a member of the House of Lords, emphasises the responsibilities held by the government of the UK and the government of the People’s Republic of China. He asks:

“Will China enhance their soft-power if they continue to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, thereby breaching an international treaty?

A year before the handover of Hong Kong, then Prime Minister Sir John Major promised Hong Kong that “if there were any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration, we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us,” and that “Hong Kong will never have to walk alone.” This is not a promise that can be lightly broken. Will Britain risk selling its honour by abandoning the people of Hong Kong?”

He said that:

“Legislators, legal experts and activists that I spoke to expressed concerns about the direction of travel: the situation appears likely to worsen in the coming years unless the people of Hong Kong and international governments unify to protect the rights of those living there.”

He highlighted multiple areas of concerns including the rule of law, democracy, the proposed National Security Law - Article 23, and the status of British National Overseas Passport holders.

On the rule of law, he said that:

“While the Hong Kong judiciary is still largely intact and independent… Recent events, including the abduction of Hong Kong booksellers into the mainland simply for having published books critical of China’s leaders in 2015, the retrial and sentencing of democracy activists, the disqualification of lawmakers, and the recent decision to implement mainland law at the new West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus, set a dangerous precedent and could undermine confidence in the rule of law.”

On democracy, he criticised functional constituencies as ‘the worst legacy left behind by Britain’ and a ‘major barrier to the realisation of universal suffrage in Hong Kong.’ He went on to say that ‘Hong Kong’s democracy has been further damaged by the recent changes to the rules of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong’

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong should enact a National Security Law. In response to concerns that this could lead to violations of freedom of expression, Lord Ashdown emphasised that: “all new legislation, including the proposed legislation of Article 23, must conform to the standards laid out in international human rights law and protected by Article 39 of the Basic Law.”

Lord Ashdown also reiterated the comments he made on the state of British National Overseas Passport Holders: “I advocated for BNO passport holder to be given right of abode in the 1990s, and continue to favour the BNO being extended to the right of abode if the situation for basic freedoms, human rights, the rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong deteriorates to such an extent that those who hold the BNO passport feel so vulnerable that they can’t live there any longer.”

On the publication of the report, Benedict Rogers, the chairman of trustees at Hong Kong Watch said:

“We are delighted that Lord Ashdown has released this comprehensive and accurate account of the worsening human rights situation in Hong Kong. He is one of Britain’s most experienced politicians and his intervention highlights that Hong Kong is at a crucial turning point. It is in the interests Britain, China and Hong Kong for ‘one-country’, ‘two-systems’ to be fully protected and upheld.”

Read the report here