20 years after the handover of Hong Kong, human rights and basic freedoms are under threat. 

Hong Kong Watch was established in 2017 to investigate the status of human rights, freedoms and rule of law in Hong Kong, raising concerns with the United Kingdom government and the wider international community should violations of the rights and freedoms enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration take place. 

Launched on 11 December 2017, Hong Kong Watch provides independent, comprehensive analysis and thought leadership on freedom, rule of law and human rights in Hong Kong.


When Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, it was done so on the condition that the people of Hong Kong would continue to enjoy their own way of life. The model of 'one country, two systems' was designed to guarantee human rights, rule of law and the progression towards democracy in Hong Kong. Article 39 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law is clear that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights shall remain in force through the legal system of the Special Administrative Region.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty at the United Nations, places responsibilities on the United Kingdom to protect these rights and freedoms. 

ARTICLE 3.5 of the sino british joint declaration

The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.




Hong Kong Watch note with concern that human rights, freedoms and rule of law are increasingly being threatened in Hong Kong. In the run up to the twentieth anniversary of the handover, the world witnessed pro-democracy activists being denied the right to stand in elections as well as elected lawmakers thrown out of the Legislative Council. 

More than ever there are concerns that the universal freedoms and democratic reforms, which the people of Hong Kong are entitled to, are being undermined.  


Hong Kong Watch believes that such actions violate both the spirit and the word of the Joint Declaration and as such the United Kingdom has a moral and legal obligation to speak out.

When Hong Kong Watch launched, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes underlined his support for Hong Kong Watch and the importance of the Joint Declaration: 

'I am delighted to hear that so many friends of Hong Kong wish to support the efforts made there. They draw sympathy from all around the world. I hope they will make certain that Hong Kong remains a free and open city. Hong Kong was of course guaranteed local autonomy and the continuation of its way of life in the Joint Declaration under the International Treaty between Britain and China which lasts until 2047.   

It is important that China holds to its obligations under the Joint Declaration. Not only is this important for Hong Kong itself, but it will also be taken as a sign by many countries around the world about how much they can trust China to keep its word as the next few years unfold. It is not external interference if friends or supporters of Hong Kong take fair, informed and balanced view of the community's development. It is simply a mark of continuing friendship for a great city.'

In March 1996, British Prime Minister John Major visited Hong Kong. He underlined the United Kingdom’s lasting commitment to Hong Kong when he said: “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…” He concluded that “Hong Kong will never have to walk alone”.

It is in this spirit that Hong Kong Watch will raise awareness of the developments in Hong Kong amongst politicians, policy makers and the public in the United Kingdom and beyond.


John Major - 1996

PM John Major - 1996“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…”


In light of the situation, Hong Kong Watch is being set-up to provide independent, comprehensive analysis and thought leadership on freedom and human rights in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Watch will:

  1. Monitor and report developments in Hong Kong and international responses

  2. Provide high-level, authoritative and cutting-edge analysis of the situation

  3. Regularly update Parliamentarians, government officials and the media in the UK and further afield

  4. Bring together influential voices for high-level events on the situation in Hong Kong

  5. Provide an unbiased platform for Hong Kong civil society actors to share their perspectives



Hong Kong Watch are proud to share the support of a number of eminent patrons, including: 

  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC:
    a former Cabinet Minister under John Major and Margaret Thatcher who served as Foreign Secretary between 1995 and 1997
  • Catherine West MP:
    Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green who is Deputy Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China
  • Lord Paddy Ashdown:
    the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and former UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, he is currently a member of the House of Lords
  • Lord David Alton:
    an independent cross-bench peer, and once the youngest Member of Parliament, he is a leading voice for human rights around the world
  • Sir Geoffrey Nice QC:
    a British barrister, he led the prosecution in the trial of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague and has subsequently worked extensively at the International Criminal Court

Benedict Rogers, a leading expert on human rights in East Asia, is set to be Chairman of Trustees for Hong Kong Watch.


The people and government of the United Kingdom feel an obligation to the people of Hong Kong to help ensure that they enjoy their freedom and the rule of law for the next 25 years and beyond. Hong Kong Watch is a splendid initiative towards that end
— Sir Malcom Rifkind
Human rights, democracy, universal suffrage, the rule of law and judicial independence are as important in Hong Kong now as they were in 1997. The United Kingdom and China both have a legal obligation to stand up for these doctrines, enshrined in the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. Our Islands share a deep history that is continuing to grow through trade, education, politics and culture and our commitment to Hong Kongers’ rights must remain as steadfast as ever, which is why I am honoured to become a Patron of Hong Kong Watch.
— Catherine West MP
Twenty years after the handover of Hong Kong to China, it is clear that Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy are threatened. Britain has specific moral and legal responsibilities to Hong Kong. The launch of Hong Kong Watch, an organization that will conduct independent, critical, constructive and responsible research and advocacy to uphold, defend and strengthen Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, as promised to Hong Kong under the Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the concept of ‘one country, two systems’, is very welcome, timely and much needed. I am delighted to be a Patron of Hong Kong Watch, having first visited Hong Kong as a young Member of Parliament representing the city of Liverpool with its vibrant connections to Hong Kong, and having met in recent months some of the brave young campaigners for democracy in Hong Kong, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. I look forward to supporting Hong Kong Watch as a Patron, in order to defend and strengthen the basic freedoms which Hong Kong people have been promised and deserve.
— Lord Alton
“As China’s power in the world grows, its responsibilities increase, and China has a responsibility to live up to its promises and obligations to Hong Kong. In recent years there are worrying signs that ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s basic freedoms are being eroded. Britain has a responsibility to Hong Kong too, to monitor and speak out for Hong Kong’s way of life. The Sino-British Joint Declaration is precisely that – a joint declaration signed by both countries and lodged at the United Nations. Hong Kong Watch is being established to monitor, research and advocate in defence of Hong Kong’s freedoms, autonomy and rule of law and to urge both China and Britain to fulfil its obligations under the Joint Declaration, and that is why I am delighted to be a Patron of Hong Kong Watch.” 
— Lord Ashdown

"As China’s power in the world grows, its responsibilities increase, and China has a responsibility to live up to its promises and obligations to Hong Kong..."

Lord Ashdown


Disclaimer: Hong Kong Watch is an entirely independent organization, unaffiliated to any other organization but working in collaboration and partnership with others. Hong Kong Watch has no institutional relationship whatsoever with the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch, for whom we have deep respect and with whom we share common values and vision.