As Beijing clamps down on dissent in Hong Kong, leading parliamentarians in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are urging the United Nations to establish a special human rights envoy to monitor the former British colony.
In addition, Liberal MP Michael Levitt, who chairs the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, joined with his counterparts in other Commonwealth nations in writing additional letters to their respective prime ministers, asking them to exert influence with the United Nations Human Rights Council to set up this mandate.
In their letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the four parliamentarians, including Australian David Fawcett, the U.K.’s Tom Tugendhat and Simon O’Connor from New Zealand, said they are concerned about China’s imposition of a new national security law – without the consent of Hong Kongers – that could severely restrict guaranteed freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong citizens.
“We are writing regarding the erosion of the rule of law and the increasingly serious and urgent human rights situation in Hong Kong,” the letter reads. “For Beijing to impose the Security Law on Hong Kong, without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary, is a breach of the legally binding agreement between the U.K. and China.
“It is imperative that the international community move rapidly to ensure there is a mechanism for observing and transparent reporting on the impact of the new law on what are currently legal freedoms in Hong Kong.”
The four committee chairs reminded Mr. Guterres that the Sino-British treaty which governed the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 guaranteed that for 50 years "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”
The Commonwealth representatives said their countries have a particular interest in Hong Kong because of long-standing relationships with the former British colony, including its Court of Final Appeal that draws some judges from Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Nearly 2,000 Canadian soldiers joined British troops in the defence of Hong Kong during the Second World War, a deployment that led to more than 550 Canadians losing their lives.
They wrote that Beijing’s increasing aggressiveness and its crackdown on dissent must be addressed. Beijing uses surveillance to monitor its citizens, imprisons those who criticize Communist Party rule and built prison camps to hold up to one million ethnic Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region.
“Our concerns are heightened at this time in the light of the Chinese Communist Party’s record of abuses when faced with dissent from its rule, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre which occurred 31 years ago this week,” they wrote.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed chief executive Carrie Lam, who visited China’s capital Wednesday to discus the new security law, dismissed concerns the new legislation would take away residents’ freedoms as “totally unsubstantiated."
The law’s draft measures prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against Beijing and “prevent, stop and punish” activities that endanger national security.
In his letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Levitt urged Canada to “lead the international effort to ensure as much protection as possible for the people of Hong Kong and for democracy worldwide.”
Mr. Tugendhat wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying “What we are currently witnessing in Hong Kong is an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to dismantle laws that were put in place to protect the rights of the public, press and others across the region … we cannot allow this to happen.”
The joint statement is the third multilateral declaration in the past week condemning Beijing’s new national security laws and pushing for international intervention.
Last week, the foreign ministers of Canada, the U.S., U.K. and Australia wrote that the national security laws are a violation of the 1984 international agreement China and Britain signed that guaranteed Hong Kong its own autonomy under the “one-country, two-systems” model.
Amnesty International and other human-rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture committed by Hong Kong police since mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
This civil disobedience later evolved into demands for greater democracy and autonomy. Recently under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong authorities have waged a broader crackdown and arrested prominent pro-democracy figures from all sectors of society, raising fears among Hong Kong asylum seekers in Canada that they could be detained if they returned to Hong Kong.
The arbitrary arrests quickly drew condemnation from Canada, the United States and other Western countries.
Over 300,000 Canadians are living in Hong Kong and may face exodus back to their home country if China cracks down on the Asian city. Last week, the U.K. said it was ready to upgrade the status of British national (overseas) passport holders to a pathway to citizenship if China imposes its new security law. About 350,000 hold the overseas passports and Britain said 2.5 million are eligible to apply.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the door is always open for Canadian living in Hong Kong to return home.
“Canada continues to be a country that welcomes immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world and, of course, in particular when it comes to Hong Kong there are roughly 300,000 Canadians currently living in Hong Kong. All of those people are Canadians and, of course, dear Canadians living in Hong Kong, you are very, very welcome to come home anytime,” she told reporters.
Separately, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression in the Asia Pacific region during the COVID-19 crisis, including the arbitrary arrest and detention of people critical of their government’s response or for simply sharing information about the pandemic.
She cited a number of countries including China, where she said her office is aware of “more than a dozen cases of medical professionals, academics and ordinary citizens who appear to have been detained, and in some instances charged,” including two graduate students who had setup an online repository of web content related to the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
With files from Reuters
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