Today is United Nations Human Rights Day. This year’s theme? Youth standing up for human rights.
Sadly many people across the world are denied their Human Rights. Today let’s stand in solidarity with all the people of Hong Kong who promote freedom, dignity and human rights.
While the world comes together to celebrate the potential of youth as constructive agents of change, as well as protectors and promoters of human rights, the behaviour and actions demonstrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Hong Kong authorities are a damning indictment of their respect for democracy and rule of law.
It’s bitterly ironic that Hong Kong’s youngest legislator, Nathan Law, was barred from taking his seat and has suffered imprisonment.
If we are celebrating young people standing up for human rights, young people like Nathan Law and Joshua Wong – one of the young founders of the Umbrella Movement and who has also experienced a jail sentence – are exemplary courageous young people.
In Hong Kong, an entire generation’s struggle for democracy in the face of brutal repression continues.
The heart of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is to be found among their determined youth, who are bravely risking their health, futures and even lives to fight for their city’s democratic autonomy. They are fighting for the fundamental and inalienable principles that underpin every legitimate democracy: human rights, accountability and the rule of law.
We saw just that, this past weekend on Sunday – when over 800,000 protesters took to the streets in a show of strength against the Hong Kong government, with march organisers calling on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to respond to their demands and preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party’s influence.
The protests were sparked by a proposed bill, in June, that would have enabled the transfer of individuals from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. If passed, the legislation would have legalised the extradition of people from Hong Kong, a territory whose courts enjoy genuine independence, to a jurisdiction with no concept of an independent judiciary or fair trial, in which arbitrary arrests, disappearances and reports of torture are commonplace and conviction rates are as high as 99.9%.
The extradition bill, which has now been withdrawn, was but another phase in Beijing’s steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In 1997, when it reclaimed the territory from Britain after 150 years of British colonial rule, China agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy,” as outlined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Hong Kong’s system of government, including its independent judiciary and free press, its trade relations and capitalist system would remain unchanged for 50 years.
This “one country, two systems” principle is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which came into effect the day British rule ended. The document also enshrines Hong Kong’s right to become a fully democratic society with universal suffrage.
But when President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2012, Beijing embarked upon an aggressive assault on Hong Kongers’ freedoms, including their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. The pro-democracy movement, which initially started seven months ago as a series of peaceful protests calling for greater freedom, autonomy and democracy, has been met with increasing brutality and repression.
The protesters’ demands are entirely reasonable. They want to see the stipulations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration honoured. They want to see the promise of universal suffrage realised. They want their independent press and judiciary free from Chinese co-option, their legislators unfettered by Beijing’s dictatorial pre-screenings, and their democratic freedoms protected from further curtailment.
And they aren’t alone. The results of the recent Hong Kong district council elections on 24 November – a de facto referendum on the pro-democracy movement – proved that Hong Kong is ready for full democracy. Pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory after an historic 2.94 million voters took to the polls. Now, 17 of the 18 councils in Hong Kong are controlled by pro-democracy councillors.
The ballot is the strongest indicator of the public mood, and this public is overwhelmingly in favour of seeing the demands of the pro-democracy movement realised. This is not an “extremist” fringe group, or a vocal minority as the CCP have tried to frame it, but the voice of ordinary Hongkongers far and wide yearning for freedom and Carrie Lam is squandering a remarkable opportunity by failing to convene a consultative meeting with Hong Kong’s directly elected representatives.
She has complained for months that she doesn’t know “who to talk to” – well, the people of Hong Kong have provided the answer.
But the pro-Beijing camp continues to inflict inexplicable harm on Hongkongers, thwarting their hopes of ever achieving the democracy promised to them by Great Britain with an increasingly heavy hand. Toxic teargas, violence and even torture are now alarmingly symptomatic of the response of the Hong Kong police. Children are being arrested and prisoners sexually abused. Some protesters have been killed.
Both China and the UK are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the youth who are standing up for human rights in Hong Kong are in danger. China will not halt its repression offensive, trampling over their rights enshrined in international law. As co-signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, only Great Britain can ensure that the Declaration is upheld. As a global pioneer of democratic rights, Great Britain must stand with Hong Kong and protect its freedom. that should be the message – loud and clear – on this international human rights day.
Former House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, rightly calls for Hong Kong’s Chief Exceutive, Carrie Lam, and Beijing, to engage with Hong Kong’s newly elected district councillors and for the extension of “one person, one vote” to all levels of governance in Hong Kong. To end the deadlock Hong Kong needs more democracy, more accountability, not less. Read what the former Speaker of the House of Commons has to say: