Stand with Hong Kong for UN Day of Human Rights
By Lord Alton of Liverpool
The theme for this year’s UN Human Rights Day is ‘Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights’.
Chosen against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of course is that we must all work to build a better world than we had before.
We must not forget however, that, in 2020, in some parts of the world have battled far more than just the virus.
In Hong Kong for example, citizens have fought for their lives against coronavirus.
But on top of this they havealso had to fight for their freedom and rights, and against a bombardment of abuses from those in power who are supposed to protect and represent them.
Human rights are in tatters in the city. A former financial powerhouse and beacon of liberty in the East, the last 18 months have seen Hong Kong steadily swallowed up by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) unique brand of nationalist totalitarianism.
Rights that we take for granted in the UK – democracy, the freedom to protest, freedom of expression, the right to an education and proper legal representation – have all been eroded, bit by bit. Beijing does not care for these rights.
Nor does it care for international law, rolling back Hongkongers’ freedoms has meant breaching the UN recognised Sino-British Joint Declaration. The declaration was signed in 1984 upon Hong Kong’s return from the British and was supposed to guarantee the region remained semi-autonomous for at least 50 years.
Instead of the liberties to which they are entitled, in the last year Hongkongers have faced a wave of oppression and violence.
The British All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I am an officer, has heard harrowing evidence of police brutality against protesters. Orwellian restrictions have become commonplace, with schools having their curricula censored and press freedoms being drastically curtailed.
The National Security Laws, introduced this summer, were some of the most absurdly far-reaching legislation the world has ever seen, making it illegal for any individual anywhere in the world to speak, write or act against the Hong Kong government, clearly breaching their fundamental human rights.
More recently, in an act that reeked of despotism, Beijing removed four Hong Kong lawmakers from the legislative council. Their crime? Being unpatriotic.
Hong Kong may not fit into our idea of a city whose citizens suffer human rights abuses. It is known for being wealthy and more open to democracy and human rights than many places in Asia. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
On this Day of Human Rights, it’s time we recognisedHong Kong as the latest victim of the CCP’s out-of-control regime. In the past year, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers have taken to the streets to defend their freedom and their human rights. They desperately need our support.
We in the APPG stand with Hongkongers and call on the British government to do the same.
We are asking the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to impose Magnistky-style sanctions on key officials like Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. It is time this government stop paying lip service to their support for Hongkongers. Instead, this government must take a stand against human rights abuses and for freedom.
A few days ago, the House of Lords, added to the Magnitsky powers, by passing historic votes which would curtail UK trade with countries which abuse human rights or carry out genocides.
Before the vote I reminded the House of the words of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer and dissident, and Nobel laureate, who died in 2017, after serving four prison sentences, and who said: “There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom.”
On UN Human Rights Day we owe it to Liu Xiaobo’s memory; to political dissidents who have been thrown in jail; to journalists who have been silenced; to incarcerated Uighurs; to suffering Tibetans; to Falun Gong and other religious believers persecuted for their faith; to stand four-square with them in that quest.
We owe it to arrested lawyers, such as Hong Kong’s Martin Lee; to young jailed pro-democracy campaigners such as Andy Li, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow; to imprisoned newspaper owner Jimmy Lai; and to defiant women like the brave Grandma Wong— to put our belief in the quest for human freedom before menacing intimidation, brutal suppression of human rights and trade based on slave labour.
It is instructive that the regime of the Chinese Communist Party has a place on the UN Human Rights Council – where it tries to silence criticism of its human rights record. But the UK now has a place too.
This Human Rights Day it should declare that it will use every opportunity to champion the 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to challenge the CCP about which, if any, of those 30 Articles it upholds.
Lord Alton of Liverpool is a member of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee and a Visiting Professor at Liverpool Hope University.