The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights issued a review conclusion on March 6, referring to reports that the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) has actually abolished Hong Kong’s judicial independence and has been used in a whole spectrum of restrictive acts. It has put pressure on academics, damaged academic freedom, increased censorship of satirical content in movies and dramas, affected the right to freely form trade unions, and more.
The committee also suggested Hong Kong cancel the NSL. Some human rights groups believe that the United Nations agency has repeatedly expressed concerns about the human rights situation in Hong Kong, a clear indication that the actions of the CCP and the Hong Kong government are not accepted by the international community and Hong Kong’s human rights are being systematically eroded.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published its review conclusions on the status of the implementation of the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)” (hereinafter referred to as the “Covenant”) in Hong Kong, referring to reports that the NSL has effectively abolished Hong Kong’s judicial independence, the Law of China on Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong has, in effect, abolished the independence of the judicial system of Hong Kong. The committee urges the CCP and the Hong Kong government to review the content of the NSL to ensure Hong Kong’s full judicial independence and not to use the law at will to interfere with judicial independence.
The Hong Kong Police Force announced in February that the National Security Department Reporting Hotline (hereinafter referred to as the NS Hotline) had received more than 400,000 calls and messages since its launch in 2020. The Committee is concerned that the widespread use of the NS Hotline may have a negative impact on civil society, trade unions, and teachers and recommends that the Hong Kong government abolish the NS Hotline.
The Committee is also concerned about reports that journalists, lawyers, and other human rights activists, including but not limited to those with a background in the anti-extradition movement, have been arrested, detained, and interrogated without due process and under procedures lacking transparency. The Committee urges the Hong Kong government to provide due process guarantees, including ensuring that human rights activist defenders have independent and effective legal representation in every process.
NSL Used to Suppress Academic Freedom, Censor Movies with Satirical Content
The Committee’s deliberation also mentions reports that the NSL (Hong Kong) version is being used to put pressure on faculty members and students, censor teaching content, erode academic freedom, and in the worst case, with students and/or teachers being dismissed or even arrested. The Committee is fully concerned about it. At the same time, it is also concerned about the impact of the NSL on cultural rights, such as the harassment of cartoonists and extensive censorship of satirical content in independent films, theater creations, and radio content.
The committee urges the Hong Kong government to review the Hong Kong National Security Law and related legislation to protect academic and artistic freedoms, also people’s rights to enjoy history, culture, and science.
The Committee also pointed out there are reports that laws such as the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the Trade Union Ordinance hinder citizens from exercising their right to freely form trade unions. It is recommended that the Hong Kong government should review relevant laws to safeguard those rights.
HKSAR Government: Strongly Objects and Categorically Rejects the Conclusion
The Hong Kong government issued a full version of its response on March 6, saying it “expressed strong objection to the concluding observation” of the review, claiming that the Committee “disregarded the explanations and clarifications made earlier by the SAR government delegation. The Committee selectively believed, and made sweeping statements based on certain false information and distorted narratives regardless of the truth and made one-sided and flawed comments…….”
It also claims that Article 4 of the NSL also stipulates that “human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the HKSAR;” and “the rights and freedoms which the residents of Hong Kong enjoy under the Basic Law and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the ICESCR as applied to Hong Kong, shall be protected in accordance with the law.”
Human Rights Group: CCP and HK Government Violate International Human Rights Standards
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Information Center, which participated in providing its report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, believes that after the UN Human Rights Committee severely criticized the National Security Law and other issues last year (2022), here is another UN agency that once again expressed concern about the human rights situation in Hong Kong, reflecting that human rights in Hong Kong are being threatened and under serious and systematic violations. The actions of the CCP and the Hong Kong government are no longer accepted by the international community and are in breach of international human rights standards.
The spokesperson of the Center pointed out that although Article 4 of the Hong Kong National Security Law claims to protect the human rights listed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the irony is that two of the monitoring agencies of these international conventions have both criticized the NSL as violating the rights guaranteed by the relevant conventions. The former even proposed to abolish the National Security Law. It is clear that safeguards claimed by the Hong Kong government cannot compensate for the damage caused by the NSL. The Center urges the relevant authorities to immediately repeal the Hong Kong National Security Law and stop prosecuting relevant persons.
The Hong Kong Human Rights Information Center also emphasized that the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights is composed of 18 human rights experts from different countries. It is based on public information and objective facts. Regarding the Hong Kong government’s “strong dissatisfaction and resolute rejection” of the content of the review, the Center questioned the Hong Kong government’s failure to respond to specific instances of its human rights violations on the one hand and just accused the committee of “disregarding facts.” It criticized that such statements will not change the fact that human rights violations in Hong Kong simply reflect the government’s refusal to fulfil its responsibilities under the Conventions and do not respect the human rights mechanisms and functions of the UN.