This week’s stories in focus:
A ‘weapon of repression’: China’s national security law:
On the 30th June, China announced a new national security law which grants Beijing sweeping powers over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, representing a colossal threat to Hong Kong’s sovereignty. The security law details 66 articles which criminalise secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. Suspected individuals, including non-residents accused of violating the law on Hong Kong territory, may face penalties as severe as life imprisonment and complex cases can be sent to mainland China for trial. The law grants increased police powers, allowing for searches of homes and electronic devices without a warrant and restriction upon residents travelling overseas.
The national authorities have explicitly passed the legislation in reaction to escalating protests and violence in the city since last year; Chief Executive, Carrie Lam declared ‘these acts have crossed the ‘one country’ red line and called for resolute action’. Although Lam asserts the new law will not undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, the legislation will take precedence over Hong Kong law in cases of disparity. Critics have denounced the law as ‘the end of Hong Kong’ and Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty International’s China Team, has proclaimed that the law ‘represents the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history’.
It is predicted the measures will be used by China to quash dissenters, threatening the rule of law and fundamental freedoms including the right to freedom of expression. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has reiterated that implementation must comply with China’s human rights obligations and cannot criminalise ‘conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law’. Amnesty International have highlighted the speed with which the new law was passed, suggesting this is an ‘ominous signal’ that the security law may be used against pro-democracy candidates in the upcoming Hong Kong elections in September.
More than 370 individuals have already been arrested since protests against the new law began on the 1st July, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return from British governance to Chinese role. Many journalists and lawyers in Hong Kong are concerned over whether the broad provisions will affect their work and stifle the reporting of pro-democracy protests as the city grapples with the new measures. Mere hours after the legislation was enacted, the pro-democracy party led by Joshua Wong, Demosisto, disbanded. Tik Tok is the first company to declare it’s exit from Hong Kong and is amongst several other social media and technology firms who have expressed disquiet about the impact of legislation upon their operations. Facebook, Twitter and Google have suspended the processing of Hong Kong government requests for user data until they can assess the full implications of the new legislation.
The new security law has triggered debates in the UN Human Rights Council, with Cuba representing 53 states who have announced their support of the draconian measures. The UK led a statement in opposition to the new legislation, backed by 26 other states. Boris Johnson has criticised the law for breaching the Sino-British joint declaration, promising in response that the UK will provide Hong Kong residents with British national status with a route to citizenship. New UK human rights sanctions legislation is due to be published in the coming weeks which will allow for sanctions to be imposed against individual perpetrators of human rights violations. However, it is unclear whether Chinese officials will be amongst those named on publication. Although not party to the Human Rights Council, the US has also stood publicly in opposition against the new law; the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo announced the US would ‘not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw’. With all eyes fixed on Hong Kong this week, the new national security law has undoubtedly polarised the international community.
UK announces sanctions under new human rights regime:
by Lauren Ng
On July 5th, the Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, announced that the UK will be imposing new human rights sanctions against individuals accused of the “most notorious human rights abuses” in recent years:
“Today this government and this house sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchman of dictators will not be free to waltz into this country.”
The measures will be effective immediately and will affect 49 individuals and organisations from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar and North Korea. This is the first time the UK has imposed human rights sanctions on human rights violations and abuses, independent of the UN and EU. Notable implicated cases include the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi Arabian officials. The sanctions will comprise of asset freezes and travel bans for those named and penalised.
While the sanctions have been largely favoured by MPs, concerns were raised with regards to the absence of Chinese targets on the list. Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, noted that no Chinese officials involved in the repression of Uighur Muslims were included. In addition, a growing number of MPs have since called for the Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam, to be incriminated as well for her support of the new security laws in Hong Kong enforced by Beijing.
It has also been recognised that the sanctions will inevitably cause further tension in the geopolitical relationship between the UK and Russia. A day after Raab’s announcement, the Russian Embassy retaliated, stating that Moscow reserves every “right to reciprocate” and will likewise be imposing sanctions against the UK.
With the first measures for the newfound global British human rights regime in place, only time will tell as to how the new measures will affect the wider diplomatic relationships between countries.
Other stories from around the world
- Women Face Rising Risk of Violence During Covid-19 (Human Rights Watch)
- Report Exposes Impact of Privatizing US Criminal System (Human Rights Watch)
- Donald Trump’s Attack on the ICC Shows His Contempt for the Global Rule of Law (Human Rights Watch)
- Myanmar: Court Martial Latest Accountability Sham (Human Rights Watch)
- UN rights office expresses alarm at Hong Kong arrests under new security law (UN News)
- Philippine court asked to annul Duterte-backed anti-terror law (Al Jazeera)
- A new deal could ease Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. The international community must get behind it (Human Rights Watch)
- Tunisia: Two-Year Sentence for Homosexuality (Human Rights Watch)
- Youth activist speaks up for environmental protection at Human Rights Council(UN News)
- Britain to resume sale of arms to Saudi Arabia despite Yemen fears (The Guardian)
- Domestic Abuse bill: MPs back ban on ‘chilling rough sex defence’ (BBC)
- Grenfell Tower inquiry: Fire ‘inextricably linked with race’ (BBC)
- Russian space official Safronov arrested for treason (BBC)
- Turkey jails Amnesty activists in ‘terrorism’ case (BBC)
- High court hears human rights legal challenge to England’s lockdown restrictions (Guardian)