More countries concerned over declining freedoms in HK, groups say

Local | 7 Nov 2018 4:20 pm

Civil society groups say there has been a "substantial shift" in foreign policy towards Hong Kong, after a number of countries used a United Nations review of China's human rights record to highlight concerns about the SAR, ranging from freedom of speech and association to the plight of migrant workers.

At the Universal Periodic Review hearing on China seven countries make recommendations about Hong Kong – seven more than during China's last hearing in 2013.

Australia, Canada, and France called for the One Country, Two Systems framework to be upheld, for Hongkongers' right to take part in government to be ensured, and for freedom of speech, assembly and association to be guaranteed.

Indonesia and the Philippines wanted the rights of migrant domestic workers in the SAR to be better protected. Ireland wanted anti-discrimination legislation to be introduced to protect marginalised groups, like LGBT people. And Croatia called for Hong Kong to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Five other countries also issued questions and statements about Hong Kong in advance of the hearings in Geneva.

The Hong Kong UPR Coalition said this unprecedented international response marks a substantial shift in foreign policy towards the SAR.

"It is clear that the declining human rights environment has deeply harmed Hong Kong's international reputation, despite what Hong Kong government officials have said," spokesman Simon Henderson said.

"The international community has seen the abduction of booksellers, convictions of pro-democracy activists under laws which breach human rights standards, political screening of candidates, the denial of a visa for a Financial Times journalist, and are deeply worried," he added.

"It is no longer enough for government officials to repeat the same talking points about Hong Kong's very high reputation. That is clearly not the case anymore and the outcome of the UPR shows that."

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who was in Geneva as part of the China delegation, had earlier responded to some of the concerns raised by other countries.

"Recent concerns over some aspects of our human rights situation are unwarranted, unfounded and unsubstantiated. They arise from misconception and a lack of understanding of our real situation," Cheung said.

The Universal Periodic Review process is a peer-review mechanism where UN member states can highlight concerns and make recommendations to fellow states. The hearings provide countries with just 45 seconds to put their points across to the nation under review.

The detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang was brought up by several countries, with Beijing dismissing the criticism which it described as politically motivated.

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