LONDON (AP) – The former United Nations Human Rights chief and eight former UN special envoys urged the body’s secretary-general on Thursday to appoint a special envoy to Hong Kong over deep concern about a possible “humanitarian tragedy” as Beijing prepares to impose a draconian national security law on the city.
Said Council Al-Hussein, who was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014-2018, and the eight former special rapporteurs called for the unusual procedure because of the “severity of the deterioration, the looming serious threats under the new security law , “(and) the symbolism of a human rights crisis in one of the freest cities of Asia. ”
A law that could come into force next week would criminalize secession, undermining of state power, terrorist activity, and conspiracy with foreign troops to compromise national security.
Beijing’s central government would also set up a national security agency in Hong Kong to gather and analyze intelligence and handle criminal matters related to national security. The plans have not been officially published, and details have only been gathered from a state media report.
The measures are widely considered to be the major erosion to date of the British rule of law in Hong Kong and the high degree of autonomy China promised that Hong Kong would have under the “one country, two systems” principle since the transfer of the territory of the colonial Britain in 1997.
“We believe there is now a very real fear of a human rights and humanitarian tragedy in Hong Kong,” said the statement of former UN officials. “It is imperative that the international community, and in particular the United Nations and its Member States, act urgently to establish a mechanism to observe, monitor and report human rights and the humanitarian situation in Hong Kong.”
Beijing’s decision to enact the law and bypass Hong Kong’s legislature followed the often violent clashes in the city between pro-democracy protesters and police last year. The demonstrations were raised earlier this year because of concerns about the coronavirus, but have recently come back in violation of security law. On Thursday, police fired pepper spray and arrested 14 people for unlawful gathering in a shopping mall protest in Hong Kong’s New Territories.
Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said Thursday’s action by former UN officials is sending a strong signal that the crisis in Hong Kong has grown from a predominantly local dispute to an international one.
“From the point of view of the Chinese government, that’s a disaster,” he told The Associated Press. “It is the last thing they would like. And yet, from their point of view, it will get much worse, because if all this happens before they try to apply this new law, imagine what the reaction will be when they start handing over people. ”
However, he acknowledged that further action within the UN would be difficult because of the Chinese veto in the Security Council.
Legislators and senior politicians in the UK, US, European Union and elsewhere have considered options to join forces and seek collective action if Beijing were to pass the law.
On Thursday, the United States Senate unanimously passed a bill to impose sanctions on individuals, including the police, who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy or promise the freedoms promised to the people of Hong Kong. The bill targets Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing national security laws on the city, as well as banks doing business with entities found to be violating the city’s autonomy.
In the UK, Rifkind and Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, recently led a group of more than 900 international parliamentarians from 43 countries to reject Beijing law. He was also one of seven former British foreign secretaries who urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take on a stronger leadership role and coordinate an international contact group on the subject.
“We have a legal obligation to raise these issues. But we are not naive, we recognize that the UK will have only limited influence on its own, “Rifkind said. “We hope that the cumulative effect will convince (President) Xi Jinping that regardless of his aspirations in Hong Kong … the government elite will lose more than it will win.”
He also sharply rejected China’s claims that the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the city’s transition to Chinese rule, was a historical document.
“What they say is clearly absurd. It’s pathetic because they know full well that they are talking nonsense, ”he said.
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