Opening statement by SCMA at UN Human Rights Committee meeting on HKSAR's fourth report in light of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (English only) (with photos)
Madam Chairperson, distinguished members,
As the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government of the People's Republic of China, that's the HKSAR Government, I have the great honour to have this opportunity to address you on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the HKSAR. First of all, I wish to thank Ambassador Chen Xu, Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Other International Organisations in Switzerland, for making the necessary arrangement for our attendance online and for his kind introductory remarks.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR. The HKSAR is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China. We are a local administrative region that enjoys a high degree of autonomy under "one country, two systems" and comes directly under the Central People's Government of our country. Over the past quarter century, the HKSAR has been implementing "one country, two systems", which has proven to be the best institutional arrangement to ensure Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability and to serve the fundamental interest of our nation. As President Xi Jinping stated that, the policy of "one country, two systems", having been tested and proved time and again, enjoys the full support of more than 1.4 billion people of the motherland, has the unanimous endorsement of Hong Kong residents, and is widely recognised by the international community.
The legal basis for implementing "one country, two systems" is the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and the Basic Law of the HKSAR. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China and the Basic Law provide constitutional guarantee for fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality before the law, and is buttressed by the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Article 39 of the Basic Law further provides that the provisions of the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force and shall be implemented through the laws of the HKSAR.
Safeguarding human rights and freedoms is a constitutional duty of the HKSAR Government. The Government attaches the utmost importance and is firmly committed to the protection of human rights, which has been upheld firmly, and across the board, by all our government bureaux and departments. Today, I have some other key representatives of the HKSAR Government and they are:
- Mr Llewellyn Mui, Solicitor General, and his colleague Mr Vernon Loh, both from the Department of Justice;
- Mr Esmond Lee, Deputy Secretary for Education;
- Miss Shirley Yung and Mrs Apollonia Liu, who are Deputy Secretaries for Security;
- Mr Joe Chow, Deputy Commissioner of Police; and
- Mr Raymond Ho, Deputy Commissioner of the Labour Department.
Madam Chairperson, as we see it, our submission of the periodic reports to your Committee, the subsequent response to the Committee's "List of Issues", and these meetings are all very good opportunities to promote our mutual understanding with the international community. In the process of compiling the fourth report, we have widely consulted members of the Legislative Council, NGOs and members of the public. Such consultation processes and exchanges have also helped heighten our community's general awareness and interest in the Covenant and human rights issues.
I wish to express our appreciation to the Committee for your "List of Issues" issued in August 2020. The questions raised in the List have given us the opportunity to provide clarifications and updates relating to some key areas after the submission of the fourth report to the Committee in September 2019.
I would like to highlight two critical developments in recent years to help illustrate our Government's commitment to firmly upholding the principle of "one country, two systems" while safeguarding people's rights and freedoms. They are the enactment of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR in June 2020, and the improvements to the electoral system of the HKSAR made last year.
The Hong Kong National Security Law
Allow me to take you back to three years ago, to June 2019 when the HKSAR faced unprecedented challenges which have derailed "one country, two systems" and paralysed the Government.
For those of you who are familiar with Hong Kong, it would be no exaggeration to say that that was the darkest time of Hong Kong. For almost one whole year, Hong Kong was held hostage by the rioting mobs. Citizens witnessed regular outbreaks of serious riots across the city. Never before had our society seen such violent scenes, with thousands of petrol bombs being thrown and fire set on sundries, citizens holding views different from the mobs being attacked viciously, public properties and facilities being vandalised, and widespread blockage of traffic. The Legislative Council building was stormed and seriously damaged by a violent mob. There were blatant attempts to incite Hong Kong's independence and of foreign interference. That was the type of horrible menace that innocent Hong Kong citizens were facing at that time. Such acts of secession, violence and terrorism, together with foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs, seriously jeopardised national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
Ensuring national security is the responsibility of all governments. To stop and suppress those violent, subversive and terrorist activities, so as to safeguard the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and uphold the "one country, two systems" regime, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress timely and resolutely adopted the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR in June 2020.
As a matter of fact, the Hong Kong National Security Law upholds the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people as well as the high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR. It clearly stipulates that the HKSAR shall protect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by residents under the Basic Law and the provisions of the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong in accordance with the law. It also stresses the rule of law including the presumption of innocence, the right to defend oneself, and protection against double jeopardy. The above notwithstanding, it is a well-known principle that many rights and freedoms recognised in the ICCPR are not absolute, and may be subject to restrictions as provided by law if it is necessary for the protection of national security, public safety, public order or the rights and freedoms of others, etc.
The effect of the Hong Kong National Security Law is obvious and direct. The civil unrest in Hong Kong has since subsided. Street violence substantially reduced. The law has restored peace and stability. People returned to their day-to-day life in peace, and society has returned to normal. The economy has begun to recover, except for the reason of the pandemic. For example, since the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law until this April, funds raised through initial public offerings in the HKSAR had increased by 30 per cent, and the average turnover of the stock market had lifted by 60 per cent. Comparing 2020 with 2019, the value of assets under management for the asset and wealth management industry surged 20 per cent. No doubt, the Hong Kong National Security Law has effectively restored stability in our society and helped Hong Kong come out of the shadow of violence.
It should also be stressed that in Hong Kong, no person is above the law. The status, wealth, political power or background of anyone are all irrelevant. Law enforcement actions only target on criminal acts, and they are all based on evidence, strictly according to the law and for the acts of the persons concerned, absolutely having nothing to do with their background. Hong Kong is renowned for having a fair and mature criminal justice system. The principle of prosecutorial independence by the Department of Justice is constitutionally guaranteed. When adjudicating cases, the judges in Hong Kong remain independent and impartial in discharging their judicial duties, free from any interference. Judgments are also made public with elaborate reasoning on decisions.
Improving Hong Kong's Electoral System
National security and political security are inseparable. The emergence of acts and activities endangering national security was fuelled by persons conspiring with external forces who managed to get their way into public offices through open elections. Those people made use of the status of their public offices to obstruct or even paralyse the operation of the Government, and glorified the violent acts of rioters, trying to sway public opinion to bring down the Government. Some even colluded with external forces to undermine both our country's and Hong Kong's security and interests. The chaos exposed loopholes and deficiencies in Hong Kong's electoral system at that time.
The National People's Congress, by having recourse to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, made provision not only for the city's good governance but also for the sustained success of the "one country, two systems" policy. Given the situation that arose in Hong Kong two years ago, the National People's Congress acted legitimately in making adjustments to Hong Kong's electoral system that were absolutely necessary to rectify the problems. In March 2021, the National People's Congress adopted the Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the HKSAR (the Decision), which provides a robust systemic safeguard for "patriots administering Hong Kong". In accordance with the Decision, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress then adopted the amended Annexes I and II to the Basic Law.
Pursuant to the Decision and the amended Annexes I and II to the Basic Law, the HKSAR Government enacted local legislation to implement the improved electoral system. The new electoral system, while amending and improving the electoral methods for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council, further introduces a mechanism for reviewing the eligibility of candidates for Election Committee members, for the office of Chief Executive and for members of the Legislative Council. This series of institutional mechanisms put in place legal safeguards to ensure a full application of "patriots administering Hong Kong". Keeping political power in the hands of patriots is a political rule commonly practised in the world. No one in any country or region in the world will ever allow political power to fall into the hands of forces or individuals who do not love, or even sell out or betray, their own country.
Since then, three public elections under the improved electoral system, namely the Election Committee Subsector Ordinary Elections, the Legislative Council General Election and the Chief Executive Election, were conducted smoothly, in an open, fair and honest manner.
The improved electoral system represents a quantum leap in terms of the unprecedentedly broad coverage and balanced composition of public voices of all walks of life in the Election Committee and consequently the Legislative Council compared to previous terms. Business leaders, grassroots organisations, representatives from neighbourhood committees, representatives of associations of Hong Kong residents in the Mainland, and Hong Kong representatives in relevant national organisations are added to the Election Committee composition. Membership of the Legislative Council is also increased from 70 to 90, spreading across different backgrounds and political spectrum. This enables all social sectors to be represented in a fair and balanced manner.
The new legislature is now rid of extremists who wish to obstruct or even paralyse the operation of the Government without any intention of entering into constructive dialogue to represent the interests of all Hong Kong people. There is popular support for early solutions to long-standing livelihood problems. The newly elected members have been displaying commitment to serve the interests of Hong Kong wholeheartedly. The quality of legislative scrutiny and debates as well as the efficiency of the Legislative Council have significantly improved.
Let me also take this opportunity to point out that the democratic process of Hong Kong has really started only after China's, our motherland, resumption of the exercise of sovereignty in 1997. The democratic development of Hong Kong is clearly defined under the Basic Law. It stipulates that the method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and, in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the election of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Citizens' rights such as the right to vote, to stand for election, and the freedoms of speech and of the press, are well enshrined in the Basic Law. The exercise of these rights is well protected, consistently with the provisions of the ICCPR applicable to Hong Kong.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR and our reunification with our motherland. With order restored by the Hong Kong National Security Law and the electoral system improved, it is high time for Hong Kong to start a new chapter of development, one that guides Hong Kong from stability to prosperity. The HKSAR Government will continue to work with the whole community to fight against the pandemic, improve people's livelihood, strive for economic development, build a caring and inclusive society, integrate the HKSAR into the overall development of the country, as well as join hands with relevant parties in promoting the opportunities brought about by the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and our country's 14th Five-Year Plan, thereby expanding the room for development of young people and injecting impetus into Hong Kong's development.
Madam Chairperson and distinguished members, we look forward to fruitful and constructive exchanges with the Committee on the HKSAR's fourth report in the light of the ICCPR. Thank you.
Ends/Thursday, July 7, 2022
Issued at HKT 18:40
Issued at HKT 18:40