UN human rights experts call for review of the National Security Law

Numerous UN human rights bodies have expressed serious concerns regarding the NSL in recent months, highlighting the significant impact the law has had on every corner of civil society in Hong Kong.

In February 2023, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights conducted its periodic review of Hong Kong, which saw Hong Kong government officials defending various aspects of the NSL before the Committee in Geneva and mobilising organisations led by pro-Beijing politicians to submit reports that sang praise about the law. The Committee was (rightly) unpersuaded by these efforts. In its concluding observations released in March 2023, the Committee expressed concern about reports that the NSL has “de facto abolished the independence of the judiciary of Hong Kong” and that civil society actors, journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers working on human rights have been arrested, detained, and tried without due process. The Committee urged the Hong Kong authorities to review the NSL and recommended the abolishment of the national security hotline, which has been used extensively to report suspected violations to the police.

In March 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, said his office had concerns about the “severe restrictions of civic space”, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers and the impact of the NSL in Hong Kong. The same month, multiple UN experts jointly sent a communication to the PRC Government raising concerns that legal proceedings against pro-democracy media owner, Jimmy Lai, were in violation of his fundamental rights.

In April 2023, Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, issued a communication to the PRC Government, urging it to conduct a “review and reconsideration” of the NSL to ensure it is “in compliance with China’s international human rights obligations.” Satterthwaite cited numerous examples on how the law and other recent government actions have affected the independence of the judiciary, the ability of lawyers to exercise their profession independently, and the due process guarantees of the right to a fair trial.

These comments amply demonstrate the sustained concern of the international community about the devastating impact of the NSL on human rights in Hong Kong. It will be recalled that in July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee asked the Hong Kong government to take action to repeal the NSL and, in the meantime, refrain from applying it. If Hong Kong is to have any hope of regaining its legitimacy on the world stage, the government must address these concerns without further delay.

(This story originally appeared in the March-April 2023 edition of our newsletter).

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