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The world is watching the Hong Kong Government’s response to the UN Universal Periodic Review


By Simon Henderson, Hong Kong UPR Coalition

For the first time, Hong Kong was singled out by 12 countries through recommendations, statements and questions in advance at the five-yearly United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) hearing of China, incorporating Hong Kong and Macau, in November 2018.

The next step in the UPR process took place on 15 March 2019, in what is known as the UPR plenary session. China formally accepted five out of six of the UPR recommendations on Hong Kong at the UN in Geneva. This is a welcome development.

The Hong Kong UPR Coalition. 

The Hong Kong UPR Coalition (‘the Coalition’), an alliance of 45 civil society organisations, has been at every step of the UPR over the last two years. We believe in constructive engagement rather than just criticism, which is why we have developed the following proposals in response:

a cross-sector UPR advisory group with civil society and government representatives to monitor and implement the recommendations;

a database of treaty body and UPR recommendations to improve accountability of government responses to UN human rights mechanisms; and

reforms to improve the government’s treaty body and UPR consultation methods, including making all draft reports available for consultation with the public.

These proposals come from our observation that ‘established practice’, which the government so often refers to, is not working. Civil society continues to be sidelined when it comes to changing policy and legislation.

The Coalition has engaged in the UPR with the goal of ensuring that the Hong Kong government abides by its international human rights commitments. Our proposals are aimed at helping restore Hong Kong’s international standing.

The UPR recommendations on Hong Kong cover a wide range of human rights issues, migrant domestic worker rights, children’s rights, political rights and more. Accepting them is a commitment by the government to address international concerns through implementing changes to law and policy.

Being the first time that Hong Kong has attracted so much attention in the UPR, foreign governments will be closely watching the government’s response. It is an opportunity for the administration to show that when they speak about ‘connecting’ and adhering to the rule of law and human rights as core values, they are more than just words.

If the government is determined to safeguard these values, while ensuring long-term prosperity and stability, as the Chief Secretary stated at the UN, then doing nothing in response is not an option. Regardless of how many rankings the administration cites, concerns with Hong Kong’s declining trajectory are only growing. The recent joint statement from 11 parliamentarians calling for reform to the Public Order Ordinance is yet another example.

United Nations Office at Geneva

The Coalition is urging the Hong Kong government to work constructively with civil society to implement the UPR recommendations and our proposals. The Coalition has held over 200 stakeholder meetings, made several submissions to the UN, Legislative Council and the government, released 24 detailed fact sheets, given a speech at the UN in Geneva and more. We are committed to seeing this process through.

The Coalition has also recently spoken at a meeting of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs of the Legislative Council (“LegCo”) on 15 April 2019. The Coalition reiterated to the Administration, in particular, the Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung who was in attendance, the importance of the three aforesaid primary proposals.

Such remarks were echoed by LegCo member Dr Hon Fernando Cheung Chiu-Hung. He singled-out two of the Coalition’s proposals, namely the introduction of a UPR advisory group and a human rights database, stating that these proposals would be valuable in checking the progress and effectiveness of the Administration’s response to the UPR recommendations. Moreover, LegCo member Dr Hon Cheung Chung-tai also expressed concerns that the questions in advance arising from the UPR hearing have still not been addressed.

To ensure that Hong Kong is an inclusive and fair city, of the sort that the Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary want to build, then it is critical that genuine civil society engagement is at the centre of policy and legislative development. Responding to the UPR provides a chance to do just that, showcasing the image that the government wants to project to the world.

(Simon Henderson, Spokesperson, Hong Kong UPR Coalition, and Senior Policy Advisor, Justice Centre Hong Kong. Further information on the work of the Coalition can be found at this webpage.)


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