Canada should work with other like-minded countries to coordinate a global response to the situation in Hong Kong, says Benedict Rogers, a British human rights advocate and chair of Hong Kong Watch.
“This is an idea put forward by seven former British foreign secretaries,” Rogers said during a Special Committee on Canada-China Relations video conference on Aug. 13.
“More could be done to solidify coordination among democratic nations to ensure the response to this crisis is not simply rhetorical nor piecemeal, but is robust, rapid, unified, and as coordinated as possible.”
Rogers said the recent arrest of Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow, and other activists “represents yet another brazen assault on Hong Kong’s civil liberties and really the death knell for press freedom in particular.”
“The imposition of this draconian national security law by the national people’s congress on the 1st of July essentially has destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy,” he said, “It marks the end of one country, two systems, and places many activists in very grave danger. It is a violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, owner of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, and pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow were arrested on Aug. 10 as part of a crackdown under the new national security law. Both were released on bail a few days later.
Rogers also criticized the postponement of September’s parliamentary elections by a year, supposedly due to the pandemic.
“The postponement for a year of the elections disenfranchises Hong Kong people and shuts down one of the few remaining avenues that they had had for some level of freedom of expression,” he said.
“These events signify the total takeover of Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party system.”
Rogers praised the Canadian government for suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong over the imposition of the security law, but noted that there’s much more Canada can do to help.
As well as coordinating with democratic nations on a global response, he encouraged Canada to impose Magnitsky sanctions on the Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations and breaching the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“The only language they [the Chinese regime] understand is pressure, and targeted sanctions will send a clear signal that they will not be allowed to get away with what they have done with impunity,” he said.
He also urged Canada to publicly support calls for the establishment of a U.N. special envoy and a U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Hong Kong.
“Shining a spotlight on Hong Kong through a monitoring and reporting mechanism in the U.N. would be very important in ensuring that human rights abuses are not perpetuated with impunity,” he said.
Lastly, he urged Canada to “work with other countries to … ensure those who do need to escape from Hong Kong are offered sanctuary and an opportunity to seek citizenship in the free world.”
Rogers said the crisis in Hong Kong should concern Canada because the Sino-British Joint Declaration is an international treaty.
“The Sino-British Joint Declaration is not only an agreement between the U.K. and China, but it is an international treaty that concerns all of us who believe in an international rules-based system,” he said.
On Aug. 9, the Five Eyes countries, of which Canada is a member, urged the Hong Kong government to uphold the city’s democratic process and hold the elections as soon as possible.
The foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, along with the U.S. secretary of state, issued a joint statement expressing concerns over the “unjust disqualification of candidates and disproportionate postponement of Legislative Council elections.”
“I believe the time has come for the free world to act in defence of freedom and democracy, human rights, and the international rules-based order, and that action should be as strong, targeted, and united as possible,” Rogers said.