For over 150 years the Hong Kong territory was leased to the United Kingdom. This has affected Hong Kong and it’s laws on a large scale. Human rights in this government are regulated under the Basic Law and its Bill of Rights Ordinance. In general, people here enjoy a high level of protection under the protection of law. Also, they are generally respected by the government. However, some core issues still arise from time to time.
History of human rights in Hong Kong
In July 1997, the United Kingdom had to pass over the prosperous colony of Hong Kong. For over 150 years, the rights to this land belonged to the United Kingdom. This was due to the fact that during the First Opium War, United Kingdom occupied this territory. After the occupation, China agreed to pass over this territory through the Treaty of Nanjing.
This is why before the enactment of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, the human rights in Hong Kong were largely dependent on the common law of England. Thus, now they are similar to those implemented in England.
At that time human protection laws were called civil liberties and now they are generally called as human rights. These have remained unchanged for a long period of time.
However, now when issues have surfaced with the ongoing protests a new version of a law has been proposed.
US Congressman James McGovern, Marco Rubio, and Chris Smith recently proposed a new act for protecting people in this administrative region. With some minor improvements in the rights, it is generally believed that this version could perform better.
A treaty was signed between China, the United Kingdom and Northern Island in 1984. It stipulates the administrative and sovereign arrangement after the lease agreement expired.
This treaty is called the Sino-British Joint Declaration and it states that the government shall protect the rights and freedoms of people according to the law.
Human rights law incorporates the guidelines from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These include freedom of:
- Speech and press;
- Forming and joining trade unions;
- Travel and movement;
- Strike and demonstration;
- Choice of occupation;
- Academic research;
- Inviolability of the home;
- Freedom to marry;
- Right to raise a family freely.
Several rights are protected under the Basic Law – constitutional documents of Hong Kong. These include the following:
- Equality before the law;
- Vote and stand for election in accordance with the law;
- Freedom of occupation;
- Legal advice and rightful representation in court;
- Social welfare;
- Privacy and communication;
- Protection from arbitrary or unlawful arrest;
- Protection from torture and any other deprivation of life;
- Protection from an unlawful search of or intrusion into one’s home or premises.
According to the law, they can be enjoyed not only by the residents but also by non-residents.
Human rights issues in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has been facing allegations of violating human rights. This has happened several times over the course of a longer period.
The international law that is in effect in Hong Kong states that a government needs to take all the necessary steps to achieve the fulfillment of human rights law.
However, several issues have surfaced the international media. One such issue is the freedom of assembly that is restricted by the Public Order Ordinance.
There are records of some cases when police used violence towards people that were protesting. Heavy-handed tactics were used on non-violent protestors according to human rights activist groups.
Another issue is the right to privacy. Surveillance that is not publicly admitted still remains a major concern for the residents.
Also, due to the lack of regulated sexual orientation discrimination, protection for homosexuals is a weak point in human rights law.
Human rights in Hong Kong are generally similar to those that are accepted internationally. The fact that this city was an English colony for a long time, has played a large role in defining human rights in Hong Kong.
As for the future, it is hard to predict what will happen next.
Current human rights situation in Hong Kong is complex. Given the escalated conflict situation they are facing in 2019, the government is having a hard time ensuring that the law is followed.
There have been outbreaks of violence towards protestors. However, it is not easy to judge the situation without knowing the viewpoints of society and police both.