Is HK Human Rights and Democracy Act a piece of scrap paper?

November 28, 2019 11:19
Demonstrators rally in support of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Central on Oct. 14.  US President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law on Wednesday. Photo: Bloomberg

Following the passage of The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by both the US Senate and the House of Representatives, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed it into law.

The legislation requires the US State Department to certify, at least annually, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favorable US trading terms.

Congress passed a second bill, which Trump also signed, banning the export to the Hong Kong police of crowd-control munitions such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.

Since the outbreak of the protest movement in June, not only has the government continued to ignore mounting public calls for the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry, but has turned a blind eye to the escalating abuse of power and brutality of the police.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 people have been arrested and countless injured.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Hong Kong had prompted the US Senate to activate the “hotline” process in order to expedite the scrutiny of the bill.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one of the leading advocates of the bill, said in his speech: “Today, the United States Senate sent a clear message to Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms: we hear you, we continue to stand with you, and we will not stand idly by as Beijing undermines your autonomy.”

A few days ago, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) strongly criticized the HKSAR High Court for declaring the anti-mask law passed by the government “unconstitutional”, stressing that the power to decide whether or not any piece of legislation in our city complies with the Basic Law rests solely and exclusively with the NPCSC.

Beijing’s words have shocked the city's legal community. The Hong Kong Bar Association immediately issued a statement warning that the NPCSC’s criticism would undermine our city’s judicial independence. Former Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang insisted that it is within the jurisdiction of our courts to decide whether a law is unconstitutional or not.

As far as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is concerned, the People’s Daily has recently run a commentary on its front page, which referred to the bill as a piece of “scrap paper”.

But if the bill was really as insignificant as the People’s Daily claimed, then why would Beijing protest so ferociously against it seven times on different occasions in just a span of half a day?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)

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