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Press briefing note on China / Hong Kong SAR

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Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva 

Date: 3 July 2020

Subject: China / Hong Kong SAR

We are in the process of analysing the contents of the new National Security Law that was adopted on Tuesday very carefully in terms of its compliance with the international human rights obligations applicable to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). 

We are alarmed that arrests are already being made under the law with immediate effect, when there is not full information and understanding of the scope of the offences.

We note the law's explicit affirmation that human rights -- in particular fundamental freedoms (in article 4), the presumption of innocence and due process rights (in article 5), and fair trial rights (in article 58) shall be protected and that the provisions in the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural rights shall remain protected in Hong Kong (in article 4). We hope these provisions are interpreted in a way that does indeed give full effect to the binding provisions contained in the two international Covenants.

On a preliminary analysis, we are concerned that the definition of some of the offences contained in the law are vague and overly broad. This may lead to discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement of the law, which could undermine human rights protection. It is essential that offences created under national security legislation comply with the legality principle, enshrined in article 15 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.*

As the High Commissioner noted in the press release issued on 19 June, such laws should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor closely ongoing developments.

We are also concerned about the provisions governing the offence of "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security" contained in article 29. This may lead to a restriction of civic space and of the possibility for civil society actors to exercise their right to participate in public affairs. These provisions could also lead to criminalising human rights defenders and activists for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

* ICCPR Article 15.1:  No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed […]


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell - + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org  or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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