Hong Kong is currently fighting two parallel and yet often conflating wars: that against Coronavirus and for its freedoms and human rights. The latter must not be forgotten. A report published some three months ago, which identified those responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, has yet to be taken seriously by the UK government.

Here’s what the report revealed, who is deemed responsible, what the UK should be doing in response and why the onus of responsibility falls irrefutably on the UK.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

The robust report “Profiles of Hong Kong Repressions: Perpetrators of Human Rights and Democracy”, conducted by Stand with Hong Kong and the International Affairs Delegation (IAD), provides detailed evidence of brutal police tactics adopted by units commanded by two senior British officers: Rupert Timothy Alan Dover, Chief Superintendent in the Hong Kong Police Force, and David John Jordan, a Senior Superintendent.

The report found that Dover and Jordan engaged in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights laws, including use of excessive force in crowd control operations as well as excessive use of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds at close range against protesters engaged in an approved assembly.

The lives of these citizens were put at substantial risk with no justification. On a number of occasions documented in the report, the actions of and orders given by these officials resulted in an increased risk of potentially fatal stampedes. The 120-page report was submitted to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in December 2019 and has been met with silence. This lack of meaningful action needs to be addressed.

The 1997 Handover ceremony. File Photo: GovHK.

The UK government has an irrefutable legal responsibility to act. It signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration upon handing over Hong Kong, a document which was designed to ensure Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy… vested with independent executive, legislative and judicial powers”, from mainland China.

When the UK signed this declaration in 1984, both the UK and China legally agreed that life in Hong Kong post-Handover would remain broadly unchanged for at least 50 years. Yet, the rising tides of political chaos and the waves of protests that we have witnessed across Hong Kong since last summer prove that the Joint Declaration, backed by the United Nations, has been undermined.

But it’s not too late. The UK government can still make a big difference, honour its duty outlined in the Joint Declaration and turn the tides in favour of Hongkongers. It’s time for the UK to step up and take responsibility for protecting the fundamental rights it promised the people of Hong Kong, who have received so little tangible support thus far.

One bold action the UK government can take is the imposing of Magnitsky style sanctions on those our report identifies as responsible for police brutality.

Magnitsky sanctions were first introduced in Russia in 2009, when Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, imprisoned for fraud, was beaten to death by his prison guards. Magnitsky was a friend of a prominent American-born businessman called Bill Browder, who brought the case to Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain in the USA.

Together, they proposed legislation which would allow the US to impose sanctions against the individual officers responsible for the death of Magnitsky. Since this case countries including Estonia, Canada, Lithuania and Latvia have adopted similar sanctioning laws.

During their election campaign, the Conservative Party committed to adopting Magnitsky style sanctions, which means they pledged to expand the government’s abilities to sanction individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses abroad.

Many students, campaigners and politicians even within Westminster have argued that senior officials within the Hong Kong Police Force as well as the wider Administration warrant such sanctions, but the British Government remains reluctant to tackle the issue.

The framework is in place for the government to act, in the form of the EU sanctions regime which continues to operate during the transition period. This legislation is already in place and can be utilised until the end of December 2020.

A protester tearing the Basic Law of Hong Kong at the Legislative Council president’s desk covered by a pre-Handover Hong Kong flag. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

What’s being asked isn’t draconian, it’s what Hong Kong is owed. The rights Hongkongers were promised when their autonomy was granted have been cast aside blatantly with total disregard to international law.

The UK must live up to the obligations it assumed when it became a co-signatory. Implementing Magnitsky style sanctions on those responsible as outlined in our report is a tangible deterrent that the UK government can impose, to help protect Hongkongers and the integrity of internationally recognised human rights laws.