The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP has reconfirmed a significant commitment. In a letter addressed to 44 concerned parliamentarians, he stated that the Government’s new global human rights regime will see the introduction of ‘Magnitsky-style’ sanctions and that the necessary legislation will be ready to be laid before parliament in “the coming months”. Such sanctions will allow the UK to impose restrictions on those individuals responsible for egregious human rights abuses across the world.

Dominic Raab. Photo: GovUK.

Magnitsky-style sanctions will grant the UK powers to impose both asset freezes and travel bans to account for, and deter, serious violations or abuses of human rights anywhere in the world. However, they should also allow the UK to target those who financially profit from such abuses and to target both legal and ‘natural’ persons. Proving a direct link between those who profit and their crimes is usually difficult with such clandestine acts. But, profiting from human misery is as morally corrupt as committing the crimes themselves.

These sanctions are a welcome step towards proactively defending human rights laws which can only be effective if they are respected worldwide. This includes countries such as China whose egregious record of human rights abuses includes: organ harvesting from the Falun Gong followers; incarceration of millions of Muslim Uyghurs; arrests and show trials of political dissidents; and suppression of free speech and freedom of association, to name but a few.

For over a year, serious human rights abuses have engulfed the legally autonomous city of Hong Kong, most of which have been ordered by China for political gain. The UK must act to defend Hong Kong by imposing sanctions on senior police and administration figures.

Photo: StudioIncendo.

Senior police figures have unashamedly abducted, unlawfully arrested and abused many individuals including medical workers, journalists and Hong Kong citizens. In just six months from July 2019, Hong Kong police fired 16,000 rounds of tear gas, 10,000 rubber bullets, 2,000 rounds of bean bags and 2,000 rounds of sponge bullets, often at close range. They have disproportionately used batons, physical restraint and intimidation tactics to incite fear and compliance amongst citizens. This is not acceptable. The UK must do more to protect the rights and safety of Hongkongers as well as the autonomy and freedom of its people.

The Hong Kong Police Force was, historically, within the region, regarded as a model of probity and good practice. Sadly, that reputation has been tarnished. 

Although individuals should face sanctions from the UK, let’s be clear about whose orders they have been implementing – the politicians who have disregarded Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which protects the city’s autonomy.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Hong Kong’s Justice Minister recently announced that Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong was not bound by Article 22 of the Basic Law which guarantees non-interference from mainland departments in local affairs. This threatens the autonomy of the entire city and leaves Hongkongers increasingly vulnerable to human rights abuses enacted for political gain. The politicians and those with civic responsibility who allow abuses of human rights to occur are just as culpable as those who commit the acts of violence and should be sanctioned accordingly.

The Foreign Secretary’s letter concludes by declaring that international sanctions work best when implemented collectively. He is right. I am pleased to hear that the Foreign Office is working closely with other countries who implement similar style sanctions, including the US, Canada and the EU (which is establishing its own human rights sanctions regime). If targeted “Magnitsky” sanctions come with the backing and commitment of a united international community their full force will be felt. The US has already taken steps to act on abuses in Hong Kong and using these proposed new powers so should the UK with immediacy.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool

Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench Peer who serves on the House of Lords ‘International Relations Select Committee. He is a Patron of Hong Kong Watch and Vice Chair of the All-Party Group on Hong Kong.