Defending democracy and human rights for all is at the heart of Green political philosophy. You can see that not just in the Green Party of England and Wales, but in Green parties around the world, such as in Rwanda, where they’ve had to take very brave stands in their own countries. That’s one reason why I accepted an invitation to be co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.
There are many pressing international rights issues, but I prioritised this one because the UK has special responsibilities as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration with China that preceded the “handover” of Hong Kong. That reflects one of the many impacts of the UK’s colonial history – a mess we created and for which we have a big responsibility, and a thread that also runs through Green political philosophy, reflecting the fact that we were the first major party to call for a Commission of Inquiry for Reparatory Justice.
So I was particularly pleased when the Young Greens organised a webinar with Stand With Hong Kong to talk about actions they can take to support those inside and outside Hong Kong campaigning for democracy and the rule of law. It’s fitting that the Young Greens are acting here, as many of the activists from Hong Kong are young. I often observe that the demonstrations have something of the flavour of a school strike in the UK, due to the age of most participants.
Rosie Rawle, Co-Chair of Young Greens, and Sarah Sharp, International Officer of Young Greens, both expressed their deep concern for the numerous tragedies that engulfed the region in 2020. Not only has Hong Kong suffered, as we all have, from the global pandemic, but it has also been forced to fight for fundamental rights.
The National Security Law was imposed in June last year, which put into law Beijing’s efforts to quash the autonomy of Hong Kong and silence the pro-democracy movement. As part of our webinar, we heard from an anonymous Hongkonger and member of grassroots pro-democracy group ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong’.
They explained the grave danger that all Hongkongers are subject to on a daily basis now that any action which may be deemed at all sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement can land you in jail, or worse, detained in an unknown location for an unspecified period of time with no contact with the outside world.
The danger that these Hongkongers are subject to is horrifying and completely unacceptable. That the spokesperson, although they were speaking from outside Hong Kong, still felt the need to have their voice disguised, to protect them – and family, friends and associates – from possible reprisals.
The rights of Hongkongers to express their collective will for a democratic future have been chipped away at for so long that now it has almost entirely vanished. It is our responsibility to restore this right and provide Hongkongers with a future in which they feel hope and confidence.
There are many practical actions that can be taken to draw the world’s attention to the ongoing plight of Hongkongers. Our Young Greens will demonstrate the power of people by supporting campaigns spearheaded by Hongkongers, calling for the full integration of Hongkongers into the UK when the Government’s British National (Overseas) passport scheme kicks into action on 31 January.
This scheme will allow potentially hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers to flee to the UK and begin a process to become British citizens. In the UK, we can guarantee their safety and freedom, but the right measures must be firmly in place before February to ensure their smooth integration and to give these brave Hongkongers the best chances of thriving here. There are also interesting possibilities in expanding these schemes – if we’re providing orderly, supported routes for Hongkongers, why not also for Syrians, for Afghans, and for many other refugees?
We must also focus our efforts on accountability and on those Hongkongers who choose to remain in Hong Kong. It is important to hold senior Hong Kong officials accountable for their actions that have resulted in gross human rights abuses, and for putting their innocent citizens in the position of having to flee their home to ensure their safety. Rosie and Sarah both recognised that it would be of paramount symbolic and practical significance to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on such senior officials as soon as possible. Hongkongers don’t just deserve safety; they deserve justice.
That’s also true about events on the other side of China, in Xinjiang, with the enormous issues that I recently wrote about for the Green European Journal with the persecution of the Uighurs, as well as the long-running issues around the treatment of the people of Tibet, on which Green parties have worked for many years.
The year 2021 can bring hope to the tenacious people of Hong Kong. If you are interested in joining our campaign, please keep an eye on the Young Greens website and that of Stand with Hong Kong. Together, we will make sure that freedoms and human rights are fiercely defended worldwide.