Submission of evidence to  the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on police treatment of humanitarian aid workers in Hong Kong

Submission of evidence to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on police treatment of humanitarian aid workers in Hong Kong

21 April 2020

Our full submission can be read at: 20200420 Submission to UK APPG

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong is conducting an inquiry into possible human rights abuses of humanitarian aid workers by the Hong Kong police since the start of the 2019 protests. Civil Rights Observer has submitted evidence to the group.

The submission is made based on the testimonies of the providers of humanitarian aid, including volunteer first aiders and social workers, gathered from individual interviews conducted by Civil Rights Observer as well as media reports, and desktop research on the impact of mistreatment of humanitarian aid workers globally. Civil Rights Observer welcomes this inquiry and hope the APPG would urge the UK government to take concrete actions to enforce the Sino-British Joint Declaration, including sanctions over individuals who contribute to its non-compliance, and implement thorough human rights risk assessments before issuing a license to weapon exporters.

The unreasonable treatment reported by the humanitarian aid workers included: targeted assault by the police, indiscriminate assault by the police, obstruction to humanitarian aid workers, enforced witnessing of the use of force on others, verbal humiliation, and delayed access to medical care and legal assistance.

According to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), medical units shall be respected and protected at all times, and under no circumstances shall any person be punished for having carried out medical activities compatible with medical ethics. The testimonies show instances when the Hong Kong Police Force did not distinguish between those they may have considered to be “combatants” and humanitarian aid workers, and even obstructed or delayed medical care for participants of assemblies. Such police actions would/might violate Article 6 on the right to life, Article 7 on the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, and Article 9 on the right to liberty and security of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As pointed out by Darren Mann, a Hong Kong-based doctor who had provided humanitarian assistance at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University when the police was about to contain the campus in November 2019, the principle of humanity justifies the presence of any suitably qualified person to attend to the wounded. The police does not have monopoly on the provision of first aid (Note 1).

Civil Rights Observer believes that such police actions may deter citizens from attending assemblies as humanitarian aid workers. As pointed out by the International Committee of the Red Cross when discussing internal disturbances and tensions generally, unlawful, arbitrary and discriminatory action can erode confidence in law enforcement, further endanger public safety and be at least partly responsible for the further escalation of a situation (Note 2).

“The availability of humanitarian aid is one of the fundamental characteristics of civilized society. The assault and hostility towards humanitarian aid workers by the police would further escalate public anger and contribute to more social conflicts,” said Icarus Wong and Andrew Shum from Civil Rights Observer.

Note 1: Darren Mann. International humanitarian norms in Hong Kong. The Lancet, Vol. 395.
Note 2: International Committee of the Red Cross. Violence and the Use of Force.