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US House of Representatives unanimously pass Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act

Hong Kong Way 2019 (Studio Incendo/WikiCommons)
October 16, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will require Washington to review Hong Kong’s human rights situation annually and to take sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city, if approved by the Senate.

The act was one of four measures related to the situation in Hong Kong that was passed by House lawmakers in unanimous votes.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill introduced in June by Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China, would revise current U.S. policy since Britain handed the city to China in 1997, which treats Hong Kong separately from the rest of China in trade, investment, commerce, and immigration—based on Beijing’s pledge to give the territory a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model.

If passed by the Senate, the bill would require the U.S. State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous from China” to justify unique treatment, and whether China has “eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law,” as protected by the city’s Basic Law.

Other measures in the bill include the requirement that the President provide Congress with an assessment as to whether to withdraw from the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition treaty, and what actions are needed to protect U.S. citizens and national security interests if Hong Kong amends its laws to allow the rendition of individuals to countries that lack defendants’ rights protections, such as China, or passes a national security law.

The bill, if enacted, will also enable the U.S. to freeze the assets of, and refuse visas to, officials deemed responsible for human rights violations in the city.

It was not immediately clear when the bill will go to the Senate for a vote.

Also passed by the House on Tuesday was Resolution 543, reaffirming the relationship between the U.S. and Hong Kong, voicing support for the protesters, and condemning Chinese interference in the city, as well as the Protect Hong Kong Act, which would end exports to Hong Kong of crowd control devices.

Additionally, lawmakers approved House Resolution 521, which commends Canada for launching extradition proceedings in the U.S. case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Support for bill

While Rubio has said the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act aims to “hold China to its promise” to respect the freedoms afforded residents of Hong Kong through the “one country, two systems” model, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has called it an attempt to interfere in the city’s internal affairs.

Democracy activists Joshua Wong and Denise Ho have pushed for the bill’s passage, saying it will protect democracy in Hong Kong, and more than 100,000 protesters joined a rally on Monday night in which they sang the U.S. national anthem, waved American flags, and urged Congress to approve the act.

Wong on Monday called on the U.S. to pass the law, then use it to pursue police officers accused of human rights abuses and torture of detainees during the protests, amid multiple allegations of the torture and sexual abuse of detained protesters.

Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city’s government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after Carrie Lam pledged to scrap the plan.

The protesters five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.

In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police have been publicly dismissed by senior officers.

Over the weekend, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of the state of Missouri traveled to Hong Kong and met with protesters, urging them to refrain from violence, but slamming Hong Kong police for ramping up their use of force.

Hawley—the third U.S. Republican Senator to visit the city since the protests began, following Ted Cruz and Rick Scott—warned that Hong Kong is in danger of becoming “a police state,” and later urged Carrie Lam to resign, prompting the Chief Executive to fire back that his comments were “totally irresponsible and unfounded.”