Honours should not be awarded to police officers involved with human rights violations
These awards for brutality and state oppression cannot be worn with pride and honour. They have become, instead, the Chinese government’s badge of shame, writes Alistair Carmichael MP. | PA Images
It is unconscionable to witness the Hong Kong honours system rewarding police officers responsible for the abuse of HongKongers. The UK government must impose Magnitsky-style sanctions to demonstrate our commitment to global human rights.
Our country’s honours system is no stranger to controversy. In amongst the well-deserved rewards for exceptional public or charitable service you always find those who are there for reasons of cronyism or patronage.
Even so, any honours system should have at its heart the recognition of those who contribute indisputably to the wellbeing of society. It is unconscionable, therefore, to witness the Hong Kong honours system rewarding those who have been responsible for acts of brutality condemned around the world.
It reflects a further perversion of Hong Kong’s rule of law, rewarding a once-respected force for its transformation into an instrument of repression determined to stifle dissent, regardless of the norms of international law, let alone standards of decency and humanity.
One hundred Hong Kong police officers, two of whom are from the UK, have been named in the Hong Kong honours list for their service to the city throughout the last 18 months of pro-democracy protests in formerly autonomous region.
The APPG on Hong Kong, for which I am co-chair, spent many months this year examining whether human rights abuses had taken place by the Hong Kong police throughout the pro-democracy protest movement. We received 1,000 submissions of evidence, overwhelmingly detailing the horrendous treatment that many innocent Hongkongers, journalists, academics and senior medical staffers have suffered at the hands of the police force.
Our report reflected upon “torture”, “harassment” and “abuse” that witnesses had experienced first-hand.
One of the most shocking testimonies came from a senior medical professional: “I’ve witnessed male police officers insisting on accessing labour wards to question and intimidate pregnant women. I’ve treated arrestees with serious injuries, including fractured bones, hours after the injuries occurred because they had been detained by police and refused medical attention. Police fired tear gas bullets less than a hundred yards outside of hospitals I have been working in. This makes our work fraught and more stressful than ever, impacting the treatment patients desperately need.”
This testimony is not unusual or exceptional. Many of the other 999 submissions of evidence detailed a similar level of brutality towards Hongkongers. Through their actions and choices, officers are complicit in the overall dictatorial and illegal takeover of Hong Kong.
Decorating these individuals is a betrayal of the brave Hongkongers who have been fighting for freedom and democracy
Many will have instinctive sympathy with the offered defence that these are “police officers are doing their jobs, acting in accordance with the law”. Yes, they may be ‘following orders’, but these orders themselves undermine Hong Kong’s Basic Law and contradict the Sino-British Joint Declaration, of which the UK is a signatory.
The Basic Law and the Joint Declaration should together protect the city’s legal autonomy and the fundamental rights and freedoms of Hongkongers. These rights and freedoms are instead being destroyed by a Beijing Government determined to tighten its grip and to stifle the Hong Kongers’ growing ambitions for democracy and freedom.
It is an agenda delivered on the streets of Hong Kong by a police force unrecognisable from what it used to be and, for this, officers are now to be “honoured”.
Hong Kong has a great tradition of policing through consent – the ideal of working with the community the police serve, rather than enforcing authority from above. This principle is a foundation for democratic freedom everywhere, including in the UK, and its undermining in Hong Kong should not be taken lightly, still less rewarded.
Honouring members of the Hong Kong Police Force in this context is problematic to say the least. When those who are to be awarded include British citizens it is impossible for those of us in the UK to look away.
Decorating these individuals is a betrayal of the brave Hongkongers who have been fighting for freedom and democracy. Those on the honours list who still care for such democratic values may wish to reflect on their acceptance.
Nor can our own government stand idly by. Real action is needed, starting with imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on senior Hong Kong police officials for the abuse they have perpetrated, including the Commissioner of Police and the Chinese puppet Chief Executive. The legislation is in place – all that is required is the political will to respond. Only in this way will the UK government be able to demonstrate its commitment to protect and honour global human rights.
These awards for brutality and state oppression cannot be worn with pride and honour. They have become, instead, the Chinese government’s badge of shame.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for home affairs.