The United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights started the review on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights on 15 and 16 February.
Concerns have been raised by United Nations experts about the National Security Law restricting the freedom of Hong Kong trade unions to operate. The experts emphasised the large number of disbanded trade unions and the fact that the detained trade unionists were denied bail.
Michael Windfuhr, the vice-chair of the committee, said the committee received information that after the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law, the landscape of civil society in Hong Kong has changed.
He said the committee noticed that trade unions were disbanded or could not work freely, and trade unionists were detained. He asked the government to provide the number of organisations classified as endangering national security and asked the government to ensure that the Law was not used as a pretext to suppress civil society and undermine individual fulfilment of economic, social, and cultural rights.
Windfuhr also pointed out that the Hong Kong National Security Law has an “open definition” in many instances, highlighting the overly broad and vague definition of the Law.
For example, the former chairperson of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union, Carol Ng, has not been released on bail as the judge is not satisfied that the she would not commit acts endangering national security – a decision appeared to be “very arbitrary, as Windfuhr challenged.
The Hong Kong government official reiterated that the National Security Law is compatible with international human rights standards.
Since its implementation in June 2020, experts from the United Nations have repeatedly voiced grave concerns that Hong Kong’s National Security Law is not compliant with international human rights laws and standards. For instance, in July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee urged the Hong Kong authorities to repeal the NSL in July 2022.
When pressed on why a massive number of trade unions disbanded and ceased operation, the Hong Kong official indicated they would not speculate but did note that the implementation of the National Security Law has “reversed the chaotic situation and serious violence earlier and restored stability and confidence in Hong Kong”.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the UN expert urged the authorities to guarantee that no person or organisation that had provided information or observations to the committee should face retaliation. The Hong Kong officials refused to provide a direct response, instead stating that all normal activities should be granted protection under the current Law, as it now stands.