Jurists Call on China to Report
In 1976, the United Kingdom ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and extended it to Hong Kong, with certain reservations.
By the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (JD), signed in December 1984, China and the UK reached agreement on the restoration of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People Republic of China on 1 July 1997. The JD has the status of a treaty and has been registered as such with the UN. The JD stated that the provisions of the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force.
In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed the view that human rights treaties devolve with territory, and that States continue to be bound by the obligations under the ICCPR entered into by the predecessor State. The Committee stated once the people living in a territory find themselves under the protection of the ICCPR, such protection cannot be denied to them by virtue of the mere dismemberment of that territory or its coming within the jurisdiction of another State.
An essential part of the ICCPR is the obligation of the State Parties to submit, for consideration by the Committee, reports on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognised by the ICCPR; and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights. These reports are made available to NGOs, which circulate their comments on them to the members of the Committee. The Committee holds open hearings during which representatives of the reporting State are questioned. The Committee publishes its own observations on the reports. While the reporting obligation cannot by itself ensure compliance with the ICCPR by a State Party, it does at least ensure that there is an authoritative forum in which compliance can be investigated and breaches identified and exposed. Without the reporting obligation, the ICCPR is of little value.
At present, it is the obligation of the UK to submit reports on Hong Kong to the Committee. It is clear that it will not be so after 1 July 1997. It is of great concern to the ICJ that there has as yet been no agreement as to how the reporting obligations under the ICCPR are to be exercised after that date.
It is clear that by its signature and ratification of the JD, China has accepted a treaty obligation to ensure that reports are duly submitted in respect of Hong Kong. China has, regrettably, not yet acceded to the ICCPR. However, the Committee stated on 20 October 1995 that it considers itself competent to receive and review reports that must be submitted in relation to Hong Kong. The Committee has declared itself ready to cooperate with the parties to the JD to achieve these objectives.
The ICJ understands that China, while not having stated that it will in fact refuse to report on Hong Kong under the ICCPR, currently takes the stance that, not being a party to the ICCPR, it has no obligation to report. The ICJ believes that a failure to accept the obligation to report would be a breach of China treaty obligations under the JD, of its duties (independently of the JD) as successor to sovereignty over Hong Kong, and of its obligations to the people of Hong Kong.
The ICJ calls on China
- to acknowledge its obligation under the ICCPR to ensure the submission of periodic reports in relation to Hong Kong after 1 July 1997; and
- to cooperate with the Human Rights Committee and the UK in working out the mechanism by which such reports will be submitted.
The ICJ stresses that similar considerations apply as regards the reporting obligations of China relating to Hong Kong under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which will also continue to apply to Hong Kong by the virtue of the JD.
International Commission of Jurists