Human Rights scores plummet in SAR, says index report

Hong Kong’s human rights scores have plummeted since 2019, and the pandemic has made the situation worse – that’s according to a report by a human rights index published on Thursday.

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) tracks human rights performances in a number of areas including the right to quality of life, safety from the state, and empowerment rights.

The index surveyed local experts in February and March about the events of last year, and asked them to fill in an anonymous online questionnaire. HRMI then takes those responses and gives each area a score out of 10.

HRMI said while Hong Kong scored well in some areas, it overall noted some “strikingly poor results” for the SAR in others, namely the right to assembly and association, freedom of expression, and to participate in government.

In 2019, Hong Kong was given scores of 4.1, 4.2, and 3.6 out of 10 respectively in these three areas. In 2020, they dropped to 2.7, 2.8, and 2.3, giving the SAR an overall empowerment score of 2.2 out of 10.

Experts in the survey were also asked to name which groups were at risk of having certain rights violated. Some of the groups listed at risk of having their empowerment rights breached members of labour unions or workers’ rights advocates, detainees or those accused of crimes, and those who protest or take part in non-violent political activity.

While the national security law was noted as having a significant impact on human rights, the index also noted the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic was also significant.

Examples cited include the delaying of last year’s Legco elections, the banning of political gatherings and demonstrations on public health grounds, and even the serving of culturally inappropriate food to Muslim people in quarantine.

The Index also said the people of Hong Kong do not have freedom from arbitrary arrest, and gave the SAR a score of 2.6 out of 10 – slightly up from 2.4 last year.

The SAR was also given a score of 7.1 out of 10 on “safety from the state”, meaning that a significant number of people are vulnerable to arbitrary arrest.

Specific incidents given of people who are vulnerable of having this right breached include pro-democracy protesters or politicians – including politicians that have been charged under the national security law – and anyone else critical of the government including journalists or commentators.

The index noted that while Hong Kong’s performance on the right to education was “fair”, it still had more work to do on this front, saying groups unlikely to enjoy the right to education in the SAR included students from low-income families who were unable to access computers or the internet for online classes during the pandemic, ethnic minority students, and students – particularly those who took part in the 2019 protests – who were expelled from schools.

Commenting on Hong Kong’s scores, Anne-Marie Brook, one of the co-founders of the index, said: “Watching events in Hong Kong over the past couple of years has been quite harrowing, and so I doubt that Hong Kong’s scores will come as a surprise to any Hong Kong watchers.

“We will keep monitoring human rights in Hong Kong every year. And we will make sure that these data get in front of people who might not otherwise know how the people of Hong Kong are treated by their state.”