CIVIL SOCIETY SUBMISSION
TO THE UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC,
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
68th SESSION, 8 March 2021 – 12 MARCH 2021, PRE-SESSIONAL
WORKING GROUP, LIST OF ISSUES PRIOR TO REVIEW
Submitted by Human Rights in China
December 18, 2020
I. Introduction: Severe deterioration in domestic rights environment
II. Concerns regarding implementation of the right to education and undermining of academic freedom
III. HRIC’s suggestions for the Committee’s consideration and adoption
I. Introduction: Severe rights deterioration in domestic rights environment
Note: All emphases in quoted passages have been added.
In safeguarding national security, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall respect and guarantee human rights, the rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration, which the residents of the Region enjoy under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong, shall be protected in accordance with the law.
II. Concerns regarding implementation of the right to education and undermining of academic freedom
Revamping of a high school core subject—Liberal Studies—to remove any “sensitive” contents
It aims to broaden the students’ knowledge base and enhance their social awareness. It adopts an issue-enquiry approach, which helps liberate the minds of students by having them study a wide range of issues and encouraging them to find out information themselves and develop their own opinions. It helps students understand complex issues in contemporary society, in the nation and in the world. Students are encouraged to draw knowledge from different disciplines in the analysis of the issues, and to develop their own views, construct personal knowledge, and become critical thinkers.
Newly emerging current issues that are still developing are not suitable for enquiry because when events are still developing, it is difficult for teachers and students to conclude without the benefit of hindsight or verify the objectivity and reliability of the data and information gathered, and to engage in impartial and evidence-based discussions. More often than not, it is hard to make rational judgements on very controversial issues without a solid understanding of the problems from multiple perspectives and an appreciation of the complexities of different considerations behind, all of which go beyond the maturity of secondary students as minors.
But critical thinking has now become a kind of debating exercise about current affairs, for which the students are easily influenced by some specific social opinion . . . . Critical thinking under the curriculum has deviated into objecting against everything about the Basic Law and the government. I don’t think this is critical thinking. For achieving critical thinking, students should discern the facts first, such as, Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China.”
We don’t think [teachers] should talk about something which has just happened, simply showing students newspaper clippings and having them discuss the issue. In terms of information gathering and to know the whole truth about the event and its development, it is difficult for pupils to come up with a [holistic] analysis”; and “under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, it is impossible for us to allow discussions in classrooms on Hong Kong independence.
Censorship and disciplining of educators
Members of the academic community, individually or collectively, are free to pursue, develop and transmit knowledge and ideas, through research, teaching, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation or writing. Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. . . .”
Self-censorship and chilling of academic freedom
III. HRIC’s suggestions for the Committee’s consideration and adoption
On integration and implementation of ICESCR
On the ICESCR-related impacts of implementation of the National Security Law
On curriculum reforms, including the Liberal Studies subject
On academic freedom and self-censorship
 “Third periodic report submitted by China under articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, due in 2019,” August 5, 2020 [Date received: December 19, 2019], https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3884746?ln=en.
 “Fourth periodic report submitted by Hong Kong, China, under articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, due in 2019,” August 5, 2020 [Date received: December 19, 2019], http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=4slQ6QSmlBEDzFEovLCuW%2bALqOml1btoJd4YxREVF2WipwJ5xuSazynvUP%2bVa66SfbNNeqzL1hWlBNJJ50mCiX%2fN8HVRnXYqPgP4wkduktGrtgVJiki34wqUKqfbXq3B.
 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx.
 “CESCR General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13),” December 8, 1999, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4538838c22.pdf.
 On access to free compulsory education, the HKSAR government did not address the issue directly but stated it is an “established education policy of Hong Kong to develop students’ national identity… stated as one of the curriculum goals.” “Fourth periodic report submitted by Hong Kong, China, under articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, due in 2019,” op. cit. para. 191.
 On discrimination in education, the HKSAR government did not elaborate on the re-allocation of resources or the implementation of any legislation on bilingual education as suggested by the Committee. “Fourth periodic report submitted by Hong Kong, China, under articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, due in 2019,” op. cit.
 On the incorporation of ICESCR provisions directly into the laws of Hong Kong, the authorities even went further to suggest that this was “neither necessary nor appropriate” and that a “sectoral approach with specific measures to deal with different fields” could be more effective in protecting these rights, though it did not elaborate on what a sectoral approach constitutes. “Fourth periodic report submitted by Hong Kong, China, under articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant, due in 2019,” op. cit. paras. 10 to 12.
 Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (2020), https://www.elegislation.gov.hk/hk/A406.
 The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a statement on 17 April 2020. “Statement on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights (E/C.12/2020/1),” Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, April 17, 2020, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3856957?ln=en. COVID-19 has also presented extensive rights-related challenges, including the right to education and the impact on young peoples’ development and mental health. Mental well-being during the crisis is shown to be correlated to some extent with age, with younger groups experiencing poorer well-being outcomes. In particular, the mental well-being of young people aged 18-29 whose education or work had been disrupted the most since the onset of the pandemic was greatly reduced with many affected by probable anxiety or depression. “Youth and COVID-19: impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being report,” International Labour Organization, August 11, 2020, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/youth-employment/publications/WCMS_753....
 “Too Soon to Concede the Future: The Implementation of The National Security Law for Hong Kong--An HRIC White Paper,” Human Rights in China, October 16, 2020, https://www.hrichina.org/en/press-work/press-release/too-soon-concede-fu....
 On July 3, 2020, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “[w]e are alarmed that arrests are already made under the [NSL] . . . when there is not full information and understanding of the scope of the offences." Among the concerns expressed are the vague and overly broad definition of the offenses which “may lead to discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement”; and the “collusion” offense which “may lead to a restriction of civic space and of the possibility for civil society actors to exercise their right to participate in public affairs.” “Press briefing note on China / Hong Kong SAR by Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the National Security Law, Rupert Colville,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, July 3, 2020, EN: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26033&LangID=E, CH: https://www.ohchr.org/CH/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26033&....
 Seven UN experts’ communication to China urging review and reconsideration of National Security Law to comply with international law, September 1, 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25487.
 The 1984 Joint Sino-British Declaration guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy and way of life for 50 years, post return of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the PRC in 1997. Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong, last revised July 1, 2007, https://www.cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/jd2.htm.
 See e.g. interview with Amnesty researcher: “Civil society has reacted strongly against the law because the process to enact it violated the principle of the rule of law and procedural justice in Hong Kong, and the vague and broad definitions of various provisions of the law exceed the normal understanding of law in the city.” “HONG KONG: ‘The National Security Law infringes on freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship,” CIVICUS, August 27, 2020, https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/interviews/4588-hong-kong-the-national-security-law-infringes-on-freedom-of-expression-and-is-intensifying-self-censorship.
 “Concluding observations on the second periodic report of China, including Hong Kong, China, and Macao, China,” June 13, 2014, https://undocs.org/E/C.12/CHN/CO/2.
 The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, last updated July 17, 2020, https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/images/basiclaw_full_text_en.pdf.
 The official translation has been modified by HRIC for greater accuracy. See Annex A of “Too Soon to Concede the Future: The Implementation of The National Security Law for Hong Kong--An HRIC White Paper,” op. cit.
 The Decision authorizes the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) to draft the legislation, to be added directly into Annex III of the Basic Law—which contains a list of national laws relating to defense and foreign affairs that are applicable to Hong Kong. In effect, the Decision prescribes a legislative process that will bypass the HKSAR’s own legislative process. 全国人民代表大会关于建立健全香港特别行政区维护国家安全的法律制度和执行机制的决定 (Quanguo renmindaibiao dahui guanyu jianli jianquan xianggang tebie xingzhengqu weihu guojia anquan de falv zhidu he zhixing jizhi de jueding, Decision of the National People’s Congress on establishing and completing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s legal system and implementing mechanisms for protecting national security), 13th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, 3rd Session, May 28, 2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2020-05/28/c_1126046490.htm.
 Concerns over China’s education approach was expressed more than seventeen years ago by the Special rapporteur on the Right to Education’s following her 2003 mission to mainland China. “Report submitted by the Special Rappoteur, Katarina Tomaševski, Addendum Mission to China,” Commission on Human Rights, November 21, 2003, https://undocs.org/E/CN.4/2004/45/Add.1 Among them were that “China’s law does not yet conform to the international legal framework defining the right to education” (para. 6); “[f]reedom to impart education is not recognized, nor is teachers’ freedom of association” (Summary); and politicized history teaching “would lead to the rewriting of many history textbooks” (Mission Report, paras. 38, 39). Since 2013, ideological control in the mainland has continued to intensify and the requirement of loyalty to the Party now covers every sector of society and all individuals and groups, including judges, lawyers, teachers, the media, and private sector businesses.
 The restrictions on the right to education by the Central government are not new. In 2013, the CPC banned the teaching of seven topics in university classrooms, including universal values, press freedom, and civil rights. Raymond Li, “Seven subjects off limits for teaching, Chinese universities told,” South China Morning Post, May 10, 2013, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1234453/seven-subjects-limits-teaching-chinese-universities-told. In 2017, the CPC augmented its political indoctrination efforts to include educators by setting up CPC departments to oversee the “ideological and political work” of educators. “Chinese universities tighten ideological control of teaching staff,” Nectar Gan, “Chinese universities tighten ideological control of teaching staff,” South China Morning Post, August 28, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2108597/china-universities-tighten-ideological-control-teaching.
 As protests and demands for democratic reforms roiled Hong Kong in 2019, mainland Chinese authorities sent out a public signal about renewing “patriotic education” in Hong Kong. An article in the state-controlled China Daily in November 2019 stated: “[t]he wish for Western-style liberal democracy is a malignant virus . . . . The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is vulnerable, as the escalating protests this year have shown, [and] should find a way to improve the patriotic education of its residents,” Andy Mok, “Patriotic education needs to improve in Hong Kong,” China Daily, November 6, 2019, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/global/2019-11/06/content_37521037.htm. In 2012, prior to the enactment of the NSL, the Central People’s Government (CPG) of People’s Republic of China (PRC) had attempted to introduce “patriotic education” in Hong Kong that would have modified educational contents to conform to the ideologically-driven, sanitized version of contemporary Chinese history presented by the CPG. The attempt was forced back by massive popular opposition) and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.
 The subject, constituting about ten percent of lesson time, covers broad topics: personal development and interpersonal relationships, Hong Kong today, modern China, globalization, public health, and energy technology and the environment.
 “Liberal Studies Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4 - 6),” Education Bureau Curriculum Development Council and The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, 2007, with updates in January 2014, https://334.edb.hkedcity.net/new/doc/eng/curriculum/LS%20C&A%20Guide_updated_e.pdf.
 In May 2020, Lam said that she was concerned that schoolchildren are being “poisoned” by “false and biased information,” that some subjects, including liberal studies, could be “penetrated,” and that the education sector should not become a “chicken coop without a door. Lam’s statements were made during an interview with the pro-Beijing Chinese language newspaper Ta Kung Pao on May 11, 2020. “特首專訪\粵港澳出入境 研月內放寬檢疫,” Ta Kung Pao, May 11, 2020, http://www.takungpao.com.hk/news/232109/2020/0511/447148.html; Helen Davidson and agencies, “Carrie Lam blames Hong Kong education system for fuelling protest,” The Guardian, May 11, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/11/carrie-lam-blames-hong-kong-education-system-for-fuelling-protests; Ho-him Chan, “Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s warning to schools over teaching of ‘fallacious arguments’ draws fire from union,” South China Morning Post, May 12, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3083902/hong-kong-leader-carrie-lams-warning-schools-over-teaching. In July 2020, former Chief Executive Tung Chi-Hwa (in office 1997- 2005) blamed Liberal Studies outright as “one of reasons behind the youth problems today,” calling it a “failure. Jeffie Lam, and Peace Chiu, “Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa blames liberal studies at secondary schools for encouraging violent protests among young people,” South China Morning Post, July 3, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3017180/former-hong-kong-leader-tung-chee-hwa-blames-liberal.
 Helen Davidson, “Hong Kong censorship fears as protest slogans removed from some textbooks,” The Guardian, August 19, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/19/hong-kong-censorship-fears-as-protest-slogans-removed-from-some-textbooks.
 “Hong Kong textbook publishers censor passages on human rights, civil disobedience,” Apple Daily (English Edition), August 19, 2020, https://hk.appledaily.com/news/20200819/OGX7YMHIC5B5BC3DWBGG4Y3GCM/.
 “Liberal studies textbook scrubs out voting, civil disobedience,” The Standard, August 18, 2020, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/153375/Liberal-studies-textbook-scrubs-out-voting,-civil-disobedience.
 Ho-him Chan, “Hong Kong student, teacher groups launch petition demanding explanation of new vetting process for liberal studies textbooks,” South China Morning Post, August 21, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3098377/hong-kong-student-teacher-groups-launch-petition-demanding.
 “Task Force on Review of School Curriculum Final Report,” Hong Kong Education Bureau, September 2020, https://www.edb.gov.hk/attachment/en/curriculum-development/renewal/taskforce_cur/TF_CurriculumReview_FinalReport_e.pdf.
 Jeffie Lam, Natalie Wong, and Chris Lau, “Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vows to restore social and constitutional order as well as revive ailing economy,” South China Morning Post, November 25, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3111342/hong-kong-leader-pledges-rebuild-confidence-and-restore.
 Candice Chau, “Hong Kong liberal studies to be renamed and reformed – more China content, less focus on current affairs,” Hong Kong Free Press, November 27, 2020, https://hongkongfp.com/2020/11/27/hong-kong-liberal-studies-to-be-renamed-and-reformed-more-china-content-less-focus-on-current-affairs/.
 Cannix Yau, “Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defends liberal studies reform, and says subject was not meant to be debate exercise on current affairs,” South China Morning Post, November 28, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3111758/hong-kong-leader-carrie-lam-defends-liberal-studies-reform.
 Ho-him Chan, “Current affairs not suitable for teaching in revamped liberal studies, Hong Kong education chief says,” South China Morning Post, December 2, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3112173/ongoing-current-affairs-not-suitable-teaching-revamped.
 Ho-him Chan, “More than 90 per cent of 500 teachers polled say liberal studies reform politically motivated,” South China Morning Post, December 9, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3113255/more-90-cent-500-hong-kong-teachers-polled-say-liberal.
 “CESCR General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13),” op. cit.
 Gerry Mullany, “Hong Kong Bans Protest Song and Other Political Expression at Schools,” The New York Times, July 8, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/world/asia/hong-kong-students-protests-china.html; Kelly Ho, “No-one in Hong Kong schools should ‘hold any activities to express their political stance,’ says education chief, as protest song banned,” Hong Kong Free Press, July 8, 2020, https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/08/no-one-in-hong-kong-schools-should-hold-any-activities-to-express-their-political-stance-says-education-chief-as-protest-song-banned/.
 “LCQ22: Restricting students' freedom of expression,” press release, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, July 8, 2020, https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202007/08/P2020070800306.htm.
 “Benny Tai: Hong Kong university fires professor who led protests,” BBC News, July 28, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-53567333.
 “The Senate is the principal academic authority of the University. It is responsible for all academic matters and welfare of students. Its 50 members are mainly academic staff while there are also student representatives.” The University of Hong Kong, undated, https://www.hku.hk/about/governance/governance_structure.html.
 “An inquiry committee was initiated last year at the discretion of president Zhang, and it submitted a report by May to the senate. The senate, comprising mainly academics, agreed in early July with the finding that Tai was guilty of “misconduct” but that his actions did not amount to grounds for dismissal.” “Occupy Hong Kong activist Benny Tai fired from role at HKU,” South China Morning Post, July 29, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/yp/discover/news/hong-kong/article/3095095/occupy-hong-kong-activist-benny-tai-fired-role-hku.
 Tai said in a Facebook post on the day of his firing: “[t]he decision to terminate my appointment was made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the University through its agents. It marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong. Academic staff in education institutions in Hong Kong are no longer free to make controversial statements to the general public about politically or socially controversial matters.” https://www.facebook.com/BennyTaiHK/posts/1455230568004033.
 Kang-chung Ng, “Hong Kong protests: Baptist University refuses to renew contract of lecturer convicted over role in demonstrations,” South China Morning Post, July 27, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3094908/hong-kong-protests-baptist-university-refuses-renew.
 Danny Lee, “Occupy ringleader Shiu Ka-chun accuses Hong Kong university of ‘political cleansing’ after he is relieved of teaching post,” South China Morning Post, January 17, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3046632/occupy-ringleader-shiu-ka-chun-accuses-hong-kong-university.
 “EDB cancels registration of teacher,” press release, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, November 12, 2020, https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202011/12/P2020111200664.htm.
 “Teacher struck off for pro-independence messages,” RTHK, October 5, 2020, https://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1553180-20201005.htm; “Deep regret over deregistered teacher, says school principal,” The Standard, October 9, 2020, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/157088/Deep-regret-over-deregistered-teacher,-says-school-principal.
 Ho-him Chan, “Freedom of speech or Hong Kong independence? More details emerge of education row over deregistered teacher,” South China Morning Post, October 6, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3104436/freedom-speech-or-hong-kong-independence-more-details.
 “Teacher disqualified for 'promoting Hong Kong independence',” BBC News, October 6, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54431729.
 A survey among 125 primary and secondary school principals conducted by the Professional Teachers-Union, the largest teachers' organization in Hong Kong with more than 90,000 members, showed: 73 percent found the evidence presented by the Education Bureau for the deregistration of the teacher at the Primary Alliance School “insufficient,” and 79 percent found the reprimand of the school’s principals, vice-principal, and three other teachers “unreasonable.” “教育局取消教師註冊 株連校長、同事教協調查：逾七成校長認為不合理、不公義,” Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU), November 10, 2020, https://www.hkptu.org/81579; HKPTU poll results: https://www.hkptu.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/20201110-annex.pdf.
 “CESCR General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13),” op. cit.
 The question was raised in a discussion organized by the Law Society of Hong Kong on July 15, 2020, and quoted in Chris Lau, “National security law: Hong Kong academics might choose self-censorship to protect themselves, law dean warns,” South China Morning Post, July 15, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3093337/national-security-law-hong-kong-academics-might-choose-self.
 Vivian Wang, “As Hong Kong Law Goes After ‘Black Sheep,’ Fear Clouds Universities,” The New York Times, November 7, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/world/asia/hong-kong-china-national-security-law-university.html.
 Jerome Taylor, and Xinqi Su, “Security law: Hong Kong scholars fear for academic freedom,” Hong Kong Free Press, July 15, 2020, https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/15/security-law-hong-kong-scholars-fear-for-academic-freedom/.