Human Rights Developments
Hong Kong's fate was thrown into deeper uncertainty during 1994 when Beijing reacted to the adoption of Governor Patten's electoral reforms by resolving to abolish all elected bodies upon its resumption of sovereignty in 1997. The implications for human rights in Hong Kong were ominous, given that elected legislators had become key advocates for stronger protections for civil and human rights. For its part, the government responded reluctantly to their proposals for civil rights measures, anxious not to reignite conflict with Beijing.
Governor Patten, after numerous futile efforts to reconcile China to its proposals for moderate electoral reforms, finally sent the first set of proposals regarding the 1994 District Board elections to the Legislative Council (Legco) in February. Legco approved them, lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, abolishing appointed seats and reducing the number of popularly elected legislators to one per constituency. In June, legislators approved the government's proposal for the 1995 Legco elections, which for the first time made all sixty seats elected by one or another electoral constituency, although the proposal fell short of recommending direct election by universal franchise for each seat.
Beijing's response was not subtle. The day after the vote, Chinese officials unveiled an electric signboard to count the number of days remaining until Chinese rule, and reiterated threats to dismiss all legislators and reconstitute all representative bodies after the June 30, 1997 handover. In September, just before Hong Kong held elections to district boards under the new law, Beijing formalized its position through a resolution of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress ordering the termination on July 1, 1997 of all elected positions at the legislative, municipal and district levels. Yet despite the pall cast by these pronouncements, Hong Kong successfully carried off the elections, producing the first district boards where all members were chosen by popular vote. A dark note was the disqualification as a candidate of Lau San-ching, a Hong Kong resident who spent ten years in a Chinese prison because of his attempts to contact Democracy Wall activists. The government, and later the High Court, upheld his disqualification under an ordinance barring criminal convicts and persons who did not reside continuously in Hong Kong for ten years, despite the fact that Lau's "criminal record" and forced sojourn in China were themselves human rights abuses.
As relations with the British administration broke down in 1993 over Governor Patten's electoral reforms, China had unilaterally established the so-called Preliminary Working Committee to prepare for the 1997 transition; in late September 1994, reports circulated that Beijing was also planning to organize a separate Chinese Communist Party committee to supervise the post-1997 Hong Kong administration. Following China's resolution to dissolve the legislature due to be elected in 1995, a subcommittee of the Preliminary Working Committee recommended in October that a "provisional" legislature be chosen by a committee appointed by China until new elections were organized. Each of these developments signaled a departure from the 1984 agreement on the transfer of rule between Britain and China, and each lent credibility to fears that China felt it could alter Hong Kong's legal and political structure with impunity.
Despite this gloomy prospect, human rights activists and legislators pressed for further institutional and legislative reforms to entrench human rights, even while the government dragged its heels, anxious to avoid further confrontation with China. Britain and the Hong Kong government opposed the creation of a human rights commission, despite the explicit endorsement of Legco and the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Lu Ping, China's senior Hong Kong official, promised that China would disband any such commission, and for good measure reiterated that China felt no obligation to discharge the reporting requirements on human rights to the U.N. as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (extended to Hong Kong by Britain) after 1997. The governor officially refused to introduce to Legco a private bill to establish such a commission, proposing instead measures to increase human rights education.
A group of legislators led by Christine Loh proposed a law on free public access to officially held information which China opposed, and Governor Patten refused to support it. Instead, the government began preparing a much narrower set of discretionary administrative measures in the form of a code of practice, and announced plans to submit a law giving individuals the right of access to their personal records held by the government.
The government moved slowly on other legal reforms necessary to bring Hong Kong's colonial legislation into line with its Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and it failed to amend or introduce new provisions in ordinances that concerned censorship, police powers to search for and seize evidence from journalists, sedition, criminal penalties for publication of information relating to investigations of the secretive Independent Commission Against Corruption, or penalties for leaks of government information.
Hong Kong's Basic Law, the so-called constitution for the post-1997 era, stipulates the territory shall prohibit "any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion" against China or "theft of state secrets." There was strong debate on the need for Hong Kong to reformulate its current laws on treason, sedition, and disclosure of official information, both to bring them into closer conformity with international human rights standards and to ensure they would not expire with the end of British rule, leaving these areas to the discretion of a provisional legislature appointed by Beijing.
The importance of clarifying legal protections for freedom of expression was underscored by China's conviction in 1994 of Xi Yang, a mainland journalist working for the Hong Kong paper Ming Pao who received a twelve-year sentence for allegedly stealing "state secrets."
Journalists throughout Hong Kong participated in several demonstrations protesting the trial of Xi Yang, but the incident provided new opportunities for intimidation and self-censorship. Some publications warned writers not to sign petitions on Xi's behalf or run stories on the incident. In May, Beijing temporarily banned ten Hong Kong reporters, all of whom had signed a letter of protest, from entering China. Hong Kong's director of education appeared to be caught in the self-censorship trend when he recommended that two textbook publishers delete references to the Tiananmen massacre; he reversed this position after intervention by Governor Patten.
The year also saw some of the worst official abuses to date against Vietnamese asylum-seekers, although they fell into a long-established pattern of violations associated with efforts on the part of the Hong Kong government to forcibly repatriate most of the Vietnamese from the prison-like detention centers in the colony. Early in the year, Vietnamese began peaceful hunger-strikes and demonstrations in the detention centers to protest the regional multilateral decision to approve of deportation of non-refugees. Protests against forcible repatriation, however, had been going on for years. The protests alarmed the Hong Kong government, already concerned by the drop in voluntary repatriation, and on April 7, it launched a massive dawn raid on the Whitehead Detention Centre involving some 1,260 officers in full riot gear, for the purpose of moving 1,055 adults and 421 children to another detention center. In the process, the correctional and police officials fired 557 canisters of tear gas at the confined inmates. Over 300 injuries resulted, including burns on small children who were sprayed at point-blank range, and wounds from unprovoked beatings by the officers.
Under pressure from legislators and human rights groups, the governor ordered an independent inquiry, which documented serious abuses. The report, however, made no recommendations as to who was responsible and declined to question the wisdom of the massive police operation in the first place.
Action to hold officers accountable for the brutalities suffered by the Vietnamese did not take place until September 28, when the government announced it would seek prosecution of three low-ranking officers for the assaults at Whitehead, claiming that evidence was insufficient to take action against others.
During the first week of September, 550 armed officers moved against many of the same Vietnamese to break up another nonviolent demonstration, this time in anticipation of the forced deportation of twenty-one asylum seekers. On this occasion, a private monitoring group was allowed to observe the operation. Teargas was again deployed in large quantities and at close range to dislodge protestors from the roofs of huts. In an eerie repetition of the April incident, the government at first misrepresented the number of Vietnamese injured to be only a handful; newspapers ultimately reported well over two hundred injuries and complaints of maltreatment at the hands of the officers in riot gear. At the deportation, Hong Kong authorities forcibly injected tranquilizers into those Vietnamese who had protested return through suicide attempts, wrapping the men in blankets to get them onto the plane to Hanoi.
The Right to Monitor
At present, Hong Kong offers one of the most hospitable environments for local human rights and civil liberties activists in Asia, and these issues receive increasing attention in the local media. In 1994, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, in conjunction with the London-based group, Article 19, published a sequel to its 1993 report on freedom of expression, and several legislators held public hearings on human rights issues, including the police assault on Whitehead.
To its credit, the government protested China's position that it does not feel obliged to continue reports to the United Nations on human rights in Hong Kong, as presently required under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Britain is a signatory but China is not. The 1984 treaty between Britain and China stipulates that the covenant shall apply to Hong Kong, which would include the covenant's reporting requirement as well.
The government, however, compromised on the public's right to information by opposing visas for two well-known Chinese democracy proponents, Liu Binyan and Ruan Ming, to visit Hong Kong on the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Although the government conceded the need for legislation to allow individuals access to dossiers the government keeps on them, it opposed a private bill to also require government departments to provide basic information on their activities to the public on demand.
Media access to Vietnamese confined in detention centers remained limited to those who had volunteered for repatriation, and regulations enforcing censorship and restriction of printed materials remained in force. Reporters were allowed to observe police raids and deportations from a distance, but not to interview the Vietnamese involved. Although the Hong Kong government permitted four independent observers to monitor the September raid, it did not release police videotapes of the action, nor did Legco seek any independent inquiry into the use of tear gas or force. Lawyers and human rights monitors continued to receive access to Vietnamese clients, albeit on restrictive terms, and nongovernmental development agencies continued to have a presence in the detention centers, although their operations are gradually being phased out. Human Rights Watch/Asia expressed concern that the confined and isolated conditions of detention contributed to the sense of desperation in the camps, and increased the danger of violent confrontation.
The Role of the
In the United States, the Clinton administration maintained a conspicuous silence on virtually all major human rights issues connected to Hong Kong during 1994. The U.S. signaled stronger support for forcible repatriation of non-refugees in the region at the regional conference on the Comprehensive Plan of Action (governing policy towards Vietnamese boat people), which Hong Kong authorities took as an endorsement of their deportation policy. No concern was expressed by the State Department over either the April or September police actions against protesting Vietnamese.
Congress, however, took a more critical view of these events. At the House of Representatives Asia-Pacific Subcommittee hearing in April, members of Congress expressed concern over the use of force by Hong Kong authorities and faulty screening practices that left genuine refugees in danger of forced return. In October, fifty-one members of Congress called on President Clinton to take action in egregious cases of individuals wrongly denied refugee protection.
Congressional interest in democratization and human rights in Hong Kong also found expression in a Senate resolution congratulating Hong Kong for its successful district board elections and urging the government to "make every effort to support the progress of democratic reforms...and to encourage all parties to protect these gains as the 1997 transition approaches."
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia continued to work with local human rights and refugee advocates to bring international attention to abuses in Hong Kong in 1994. It began the year by campaigning for the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to urge Governor Patten to establish a human rights commission.
Following the raid on the Whitehead detention facility in April, Human Rights Watch/Asia expressed dismay to the government over the excessive use of force and resultant injuries, and urged a public inquiry and punishment of responsible officials. At the same time, Human Rights Watch/Asia privately urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to aggressively monitor such incidents and swiftly and publicly respond to abuses. When the commission of inquiry's report was released in June, Human Rights Watch/Asia voiced disappointment with its failure to assign responsibility for the abuses committed in April. In July, after receiving letters from over a hundred Vietnamese asylum-seekers injured in the raid, Human Rights Watch/Asia urged the Hong Kong secretary of security to pursue vigorously the police inquiry into responsibility for assaults.
Human Rights Developments
India attempted to silence international critics of its human rights record during the year by using two radically different tactics. One was wooing foreign investors in India's burgeoning market and stressing the advantages of business over pressure. The second was admitting that some abuses had taken place but insisting that Indian organizations, including a new Human Rights Commission, were well equipped to deal with them. Neither tactic led to major improvements in the human rights situation.
Abuses in the disputed territory of Kashmir continued to mount, particularly deaths of suspected militants in custody. Communal violence remained a problem, with police involvement in Hindu-Muslim clashes in Bangalore in October and discriminatory arrests of Muslims in Gujarat under a controversial law called the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (TADA) law. The TADA law grants sweeping powers to local authorities to arrest and detain suspects, allows for lengthy pre-trial detentions, and reverses the presumption of innocence.
Two years after communal violence claimed more than 2,000 lives following the December 1992 destruction of a sixteenth century mosque by Hindu nationalists, to Human Rights Watch/Asia's knowledge, no police officer identified as participating in attacks on Muslims had been prosecuted.
In Kashmir, Indian troops continued to execute detainees in custody, kill civilians in reprisal attacks, and burn down neighborhoods and villages as collective punishment of those suspected of supporting the militants. In the first half of 1994, human rights groups in Kashmir recorded more than 200 deaths in custody. The Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association reported fifty summary executions between mid-May and mid-June alone.
On May 9, for example, Border Security Force (BSF) troops arrested and then shot dead three teenage boys in Bandipora: Nisar Ahmad Mir, thirteen, Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, sixteen, and Irshad Ahmad Mir, sixteen. The killings were believed to be in retaliation for an attack five days earlier, in which militants had hurled a grenade at a BSF patrol.
Not a single soldier was prosecuted in a court of law or convicted for the murder or torture of a detainee. Army authorities did, however, make public a number of courts-martial of soldiers accused of rape. On July 29, 1994, two soldiers were sentenced to twelve years in prison after being court-martialed for raping a village woman in Kashmir.
In August, India's junior defense minister admitted that there had been fifty instances of soldiers killing civilians in India since the beginning of the year.
In May, and then again in October, Indian authorities released key Kashmiri opposition leaders from prison. The government then announced that elections would be held within eight months, despite objections by Kashmiri opposition parties who said they would boycott Indian-administered elections. The released prisoners included Yasin Malik, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Abdul Gani Lone and Syed Ali Shah Gilani of the All Party Hurriyat, and Shabir Ahmed Shah of the People's League. Shah was released on October 14 after four years in detention under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.
Militant factions were also responsible for abuses in Kashmir during the year, including the June 1994 kidnapping of two British tourists by a pro-Pakistani militant organization called the Harakatul Ansar (both men were released unharmed); the June 19 assassination of Dr. Qazi Nisar, a well-known religious leader, reportedly by the Hezb-ul Mujahidin, the most powerful of the groups that support accession to Pakistan; and the October kidnappings of three British and one American tourist by Al Hadid, a group Indian authorities said was based in Pakistan and Afghanistan and had links to Harakatul Ansar.
In Punjab, where militant violence had all but ended, police abuses continued, including the disappearance of a prominent human rights lawyer in May. The press was also targeted. On January 11, eight employees of the Punjabi newspaper Aj Di Awaz, including the managing editor Gurdeep Singh, were arrested under the TADA law. Ten days before the arrests, Gurdeep Singh had been called to the office of the assistant district police commissioner and ordered to refrain from criticizing state authorities.
The Indian government came under increasing international pressure to answer charges of abuse by Punjab's police force. On September 16, India's Supreme Court ordered a federal inquiry into the disappearance in Punjab of seven members of one family in October 1991. Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachalliah criticized Punjab's police chief, K.P.S. Gill, for inadequate investigation of the case and expressed deep concern for the "safety of the citizenry at the hands of an errant, high-handed and unchecked police force." Gill has been personally identified with many of the most serious abuses of human rights in Punjab.
Communal violence broke out in the southern state of Karnataka in October. Twenty-six people were reportedly killed and more than two hundred injured in the city of Bangalore when Hindus and Muslims clashed over the state government's introduction of Urdu-language news broadcasts. Urdu is spoken mainly by Muslims, a minority in India. According to Bangalore police, at least eight of those killed were shot by police who opened fire on rioters armed with knives and sticks. The violence reportedly began when Muslims threw stones at Hindus protesting the broadcasts. Karnataka's Congress Party-led government accused its chief political rival, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of organizing the protests, seeking to ignite Hindu-Muslim enmity in advance of state elections. In the wake of the violence, the state government suspended the broadcasts.
Indian counterinsurgency efforts in the northeastern states of Assam and Manipur in 1994 continued to be marked by reports of severe abuses of human rights, including indiscriminate attacks on residential areas, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture of suspected militant sympathizers. In Assam, staged "encounter" killings of young men detained, tortured and executed by the Central Reserve Police Force continued to be reported by human rights organizations and featured in the local press. The apparent torture and extrajudicial execution of five members of the All Assam Student Union in February drew widespread criticism from local activists who submitted the case to the National Human Rights Commission for investigation.
Special security laws, including TADA, the National Security Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, have severely restricted freedom of expression and dissent in the northeast. TADA was used repeatedly in 1994 to silence journalists, including Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, the convener of the human rights organization Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), who was arrested in July. At least ten other journalists in Assam were arrested in the second half of the year.
Northeastern India was also the site of increased insurgent violence in 1994. In Assam, between May and July, clashes between militant members of the Bodo community and Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants led to more than one hundred deaths and the displacement of some 50,000 people. Violence also continued in Manipur between members of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), an ethnically based group fighting for an independent Naga state, and rival Kuki militants. Since May 1993, an estimated 1,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced in violence between the two groups, which has been characterized by the destruction of villages and large-scale attacks on Kuki and Naga civilians. In January, the Indian government dissolved the Manipur's state government and imposed president's rule.
In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, peaceful protesters who opposed a World Bank-funded dam on the Narmada river were subjected to arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, beatings, and other forms of physical abuse. These abuses were part of a repressive campaign by the state governments involved to prevent the groups from organizing support for the protests in villages affected by the dam. Nevertheless, protests intensified in a number of villages near the dam site in mid-1994 when officials began to forcibly evict villagers in the submergence zone in anticipation of monsoon flooding.
The Right to Monitor
In Punjab, attacks on human rights monitors continued. On May 12, Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, a human rights lawyer, was abducted by armed men in plainclothes, thought to be police, as he was traveling by bus from Sangrur to his home village of Badbur in Punjab. The authorities denied that Bhatti was in custody. On June 17 the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to inquire into his "disappearance," but as of November he had not been traced.
In Assam, as noted above, the journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan was arrested and detained in July under TADA after he published an exposé on official corruption. He was accused of inciting the kidnapping of a tax official featured in the article.
In March 1994, the International Committee of the Red Cross was invited to conduct a survey of humanitarian needs in Kashmir. In mid-September, the Indian government agreed to allow the ICRC to provide limited humanitarian assistance in Kashmir. The government also agreed in principle to allow the organization to visit prisons, but the details of the agreement had not been finalized at this writing. At the same time, the government blocked the granting of visas to two Human Rights Watch researchers. In August, Minister of State for External Affairs Salman Khurshid told the press that the government would not consider a request from Human Rights Watch for a research mission.
The first reports of the National Human Rights Commission, established in September 1993, were issued in early 1994 and were more hard-hitting than many had expected. For example, its report on the October 1993 massacre of forty-three civilians in Bijbehara, Kashmir, called for the prosecution of fourteen members of the Border Security Force (BSF). According to the Indian government, a BSF staff inquiry charged four BSF members with excessive use of force, and a separate magesterial inquiry indicted twelve. Court-martial proceedings were initiated against persons named in the inquiries and their commanding officer was placed under a form of house arrest. The Indian authorities have not publicized the proceedings. The Human Rights Commission also requested reports from every state where deaths in custody or custodial rapes occur within twenty-four hours of the incidents, and has acknowledged widespread concern over the abuse of TADA by undertaking a review of the law. On October 7, Indian Home Minister S.B. Chavan denied allegations of abuse under the act and ruled out the possibility that TADA would be repealed.
The Role of the
Pressure on India to improve its human rights record was more muted than in previous years, in part because of a successful campaign by the Indian government to woo critics with business opportunities. In both the United States and Europe, trade increasingly became the cornerstone of bilateral policies toward India. In July, the Council of the European Union approved a comprehensive trade agreement with the Indian government, despite a key article in the agreement asserting that human rights was the basis for cooperation.
Both the United States and Europe backed away from criticism of Indian human rights abuses.
In 1993, the Clinton administration had broken with previous administrations in publicly criticizing India's human rights record. Reaction to what was portrayed by Indian leaders as a dramatic change in U.S. policy was swift. In a move apparently designed to persuade the Clinton administration to back off its public stance, Indian officials condemned U.S. criticism as a "tilt" to Pakistan which would endanger Indo-U.S. relations. The Clinton administration quickly capitulated, and since early 1994 has blunted criticism of India's human rights record, choosing instead to focus on economic relations. That human rights would be relegated to private discussion only was made clear by the new U.S. Ambassador to India, Frank Wisner, in an interview published in the July 15, 1994, issue of the prominent Indian news magazine India Today. Ambassador Wisner stated that he believed human rights was an issue governments should discuss privately. In a letter to Human Rights Watch/Asia dated July 21, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel echoed this line, stating that the administration "believe[d] that at this time the most effective way for the U.S. government to influence the Indian government...is through private, rather than public, diplomacy."
The State Department repeatedly gave India credit for measures the government had not even taken. At a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on April 19, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck claimed that the administration had "successfully pushed for unfettered access for international human rights and humanitarian organizations to Kashmir." In fact, no international human rights groups were permitted to conduct independent investigations in Kashmir. As previously noted, twice in 1994, India failed to grant visas to Human Rights Watch/Asia researchers.
In April, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott made a trip to India his first official visit after assuming office. Talbott and Prime Minister Rao discussed U.S. initiatives to end the nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan, and Rao accepted an invitation from President Clinton to visit the U.S.
During Prime Minister Rao's visit to the U.S. in May, during which he was given the honor of addressing a joint session of Congress, all mention of human rights was avoided. At a lunch hosted by Vice President Al Gore in honor of Prime Minister Rao's visit, human rights, which had been a major issue between the two countries, was not mentioned.
At the meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in March, India went to extraordinary lengths, even enlisting the support of such dubious allies as Iran and China, to ensure that a resolution condemning abuses in Kashmir was withdrawn. The U.S. abstained.
An agreement of cooperation between India and the European Community, which was approved by the Council of the European Union on June 18, 1994, completely disregarded India's human rights record when it pledged mutual cooperation on trade and investment, "technical, economic and cultural matters," acceleration of India's economic development, and liberalization of imports and exports. Article 1 of the agreement stated, without irony, that "[r]espect for human rights and democratic principles is the basis for the cooperation between the Contracting Parties and for the provisions of this Agreement, and it constitutes an essential element of the Agreement."
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia broadened its work on India in 1994 to include new projects on the role of political forces in communal violence, the trafficking of Nepali women and girls for prostitution in India, and the relationship between HIV/AIDS and human rights. Human Rights Watch/Asia continued to monitor events in Kashmir, which remained among the most serious human rights situations in Asia, and on Punjab, where despite the cessation of militant violence, police continued to commit abuses and to enjoy impunity for past violations. Human Rights Watch/Asia sought to sustain international pressure on the Indian government to stop abuses by its forces and prosecute past violations. In May, Human Rights Watch/Asia and Physicians for Human Rights published Dead Silence: Legacy of Abuses in Punjab. The report, which documented continuing violations of human rights by Punjab's police force despite the end of militant violence, was released during Prime Minister Rao's visit to the U.S. Conditions documented in the report were raised by members of Congress and the press during his visit.
Human Rights Watch/Asia's work on Kashmir in 1994 focused on the power of international bodies like the U.N., and important trading partners like the U.S., to help or hinder efforts to improve human rights conditions in the region. In August a new report, Continuing Repression in Kashmir: Abuses Rise as International Pressure on India Eases, examined the link between an upsurge in violations by Indian forces in Kashmir during the first half of 1994 and decreased international pressure on India to end abuses.