UN Makes Public Independent Experts’ Fears Over Attacks on Hong Kong Medics
In a document just made public, senior independent experts from the United Nations wrote to the Chinese authorities in mid-February outlining their fears about “the harassment, intimidation, and arrest of healthcare workers including first-aiders; restrictions imposed on impartial healthcare, as well as the misuse of healthcare transport, facilities, and confidential information.”
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention joined three Special Rapporteurs with mandates respectively on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and on the right to privacy in signing a joint communication dated February 19, 2020, to the Chinese authorities.
In keeping with protocol, the UN waits 60 days before making such communications public, and to wait for a response to its report. According to the UN website, no response has yet been received from the Chinese government.
The expert raised concerns on attacks on health care workers “in the context of the large-scale civil rights protests that broke out in Hong Kong in June 2019.” The city has been rocked by mass demonstrations calling for political and police reform.
Last week 15 prominent veteran pro-democracy activists were arrested, joining more than 7,000 other arrested in connection with the protests. Human Rights First has witnessed police violence at several of the Hong Kong protests, including attacks on first aiders and other health personnel.
The communication from the UN experts outlines information they received including that “Large numbers of healthcare workers have been arrested and hand-cuffed with zip-cords either in the vicinity of violent confrontations or in the course of performing their legitimate healthcare duties. While medical professionals have been able to provide identification and prove their qualifications, they have still reportedly been arrested by the police for ‘taking part in a riot,’ detained for 24 hours and then released on police bail pending possible charges.”
The ten-page document cites an incident in November 2019, where “at least 16 healthcare workers who were providing medical aid during protests at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University were detained by the police and handcuffed with zip-cords from behind. They all were wearing high- visibility vests with descriptions of Doctor, Nurse, or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and all doctors were also in possession of their Medical Council of Hong Kong registration and identity cards. Another doctor was reportedly arrested the next day during a police assault on the campus while he was actively providing medical care to a casualty.”
It notes that according to information it has received, “These healthcare workers were detained for at least 24 hours and some for up to 30 hours reportedly with no access to a lawyer. They were all subsequently released on police bail, required to report weekly to police and informed that the investigation is continuing.”
Human Rights First has spoken to dozens of medic human rights defenders in Hong Kong and heard credible reports of their harassment, and the dangers they face when attempting to treat injured protestors.
The UN experts urge the Chinese government that all “necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence,” and that if the information they have received is correct, that the authorities “ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.”