Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

Image Caption : Protesters gather on a road outside the police headquarters in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2019
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Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

  • Activists are planning more protests, hoping to win attention and support
  • hundreds of thousands marched in a June 16 protest

HONG KONG: China promised that for 50 years after Britain gave up control of its last colony, this shimmering financial enclave would get to keep freedoms absent in the communist-ruled mainland. Twenty-two years on, those are rights many here believe Hong Kong cannot live without.
The hundreds of thousands who marched in a June 16 protest over a now-shelved extradition bill, and those still demonstrating, are signaling alarm that Hong Kong may become just another Chinese city as those protections unravel and Beijing’s influence expands in the territory.
Activists are planning more protests for Wednesday, hoping to win attention and support from world leaders gathering in Osaka, Japan, for the Group of 20 summit later this week.
“This is not about a power struggle,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of a number of groups involved in organizing recent protests over the legislation. “This is about the values that make the world a better place.”
“The whole world, whoever has connections with Hong Kong, would be stakeholders,” she said.
All of those involved — the territory’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the police, lawmakers, the protesters and the rest of Hong Kong — are caught up in tensions stemming from the “one country, two systems” colonial legacy that bequeathed a Western-style civic society under a political system controlled by Beijing.
The protests erupted after Beijing-backed Lam tried to push through legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to face trial in Communist Party-dominated courts in mainland China. Many in Hong Kong viewed the bill as another step toward curbing protections they expect from their legal system.
While they come from all walks of life, the protesters share a determination to preserve those freedoms, said Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.
“This protest has drawn everybody in town together,” he said. “They really value the freedom to speak up and protest.”
Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law and government, said the extradition bill would have deprived local authorities of the right to prevent forcible transfers by China of suspects, including visitors, “for detention, trial and punishment that violate international standards of justice.”
The bill also would have enabled China to require Hong Kong authorities to freeze and confiscate assets of alleged suspects, Cohen wrote in a recent blog post. Efforts to limit the cases subject to extradition would not prevent suspects from being subject to China’s “incommunicado torture chambers, its denial of competent legal defenders and its unfair trials.”
Most Hong Kong residents belong to families that fled poverty and political upheavals in the communist mainland. British rule did not bequeath them democracy, but it laid the foundations for strong civic institutions, schools, health care — as well as a laissez faire trading regime dominated by business leaders deeply invested in keeping Hong Kong as it is.
Normally reluctant to wade into political matters or criticize Beijing, businesses also expressed concern over the extradition bill, with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce noting that the protests reflected “serious apprehensions.” The chamber welcomed the government’s decision to suspend the bill, as did its American and British counterparts.
It’s unclear if the turnout for another big protest planned for the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Chinese control might match the earlier ones.
Lam’s push for the now stalled legislation, ill-timed around the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the tear gas, steel batons and other aggressive tactics used by police, especially in June 12 protests that turned violent, helped draw people young and old into the streets.
Activists want an investigation into the complaints over police violence, along with Lam’s resignation and other demands. But the continued protests reflect a deeper sense of grievance and unease, especially among Hong Kong residents coming of age in an era of declining economic opportunity, said Ken Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings.
“Social mobility is more and more theoretical in Hong Kong, so young people continue to be very dissatisfied. There’s a broader concern about China in Hong Kong. The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow,” Courtis said.
In many respects, Hong Kong faces the same sorts of challenges of other developed economies with aging populations and slowing growth.
The city of 7 million has an economy that is bigger than Vietnam’s and a per capita GDP of more than $46,000. But controls on land use favor property developers, and half the apartments available rent for $2,550 a month or more, while median monthly incomes are about $2,300.
In a city dominated by business leaders and other elites, the only leverage protesters can wield is “the power of numbers,” said Yuen, noting that surveys of those participating in protests in recent weeks generally identify with the city’s “grassroots or lower classes.”
“They see themselves as lower class because of crony capitalism in Hong Kong. It’s very hard for them to get a fine paying job and also to buy an apartment in Hong Kong,” he said.
Brian Chow, one of the protesters sitting in the sweltering heat on a recent day outside the city’s Legislative Council building, said he wasn’t the “type” to get involved in violence.
“I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us,” he said.
After protesters blocked lines in the tax and immigration offices downtown on Monday, the government issued a statement appealing to them to “act peacefully and rationally when expressing their opinions and not to affect those in need of government services.”
In her apologies over the extradition bill fiasco, Lam appealed for “another chance” and said she would focus on improving the economy and resolving the housing crisis.
Chinese officials warned against “outside interference” but made a point of backing Lam’s decision to sideline the proposal. At a time of severe trade friction with the US, Beijing’s higher priority lies in preserving Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub and free port, Courtis said.
“People in Beijing are pragmatic. They see time in terms of many years,” he said. “Step sideways here, if that’s not enough then step backwards. Now you focus on making the economy work and keeping people happy.”


Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

In this Wednesday, March 20, 2019 file photo, a woman prays at the Potocari memorial center for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (AP)
Updated 11 min 36 sec ago
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Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

  • The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II

THE HAGUE: The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday slashed the state’s liability for 350 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, saying peacekeepers had only a “slim” chance of preventing their deaths.
The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified residents who had sought safety in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the besieged Muslim enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
The lightly armed Dutch troops eventually became overwhelmed and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic to evacuate the refugees.
The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Judges, however, on Friday reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent the Dutch state’s responsibility for compensation to the families in a case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ organization.
The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II and the darkest episode in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case,” the Supreme Court said. “That liability is limited to 10 percent of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

After the ruling, Mothers’ president Munira Subasic, who lost family members including her son, husband and father in the massacre, expressed disappointment.
“Today we experienced humiliation upon humiliation. We could not even hear the judgment in our own language because we were not given a translator,” she told AFP.
At Srebrenica “every life was taken away 100 percent. There is little we can do with 10 percent, but yes, the responsibility still lies where it does.”
“I only have two bones. I have found less than 10 percent of his body,” she added, referring to her teenage son.
The Dutch government accepted responsibility, saying it was relieved that “finally there was some clarity.”
A Dutch court originally held the state liable for compensation in 2014. In 2017 the appeals court upheld that decision before it was referred to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had said in 2017 that the Dutch actions meant the Muslims were “denied a 30 percent chance of avoiding abuse and execution,” and thus the Dutch state was liable for 30 percent of damages owed to families.
The Supreme Court agreed that “the state did act wrongfully in relation to the evacuation of the 5,000 refugees” in the compound, including 350 Muslim men the Bosnian Serbs were unaware of.
It said the Dutch peacekeepers “failed to offer these 350 male refugees the choice to stay where they were, even though that would have been possible.”
But explaining the decision to reduce the liability, the Supreme Court said that “the chance that the male refugees would have escaped the Bosnian Serbs had they been given the choice to stay was slim, but not negligible.”
Reacting to the ruling, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said in a statement the cabinet would “examine how to best implement the liability for damages suffered by the relatives in such a way it does justice to the Supreme Court ruling.”

In a swipe at the failure of other foreign powers to act during the 1995 crisis, the top court added that the “chance of Dutchbat (the Dutch UN mission) receiving effective support from the international community was slim.”
Former Dutchbat soldiers attending the case said they were disappointed on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I think the final judgment is a bit disappointing, especially when you see the court ruling of 30 percent and now it’s downgraded to 10 percent,” said Remko de Bruijne, a former Dutch blue helmet who served at Srebrenica.
“I think that’s not fair for the Mothers of Srebrenica but, on the other hand, now it’s clear,” he told AFP.
Srebrenica has cast a long shadow over The Netherlands, forcing a the government to resign in 2002 after a scathing report on the role of politicians in the episode.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently serving a life sentence in jail in The Hague after being convicted of genocide over Srebrenica and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges at an international tribunal in The Hague.
Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague at the time of his death in 2006.