As Christmas approaches, I bring you a sincere greeting on behalf of the WSCF AP region.
We are living in the era of uncertainties created by war, terror, violence and conflicts. In this time of uncertainties, as a community of Christian students, we have been challenged to discern the signs of time in order to bring hope for peace to the world and to transform our society into a more justpeace oriented community. I would like to encourage you to reflect all these challenges from the vision and hope as Jesus did so throughout his whole life.
In Perspective I of this issue, we include Dr. George Mathew Nalunnakkal’s article, “Reading the Signs of Our Time: Theological Perspective”. To search for a new society, George introduces a concept of the Trinitarian God that provides a model of a community being. He spells out that the Trinitarian concept in the Asian context is very critical as the concept essentially contains a pluralistic connotation in it. In understanding Jesus, he emphasizes that the whole Christ-event was Jesus’ act of living out the divine manifesto of the liberation of the poor and the oppressed. George also highlights non-violence as Jesus’ way of love in action. He concludes, “So long as the exilic experiences of poverty, racism, sexism, globalisation and other forms of exploitation and violence continue to haunt us, we need to hold on to a vision of continual eschatology, a realised eschatology of overcoming exilic states of violence through the non-violent, exodusic way of the cross.”
In Perspective II, we invite Dr. Hope Antone again to articulate “Peace Education” from the pluralistic context in which the Asia is situated. As education is being commercialised to serve the sole interest of the market, it is imperative to re-affirm that one critical goal of education is to bring peace and justice in the society.
In the Solidarity page, Mr. Mak Chung Lai reflected on his Human Rights and Peace Internship in the Philippines, particularly with poor communities in Manila. In Women’s Space, Ms. Norma Dollaga presented a bible study on women’s struggle, courage and hope for the women’s programme, Women Doing Theology 2003.
May God’s blessing and peace be always with you.
Shin Seung Min
by Hope Antone
Joint Executive Secretary of Faith, Mission and Unity of the Christian Conference of Asia, and a good supporter and friend of WSCF
This article is the first part of 2 parts. The 2nd part will be published in next issue of Praxis
What is the context of today’s Asian youth and students?
Writing about the “Ecclesia in Asia” (Boletin 2000, 13-14), Pope John Paul II listed several religious and cultural values that characterise the region of Asia. These values are love of silence and contemplation; simplicity; harmony; detachment; non-violence; spirit of hard work; discipline; frugal living; thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry; respect for life; compassion for all beings; closeness to nature; filial piety towards parents, elders and ancestors; highly developed sense of community and solidarity; a spirit of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. These positive values are, according to the Pope, at the core of being Asian, indicating deep spiritual insight and moral wisdom which are innate to the Asian soul. If these values were really at the core of Asian life, would be more peace and less violence in Asia?
Unfortunately, such a beautiful list of Asian values can easily be contrasted to the glaring realities of violence, intolerance, hostility, violations of human rights, injustice, materialism, nihilism and individualism that seem to characterise life in Asia today. And unfortunately for youth, they live the prime of their lives in such a horrific context.
Many suicides that happen in Asia are committed by young people. These are often the result of too much pressure from different forces in society—e.g. demands from families, the school, religion, and culture. They could also be due to the loss of sense of meaning in life that many youth experience and, closely related to it, is the inability to deal with what seem to be overwhelming circumstances or situations.
The South China Morning Post, a newspaper daily in Hong Kong, featured a write-up in 2001 entitled, “Why teens and men in late 40s turn to murder.” It was based on a research done by the Research and Training Institute for Family Court Probation Officers to uncover what motivates juveniles to commit murder. According to the study, 10 juveniles who committed murder between 1997-1999 could be grouped into three: (a) those who had shown problem behavior while young; (b) those who had suffered a major setback during their formative years; and (c) those who appeared to be normal. But what the three groups had in common was “a narrow way of thinking that made them see only violent solutions to problems”. Such violence could be directed to themselves as in suicide or to others as a result of the desire to “protect oneself”, as in murder. Many lives that are lost at war and other conflicts in Asia are those of youth. After all, youth are among those who get victimised as innocent target of war/conflict or who get co-opted by perpetrators of war. Either way, young people become helpless victims of these forces of death. Young people caught in this situation very often end up rolling within a cycle of violence. As a friend from Sri Lanka shared, many if not all of suicide bombers are orphan children whose parents had been brutally killed during the conflict. Young people constitute the front-line fighters on both sides of a conflict.
Many lives that are wasted through abusive use of drugs and sex are also those of the youth. Youth tend to be curious and want to experiment with something new. Somehow there is the excitement to risk and to try out something! Youth also need to belong and can become vulnerable to peer groups and peer pressure, for good or bad.
Indeed, youth and students live in very difficult times. The impact of globalisation, both negative and positive, affects young people drastically. Consequently, the goals of education to which youth and students are subjected are also dictated by the global market. Many degree programmes offered in colleges and universities which lure the youth are those that will satisfy the demands of the market. Sadly, many young people end up just drifting by.
Closely related to globalisation is the age of terrorism that has elevated the ideology of war as the way to bring about peace. Once again, it is often the young people, with so much potential in their lives, who get co-opted to serve this ideology.
But youth are capable of dreaming dreams, of holding on to ideals about how things should be and how life should be. That is why the immemorial saying: “with youth lies the hope of a better future”. Yet the future is not simply something that is yet to be. The future is already now.
The ecumenical movement, not only in Asia-Pacific but worldwide, is a witness to the capacity of youth to dream an alternative life and to work towards the realisation of that dream. With that dream of peace and unity through justice, reconciliation and transformation, the ecumenical movement has tried to affirm, reclaim and proclaim the fullness of life that is meant for all. The World Student Christian Federation in general and the Student Christian Movement in particular has a massive crowd of witnesses to this fact. It has produced active and capable youth and student leaders who in their time inspired the birthing of the ecumenical movement. That is a noble history worth remembering and passing on—to keep that beacon of hope glimmering for the next generations of youth and students.
Before going into peace education itself, which is the theme of this article for Praxis, it is important to affirm first of all that the goal of education is life, the sustenance and continuation of life in its fullness. If we trace the origin of education to the very beginning of human culture, we will see that education was whatever nurtured the younger generation for life, both in the family and the larger community. This naturally included basic training or orientation in survival skills, inculcation of community values, and handing down of culture (Antone 2003, 13). This is the broad and original meaning of education.
Today, dictionary definitions of education include “the act or process of acquiring knowledge, especially systematically during childhood and adolescence”; “the knowledge or training acquired by this process”; “the act or process of imparting knowledge, especially at a school, college or university”; “the theory of teaching and learning”; and “a particular kind of instruction or training”. These definitions indicate more focus on the process and content but not so much on the goal of education. And these reflect the trends in general education today.
This is not to say that general education in pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary school levels does not have any goals. But the fact is that goals can be dictated by other agendas, instead of life’s agendas for peace, justice and social transformation. For example, in some places, the educational goal of some degree programs is to simply prepare students to meet and satisfy the demands of the market for cheap labor and other services from people of the developing countries. Every year, schools, colleges and universities produce graduates who are competitive enough for this global market economy. Even pre-school education has become so rigid and tough as parents demand more and more for nursery and kindergarten to prepare very young children for this competitive kind of education and the competitive life in the world.
With this shift in focus, education has become a tool to serve the global market as well as a commodity in the global market.
Dr. Kim Yong Bock, Korean theologian who is chancellor of the Advanced Institute for the Study of Life, re-defines education as a kind of cultural action for the sharing of life-wisdom in community (CCA News, December 2001, 10). It means the sharing of wisdom about life passed through the generations through the family, religious community, and society as a whole. If education is cultural action, then the people should be the subjects of their life, not objects that those with power and money can control, manipulate, suppress and oppress. If education is cultural action, then people should be enabled to appropriate and create wisdom for life through and out of their experiences. This may include resisting powers of domination and suppression, overcoming silence and passivity, and taking action for genuine transformation.
Youth and students need to affirm this right to education as education for life. They must be critical of what is offered in schools, colleges and universities based on this important criterion of education for life.
Under the overall goal of reclaiming education for life is the call of the times for peace education.
This paper will focus on “Peace Education in Asian Plural Context” with the hope of contributing to the ongoing global discourse on overcoming violence through building a culture of peace. With education being a cultural action, peace education involves the evolving of a culture of peace as an alternative to the culture of war and violence prevalent in Asian societies. In this sense, peace education is more than a matter of subject to add to a school curriculum. Rather, it has to do with envisioning and actualizing peace as an alternative way of living, thinking and being.
There are different ways of approaching peace education—depending on the realities of a given context. As for this paper, I will focus on the context of Asian plurality and what its implications are for peace education.
The region of Asia is a region of plurality or diversity. No other continent in the world do you see so many people of different colors, races, languages, cultures, and religions. This reality of plurality is probably the most striking characteristic of Asia—which has become both a source of pride as well as a source of many of its problems. At the root of the problem is the inability to deal with difference positively and creatively.
There are three basic approaches to difference. One is exclusivism—which is an attitude that regards one or one’s group as against the others. It therefore makes others one’s enemies who should be avoided if not annihilated, or, if possible, transformed (converted, in the language of Christian religion) into something like me or us. Many ethnic groups in Asia have exclusive attitudes towards other ethnic groups. Those in higher castes and classes also have exclusive attitudes towards those of other usually lower castes and classes. Religions and religious communities also have exclusive attitudes to those of other religions. Even differences in sexual orientation and ideological persuasion are used against the others. While exclusivism may have been a way of self-protection and self-propagation for a particular group to survive in the midst of other groups around them, it has definitely contributed to the intolerance and animosity among people of different groups. It puts oneself or one’s group against all others.
Another approach to difference is inclusivisim—which is an attitude that embraces the others as part of one’s bigger, all-encompassing group. At the outset this may sound very positive. But a closer look at this attitude will reveal a certain kind of triumphalistic thinking. For example, how can a Christian claim that good Hindus, good Buddhists and good Muslims, etc., are the “unknown Christians” who are unknown even to themselves? What would the Christians say if the reverse were said about them by these people of other faith? While inclusivism, especially in matters of religion, may seem positive, it carries a tendency to ignore and negate the uniqueness of the other. It tends to put oneself or one’s group up and above the others. The third approach to difference is pluralism—which is an attitude that puts oneself or one’s group as one with and among others. Together they are co-sojourners in the world, co-sharers of life’s struggles, joys and pains, and co-searchers for truth and freedom. I like the way Diana Eck (Encountering God) defines pluralism as involving a commitment to one’s faith community as well as an openness to learning from and with other religious groups. Pluralism therefore is not relativism… A pluralist attitude is grounded in one’s faith traditions but is open to learning from and with other traditions. It therefore includes a sense of confidence about one’s faith as well as a sense of humility in the presence of other faiths.
The first two attitudes are obviously prevalent among Asians. The third attitude is not something new at all but is just not readily and properly understood by people.
So what does peace education entail in a plural context such as Asia? I would like to suggest some practical ways for peace education that helps to build a culture of peace.
First of all, it begins with affirming the reality of Asian plurality and the need to deal with it positively and creatively. This involves knowing the layers of plurality that characterise Asia—by virtue of the many races, ethnic groups, cultures and sub-cultures, religions, philosophies and spirituality, languages and dialects, ideologies and theologies, that are all part of and thriving in Asia. When we speak of Asia, we cannot and we should not think of a region that is monolithic. Rather, we should think and affirm that it is a region that is so diverse and colorful. Think for a moment about Asian food or cuisine and you can already imagine the different unique Asian ingredients that give colors and fragrances and create a variety of exotic dishes. That is exactly what being Asian is about. Asia does not consist of one community but a community of communities. With such a diversity exclusivism in thinking and attitudes will surely create problems and difficulties. The challenge then is how these different communities can live together in peace and harmony while respecting and affirming their uniqueness and differences.
In the life of the Student Christian Movement affirming the reality of Asian plurality means accepting the fact that there are many other youth and students who belong to other religious groups and social movements. And indeed there are many such groups in universities and schools, and many of them seem to respond to the needs of youth and students. Should the SCM see these groups as competition, some kind of enemy in need of conversion? Or should the SCM see them as potential partners for the common task of ministering to youth and students of Asia? Second, we need to have an awareness-raising on our exclusivist attitudes and tendencies to others around us. This takes an honest self-assessment because people can be easily blinded by their rationalisations of why others are and should be excluded from one’s in-group. Exclusivism has been the way for many of our ethnic groups in Asia—so much so that cross-cultural marriages were shunned and discouraged. Exclusivism is reinforced by peculiar languages or dialects and sub-cultures that are unique to particular groups. Exclusivism is expressed more blatantly when those of other groups are deprived of certain rights simply because they do not belong to the in-group.
Perhaps in the life of the Student Christian Movement in Asia today, there is a growing openness to youth and students of other denominations, even those of other religions. But in many places, the exclusive attitudes and tendencies still prevail. Also in many places, more still needs to be done in terms of dealing with those of different sexual orientation, ideological persuasion, and those of different castes. Youth and students need to be able to answer themselves honestly why the allergy or aversion to certain groups of people, what are those stereotypes they hold about people, where did they learn to have such thinking and attitude, etc. Dealing with the root of our exclusivism is a great step forward to dealing creatively with plurality.
Third, we need to critique those inherited traditions that support our exclusivist attitudes and tendencies. These traditions may be cultural or religious and they usually are very deeply entrenched in the psyche of the people. Many of them have simply been inherited and passed on to the next generation without question. In order to critique those inherited traditions that support exclusivist attitudes and tendencies, we need to re-read sacred texts and revisit teachings that have been handed down to us without question. For example, the few references in the Bible to same-sex acts do not refer to homosexuality as it is understood today. The incident described in Judges 19:22 is about gang rape rather than the loving relationship of a couple who happens to be of the same sex. On the matter of caste, it is important to understand when and why the caste system got introduced into the religious and cultural system of a people, and who got it introduced anyway? Another important question to ask is how the caste system is also present in other religions/cultures although it is not named that way.
The Student Christian Movement has been, historically speaking, the critical eye or arm of churches and universities. As such, it can and it should help in unearthing some of those inherited traditions that continue to promote exclusivism. This of course is better done together with other groups, which is an exercise in affirming plurality.
Finally, genuine peace education happens, when after the earlier points have been well taken we become partners with other groups in the advocacy for peace and reconciliation. Recognising that Asia is big and wide enough to accommodate the many communities that are thriving in it, there is no need for the different groups to be against each other; or for any one group to be above or better than all the others. The way to live in Asia is for peaceful co-existence of neighbors and friends, not strangers and enemies. This is possible through building just relationships and enabling just sharing of the rich resources of Asia.
A Bible Study by Ms. Norma P. Dollaga
from the KASIMBAYAN for Women Doing Theology 2003
Feminist theology gives us an opportunity to explore a form of re-reading the Bile from a particular point-of-view: from the eyes of a woman, of a struggling and hopeful woman! Let us promote feminist theology not just another threatening method and highly academic affair. Let us learn it by doing it.
I prepared two (2) particular women in the Bible for our Bible Study today. All of must take part and must actively participate in our learning, re-learning and unlearning together.
Talk to yourself (individual reflection). Kindly fill-up the table below
Name one woman in the Bible whose life is a representation of Struggle, courage and hope
What are her traits? What are her struggles? what are images of hope you see in her?
Draw a Symbol of her of LIFE
Next, talk to your neighbour! Group Sharing Exercise.
Share what you have written.
The Syrophoenician Woman’s forceful demand led us to be intrigued by Jesus’ attitude towards her. Definitely she was an “outsider”. Matthew calls her “Canaanite” while Mark calls her “Syrophoenecian.” Being a Canaanite, reminds us of the ancient struggle between Canaanites who lived in Palestine and the early Israelites who were ancestors of the Jews. “Syrophoenecian” means a Phoenecian from Syria which is a gentile region of Galilee. We are very certain that this woman is not a Jew, therefore considered as an “outsider”.
But a strong and impressive characteristic of this woman had marked the Gospel: she is loud, assertive and dynamic. I have never read a text in the Bible that ever challenged Jesus in such a manner. (Although I was surprised that Jesus was also capable of being snobbish). This “outsider” has called the attention of Jesus’ unlikely attitude. Alas, here comes a woman who bravely addressed the exclusive tendency of a person.
However, her assertiveness was created by a material condition. She was in need. Her daughter had to survive. This situation is not like an intellectual debate of a particular issue of a privileged woman with Jesus. The Syrophoenician woman had a basic issue: life and death of her daughter. Her sharpness comes from the very urgent call of the time: survival. It is interesting to note that while patriarchy dichotomise human beings into thinking and feeling, mind and body, wonderfully, the woman has both. She has the brain to engage into a life-and-death issue. And her thinking/intellectual capacity was moulded by a material condition of trying to bring her child into a normal and healthy life.
All that mattered to her was the life of her child who happened to be a girl. At that time boys were preferred than girls. Yet to the eyes of a mother, a son or a daughter who comes from her womb is precious.
When Jesus said in a very offending manner: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel….It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs,” the woman never run out of logic, heartful, and soulful response: “but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the owner’s table.” (Mt.15:24,26,27).
It was an act of risking that Jesus shifted his course of dialogue with this woman. It was her act of risking that her child was healed.
The widow’s persistence, vigilance and courage are characteristics that challenged even the most heartless, unfeeling, and callous judge. She had banged the walls of the court dominated by men of power and influence. She had raised her voice that no one could tone her down and to make her quiet.
Who would not be afraid of her? At first impression one would say that she is a woman full of rage and anger. This is a negative emotion and should be meted with suppression and antagonism. But looking deeply at the story, her life is filled with love and hope. What she is fighting for is right and just. Her life is filled with anger and rage but also filled with love and life. One cannot fight for life and justice without hope and love.
Patriarchy has taught women to be meek and patient, to be virtuous and plain. And when confronted with crisis and contradiction, the best way to do is to wait and be passive.
The widow in our story subverted the tradition and the roles assigned to women. She became a dangerous and a subversive woman. And JUSTICE was served.
Like the widow who have known her state of periphery and marginalisation, but find herself seeking and pursuing what is justly hers, the women need to organise themselves to participate for the cause that truly counts. The widow had been persistent. Perhaps she had been afraid for the actions she decided to take. But she had to overcome this fear because there was a struggle that had to be won.
As the women workers have been agonising because they are denied of their right to a living wage, equal pay for equal work; as the urban poor women are suffering from violence of demolition and denial of social services; as peasant women along with their husbands and children lamenting because of militarisation amidst their struggle for land and life; as women are experiencing horrible stories of as they are forced work in a strange land only to find themselves victims of sex trafficking; as women are experiencing painful and deliberate economic marginalisation even among professionals, employees, self-employed, businesswomen as the political and economic situation worsens.
Let us know what we want to establish, and break down all the barriers to our dreams. Let us dare, let us risk, let us subvert the rules of oppression and exploitation. Justice will be served, we will be whole again. What the Syrophoenician woman had done in the story of Jesus, should continuously inspire us to carry on with our agenda of justice, peace and liberation. We must uphold the tradition of women’s struggle if we want to be counted as shapers and creators of history. In the name of women who lived a life of resistance against tyrants and oppressors, in memory of Deborah, Judith Mary, the Syrophoeninician woman, the nameless women and all women who fought for life,
Let us continue to weave our history….
Until we give birth to a society of shalom.
by Mak Chung Lai
SCM Hong Kong
When I was staying in Manila for my internship programme, I had an engaging conversation with my friends over lunch one day. One of them, Ms. Fides Bagasao, the Executive Director of Community Organisers Multiversity (COM) told me that she would go to Davao City for a conference. “If you want, you can go with me. It will be a good experience,” she said.
Prior to this invitation, many people in the Philippines told me that Davao City might be the most important and safe city in Mindanao Island because the city is still controlled by the Army. The Muslim militant groups (MNLF and MILF) would not attack it. However, it was an irony when it went through the bombing attack in the Davao International Airport in March 2003. Much news about the bombing attacks and kidnappings (especially from the Abu Sayyaf group) in Mindanao and the other Southern part Islands were then reported in the newspapers. Therefore, my first reaction was “visit Mindanao ------ just kidding?!”.
However, Mr. Na, my director in LOCOA (Leaders and Organisers of Community Organising in Asia), recommended me to visit Mindanao. He said that the environment and culture in Mindanao are very different to Manila. It will be a good opportunity to understand the situation of Philippines. Moreover, if the guide were Ms. Fides, it would be safer. I thought to myself, “If I don’t visit Mindanao this time, I may not have the second opportunity for the rest of my life.” I considered and then decided to go.
After that trip, I got a general concept about the situation, problems and the work of the peacemakers in Mindanao and I was interested to know more about the issues of independence and the situation of the Muslims in Mindanao. I wanted to visit the communities and experience their living. Thus, I asked Mr. Na if I could have an exposure to Mindanao. Actually, he was surprised by my idea. Then, we talked with Ms. Fides and the organisers from Mindanao. At last, they promised to arrange the exposure for me.
Hence, I left Manila for Mindanao on 2nd July and met Fahad, the organiser of COM who took me to the office. Then, we started the trip to the village after lunch. Four hours later, we arrived at a small village and slept in an organiser’s house. On the next day, we went to Cotabato where we would go to the “Peace Zone”.
Due to the conflicts between the Army and the MILF, many barangays (villages) and people were destroyed and killed. Therefore, the organisers and the leaders from communities made an agreement with the government and the MILF that the villagers were centrist without siding with any party at all, so both the Army and the MILF will not enter the barangays.
Although the communities were near to Cotabato, we spent about two hours by jeepneys to reach to the destination. I visited three communities (Makir, Brgy. Bayanga Norte in Matanog and Brgy. Barorao in Balabagan). Actually, I liked the natural environment of Matanog and Balabagan more than Makir because Makir was located besides the highway.
The people who lived in Matanog were mostly farmers and Muslims. They told me that all Muslim in Mindanao wanted independence. Therefore, most of them supported the militant groups and joined the resistance. The civil war started again a few years ago with serious results of destruction. Now, the people are beginning to redevelop their communities such as house building, water supplies and peace advocacy.
However, I observed that some of them were still bringing their guns everywhere they went. They said that it was for self-defense but I was nervous when I saw guns everywhere in the community. I remembered there were many check points and soldiers outside the community. It was because the Muslim militant group was staying in the mountains near to the community. Although there was a “Peace Zone”, there was a lot of fear around. I realised that the issues in this conflict were very complicated.
I stayed only for two weeks in Mindanao but it was enjoyable and memorable. This was my first time to live in the Muslim communities and communicated with them directly and deeply. I hope they could gradually redevelop the communities to make them become the paradise the villagers long for. Then, I would enjoy a trip to Mindanao again.
We are a group of international and regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Hong Kong. We have been deeply concerned about the legislation related to Article 23 of the Basic Law since the consultation on the government’s proposals last year. At that time, we called for the publication of a White Bill to allow more time for public consultation on this law, the most controversial law since the reversion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China. However, the Hong Kong government has disregarded such a reasonable request from Hong Kong’s people and the international community and has submitted the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill to the Legislative Council (Legco) in February. Although some changes to the proposals in the consultation document are included in the bill, they are less than adequate to remove our anxieties that the bill, if it becomes law, will seriously threaten human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
First, the definitions in the bill remain so vague that it would allow the government to use the law as a legal weapon to deny, rather than protect, people’s rights. For instance, the term “instigates” in Section 2(1)(b) of the amendments to the Crimes Ordinance is so broad and imprecise that the government could prosecute individuals solely for the expression of an opinion, and the meaning of “intimidating the Central People’s Government” in 2A(1)(c) could be interpreted in a very broad manner by government officials. Moreover, the phrase “serious criminal means” in (2A(4)(b)) covers a wide variety of activities in which a massive e-mail campaign to government departments or a large demonstration that blocks traffic could be interpreted as seriously disrupting an electronic system or essential service, facility or system.
Second, the offences of sedition and the handling of seditious publications pose a serious threat to freedom of expression. As the offences of treason, subversion and secession are ill-defined and the government rejects incorporating in the sedition offence the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, any expression in support of legitimate demands for democracy and human rights in mainland China and Hong Kong may be considered as committing sedition.
Third, the bill provides for a new category of protected information that “relates to any affairs concerning the HKSAR which are, under the Basic Law, within the responsibility of the Central Authorities.” Any unlawful and damaging disclosure of such information will become an offence. The information covered under this new category of information remains unclear though and could include a wide range of information related to political and economic rights and the livelihood of Hong Kong’s people. As a result, freedom of the press and freedom of information will be seriously restricted. The experience of dealing with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in Hong Kong and mainland China shows that a free flow of information is essential to the protection of people’s basic rights, even to the right to life. However, this necessary transparency will be put at risk by this new category of protected information. Moreover, the bill does not indicate who will make the important decision about what specific information is a state secret. Presumably, it will be the Chinese government without any oversight by the courts in Hong Kong-a potentially dangerous mechanism.
Fourth, another concern about this legislation is the power it confers on the police to search Hong Kong’s homes, offices and factories and seize materials without a warrant issued by a court. In the experience of other Asian jurisdictions, to provide the police with search and seizure powers without warrants often leads to an abuse of this power and an increase in corruption. Consequently, we believe that no police officer or government official of any rank should hold such immense power.
The Abu Sayyaf Group was formed with the aid of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the CIA in 1980’s in its efforts to digress the rising Muslim secessionist struggle in Mindanao. Now, the ASG is a band of bandits notorious in the kidnap-for ransom activities, without political ideology and is prevailing with AFP’s collution and shaky deals.
Fifth, the bill allows the proscription of any organisation in the community which is subordinate to a mainland organisation that has been banned on national security grounds by the central government. Under this particular proposal, the definition of “national security” in Hong Kong will be determined in the central government in Beijing, and local organisations will become unlawful without any oversight and protection by the courts in Hong Kong, thereby eroding the “one country, two systems” model. The bill also suggests that during the appeal against proscription the appellant and their lawyer can be excluded from attending the appeal hearing in order to “protect” the publication of evidence which might prejudice national security. This arrangement, however, goes against the principles of equality before the courts and the right to a fair and public hearing. The proposals for holding trials in camera without the attendance of the defendants and the proposed withholding of the “particulars” of the reasons for proscription go far beyond what is needed by Article 23 and, in fact, run contrary to both the Basic Law and international standards on the right to fair trials which Hong Kong is obliged to uphold. Indeed, the introduction of such proposals represents a massive retrograde step for the internally recognised rights of Hong Kong’s citizens. The recent amendment proposed by the government to enable the secretary for security to make regulations concerning appeals creates an even greater danger to people’s right to association, for it institutionalises and legalises a conflict of interest in which the person who decides to proscribe an organisation also makes the rules on the appeal of that decision.
The vitality of Hong Kong and its economy depends on its free environment and rule of law. With these advantages, Hong Kong now plays a key role as a bridge between the international community and mainland China. In addition to foreign companies, many regional and international organisations like us have implemented programmes related to mainland China, such as research on social issues and the promotion of safeguards on the basic rights of workers and vulnerable groups. If this bill becomes law, the function of Hong Kong as a bridge between China and the outside world will be greatly diminished. The new law will create a filter between Hong Kong and China that will inhibit the free flow of information. The chilling effects of this law will also suffocate the initiatives of Hong Kong’s people and the international community to support humane and sustainable development in China, for people will fear that their China-related activities will be considered subversive or seditious or that the information they have acquired may be considered a state secret.
We are at a moment in time when we are in need of more transparency and accountability, not less. SARS reminds us of this wisdom. Considering the threats of the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill to human rights, the rule of law and the vitality of Hong Kong, we strongly urge the Hong Kong government to withdraw this bill. The price to be paid by Hong Kong in the name of protecting national security is too high a price to pay and will, in fact, harm China’s interests, not protect or promote them.
We also call upon all Legco members not to repeat the same mistake as the government during the consultation period by hastily examining this bill. It is the responsibility of Legco to protect the human rights of Hong Kong’s people and to ensure their right to be fully consulted in the legislative process. We ask Legco to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong.
Amnesty International, Hong Kong Section
Asia Monitor Resource Centre
Asian Human Rights Commission
China Labour Bulletin
Centre for Justpeace in Asia Documentation for Action Groups in Asia
Human Rights in China, Hong Kong Office
World Student Christian Federation Asia-Pacific