The mass resignation of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers has raised doubts about campaigns pushing for anti-slavery legislation and equality for same-sex couples in the Chinese city, human rights groups said on Friday.
The withdrawal came after Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government expelled four lawmakers from the legislature this week, for endangering national security, prompting the remaining 15 opposition members to quit in solidarity.
Two of the four disqualified lawmakers were Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, who had been spearheading efforts since 2017, to ask the Hong Kong legislature to enact an anti-slavery legislation modelled after Britain’s Modern Slavery Act.
“There is little chance that this important bill will move forward,” Matt Friedman, chief executive of the Hong Kong-based anti-slavery group, The Mekong Club, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, calling the development a “setback”.
“Had this bill proceeded, it would have provided a viable model for other countries or territories across Asia to introduce new requirements for private sector organisations in regards to their business and supply chains.”
The Hong Kong government has previously said its current mechanism is effective in tackling trafficking crimes, but the US State Department placed the city on the second-lowest ranking in its annual trafficking report this year.
Campaigners say forced labour is common among the city’s 370,000 migrant domestic workers, with a 2016 study by campaign group, Justice Centre Hong Kong, showing one in six was a victim.
Justice Centre said by email it would “strive to work in partnership” with legislators across the political spectrum, to continue pushing for anti-slavery reforms.
China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the Asian financial hub, and Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, dismissed suggestions the legislature would become a rubber stamp.
The opposition camp has been broadly seen as more supportive, for issues such as anti-slavery reforms, and LGBT+ equality.
But its fate has been in doubt since the government, citing coronavirus risks, postponed September’s legislative elections by a year.
Raymond Chan, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker from the opposition, quit in September, in protest at the poll delay. He sought to legalise same-sex marriage during his term unsuccessfully.
“It’s another challenge but we will overcome challenges. For marriage equality, it’s going to be a long fight one way or another,” said Jerome Yau, co-founder of LGBT+ rights group, Hong Kong Marriage Equality.
His group would keep up the pressure through winning public and business support.
“Hong Kong is a business city. The voice of businesses carries weight in this city,” he added.
-Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi – Thomson Reuters Foundation