A cautious embrace: defending democracy in an age of autocracies Contents

4Hong Kong and Interpol

37.One of the aims of this inquiry is to examine in what ways the UK should work with its democratic partners on the international stage. This chapter focuses on the UK’s response to the crisis in Hong Kong and the ways in which the UK can cooperate with democracies through Interpol to counter influence from autocracies.

Hong Kong

38.In April 2019, our report on China and the international rules-based system noted the dangerous erosion of the One Country, Two Systems principle of governance in Hong Kong. Since then, the situation has markedly deteriorated. We reiterate our view that the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong is a legally binding international treaty registered at the United Nations. Its validity and implementation are of profound importance both to UK national interests and to the health of the rules-based international system. We are therefore deeply concerned by the events in Hong Kong over the last six months, which have demonstrated that Hong Kong’s autonomy is at risk, especially in the area of the rule of law, which underpins its economy.

39.As one of the judiciaries represented in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (CFA), we believe that there could be a reputational risk to the UK if the Government inadvertently appears complicit in supporting and participating in a system that is undermining the rule of law. In August, we wrote to our counterparts in the parliaments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, also represented on the CFA, to urge our governments to assess the impact of continued participation in the CFA if current trends continue.

40.The issue of British National Overseas passport holders has also come to our attention in the course of this inquiry. As individuals holding the BN(O) passports do not have British citizenship, they do not benefit from the same rights accorded to UK citizens. In the context of the well-documented arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators, book sellers and political activists, we are concerned that BN(O) passport holders, by reason of not having the right of abode in the UK, may become more vulnerable to arrests by authorities.66

41.In its response to this report, the Government should provide us with its assessment of the reputational risk to the UK being an active participant in the Hong Kong judiciary. We recommend that the Government coordinates its response to the Hong Kong crisis with the governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand as judiciaries represented in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. We further recommend that the Government extends the right of abode to Hong Kong residents who are British National (Overseas) passport holders as a means of reassurance that the UK cares about its nationals.


42.We considered the growing problem of political abuse of Interpol, an important multilateral organisation, by autocracies. Contributors to the inquiry told us that political abuse of Interpol, primarily by autocracies, is a growing problem in the organisation in the area of red notices.67

43.Currently, draft red notices enter databases and are shared across the police database systems of Interpol member states. Although a red notice requires approval from Interpol itself, a ‘diffusion’ notice can be circulated by and among any member of the organisation. Crucially, the notices are acted upon irrespective of whether additional checks have been done to ascertain the motive of the request. Professor Heathershaw told us reforms of the red notice system were supposed to “ensure that the checks would be done more thoroughly in advance, but we still see cases where unregistered refugees are being held up at airports, which they should not be, according to Interpol processes, but they are, because of the requests of authoritarian states.”68

44.We believe that the financial leverage of the UK and its democratic partners in Interpol is considerable and should be used to counter abuses. Dr Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in the US, said that “autocracies may stand on a roughly equal plane with the democracies in the General Assembly, but they do not control it financially.”69 To illustrate this, of the top 25 contributors to Interpol, 20 are democratic states, collectively paying 78.1 % of Interpol’s statutory contributions. On the other hand, the only non-democracies in the top 30 contributors are China (2.03 million euros), Russia (958,000 euros), and Saudi Arabia (437,000 euros).70 Ted Bromund noted that “all four of these nations contributed only 785,000 euros more in 2017 than the United Kingdom did by itself.”71

45.We recommend that the FCO steps up its work with the Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) and its counterparts in democratic states within Interpol to collectively encourage reform of the red notice system to protect it from abuse by autocracies.

67 A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.

68 Dr John Heathershaw, written evidence (AFP0029), para 14

69 Dr Theodore Bromund, written evidence (AFP0028), para 16

70 Ibid para 18

71 Ibid para 18

Published: 5 November 2019