Press release: The right to health must be defended in Hong Kong

Press release: The right to health must be defended in Hong Kong

Advocating for the protection of human rights is fundamentally based on the idea that humans — individuals — are the basis of society. Once we sacrifice the well-being of individuals for the sake of political ideologies, any claim that such actions were carried out in the name of human rights automatically becomes void. 

Clashes between Hong Kong protesters and the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) have now been ongoing for over five months. Originally sparked off by peaceful demonstrations in defiance of an extradition bill, it has now turned into city-wide protests, calling for democratic reform and an end to police brutality, with increasing levels of violence. Over the past six months, the HKPF has fired 9000 canisters of tear gas, introduced the use of water cannons and long-range acoustic devices, and increased their usage of live ammunition.1 Protesters have also escalated their use of force, now employing bows and arrows, trebuchets, and molotov cocktails. Amidst the increasing chaos in Hong Kong, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) would like to call for international attention on the disproportionate infringement of the right to health and security of Hong Kong citizens.

Over the past few months, the HKPF has carried out obstruction and destruction of medical care on a large scale. They have denied first aiders and paramedics access to locations where medical help was needed, which unnecessarily delayed medical access to the injured. Tear gas was widely fired near hospitals and into first-aid stations, as first-aid stations were raided and wrecked. Moreover, a photo of arrested first-aiders, paramedics and doctors went viral on the internet, harshly manifesting the denial of HK protesters’ right to health.2-11 The obligation to respect and protect medical practitioners, activities, and transports in armed conflicts is well established in customary International Humanitarian Law.12 Although the IHL is only applicable in times of war, it would be unreasonable to suggest unbreachable moral codes in times of war are breachable in civil conflicts. The HKPF’s obstruction of medical transports and medical personnel contradicts these moral principles, preventing medical access by those in need. The Federation calls upon the HKPF, along with all other societal stakeholders to uphold these fundamental rights. We also urge the Hong Kong government to develop and implement specific measures to ensure the continuity of health services in cases of such sudden disruptions in society.

The force used by both protestors and the HKPF is also becoming increasingly disproportional. Irritants such as dioxin in tear gas and water cannons are known to be able to result in permanent disabilities such as blindness, vegetative state from traumatic brain injury, and even death13. Given the seriousness of its side effects, it is concerning that tear gas is commonly deployed in enclosed and highly concentrated areas, or even near hospitals, elderly care centres, and first aid stations.4,10,14 We urge the Hong Kong government to re-evaluate its guidelines on tear gas use to ensure its appropriate usage by the HKPF, and to ensure that the proper guidelines are abided to by the police. Devices such as tear gas and water cannons ought to only be used for the dispersion of crowds, but inappropriate usage of such tools have inflicted direct harm on protestors and the uninvolved public, resulting in skull fractures in serious cases.15,16 The HKPF’s increasing use of live ammunition has also resulted in protesters being shot in the chest or in the abdomen without appropriate warning.17,18 Such use of force is unwarranted, and minimal force ought to be used by the HKPF when controlling crowds.

On the other hand, escalating violence on the part of protestors is also concerning. There have been isolated cases where a man has been doused in flammable liquid before being set on fire, leaving him in a critical condition19; a 70-year-old has passed away after being struck in the head with a brick20, and a police officer was shot in the leg with an arrow21. Protesters have also thrown objects from a height onto roads22 in an effort to blockade roads, posing a genuine threat to the safety of uninvolved individuals. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, IFMSA maintains that all individuals are entitled to the freedom of expression and the right to protest. However, the Federation also condemns all attempts at inflicting grievous bodily harm on others or ending another person’s life.

As mentioned in the beginning, IFMSA maintains that the fundamental right to health must also be defended under all circumstances, regardless of institutional and individuals’ own political beliefs. Therefore, we call upon all Hong Kong stakeholders to respect the sanctity of medical assistance — that its only intention be that of saving lives.

WORKS CITED

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  2. 被捕者嘔吐倒地 警拒急救員治理 醫護斥「只顧拉人 罔顧人權」 – 20191029 – 要聞. (2019, October 29). Retrieved from https://news.mingpao.com/pns/要聞/article/20191029/s00001/1572287296729/被捕者嘔吐倒地-警拒急救員治理-醫護斥「只顧拉人-罔顧人權」. 
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