Law & Crime Opinion Politics & Protest

No whitewash and no witch hunt; Hong Kong needs a truth and reconciliation commission

By Chris Maden

On Thursday October 3, in pre-trial hearings, one of the accused needed a walking frame. He claimed that both his hips had been broken when he was arrested, that he was subsequently beaten again in custody, denied medical attention and denied legal counsel. He was 14 years of age.

On Sunday October 6, a taxi knocked over a protester – whether by accident or intent, I do not know. The taxi was demolished, the driver attempted to escape but was chased down and beaten. He was white-bearded and unarmed against a mob with a hammer and, at one point, a dagger.

october 6 taxi ramming

Photo: Inmediahk.net.

I could go on; I shall not. China seems more than happy to see One Country Two Systems collapse from within and, with extreme elements both in the police and the protestors, we Hongkongers are handing the Chinese Communist Party proof on a plate that we do not deserve One Country, Two Systems.

If Hong Kong is to retain any vestige of its distinctive self, it needs to heal from within. An independent inquiry into police conduct is going to be a whitewash or a witch-hunt.

So I would like to propose that Hong Kong create its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

south africa truth and reconciliation commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. File Photo: Desmond Tutu Peace Centre.

The model for this is, of course, Nelson Mandela’s TRC in post-Apartheid South Africa. I am not suggesting that Hong Kong’s problems are as deep-rooted, systemic or as repugnant as Apartheid. But, with families divided and friendships on hold or ruined, Hong Kong risks losing the social cohesion that underpins its once vibrant civil society. That cohesion sets us apart from China; that is worth keeping.

Some Preliminaries

Given that our government is incompetent, it would be ideal if a TRC could function without it. Unfortunately, a TRC can only work if the proceedings are public, and witnesses can speak without fear of prosecution. A prerequisite, therefore, is that all prosecutions from the current protests are put on hold (this is not an amnesty, merely a stay) while the TRC is in operation. It further requires enabling legislation that no one can be prosecuted on the sole basis of their testimony. Both of these require government action.

A critical part of ensuring that a TRC has credibility is its composition. My suggestion is that the commission should be a tribunal. There is no point in pretending that each member will be independent: the problem is to balance the biases. It seems to me that the most credible combination would be a retired judge, a senior prelate, and the only establishment figure who isn’t despised by the protestors and population at large, Jasper Tsang.

Jasper Tsang

Jasper Tsang. Photo: Hong Kong Vision.

As to the terms of reference and workings of a TRC, there are plenty of templates to choose from.

Changes

If the CCP permits Hong Kong’s government to proceed to a TRC, a couple of gestures of goodwill may help. Here are two suggestions, neither very original, but both within the power of the local government according to the Basic Law.

  1. As David Webb says in this post, it is within the government’s powers to enact legislation that forces all functional constituencies to be elected by people, not corporations. This would not prevent the functional constituencies from being rotten boroughs, but it may restore some semblance of propriety.
  2. The world’s largest single property development corporation is the Hong Kong Government. I am not talking about its incestuous relationship with the property tycoons, who are parasitic on it, but the government itself. Through the Housing Authority, statutory corporations such as the MTR, and the like, our government’s business is property. If it is to govern – as opposed to build stuff – this needs to change. I don’t know where the endpoint is, but a good start would be to broaden the tax base.

Neither of these is difficult to do. They can be packaged not as concessions but as initiatives; if proposed quickly and managed well, they may start to settle things down.

The CCP

I stated above that there are times when it seems that Beijing wants One Country, Two Systems to fail.

The “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere,” or “Document Number Nine” was produced at the start of the Xi era, and essentially stated that all Western political ideas were bad, and the core ideas of Western democracy were especially bad.

basic law

Basic Law. File photo: GovHK.

The Basic Law entrenches the core values of Western democracy in One Country, Two Systems. The Basic Law is therefore inconsistent with Document Number Nine. This is the contradiction at the heart of much that is wrong with Hong Kong’s governance: the perceived meddling, the impression that Hong Kong’s actual government is the Central Liaison Office and that Carrie Lam and her cronies are mere puppets.

Conversely, a superficial adherence to the Basic Law is needed to mollify China’s perceived enemies in the West. Hence the impression that China can live with the form of the Basic Law, but rejects the substance.

I do not know how long this uneasy ideological compromise can last. The TRC I suggest, in combination with some legislative tinkering, may shore up One Country, Two Systems. But until the ideological contradiction at the heart is resolved, I fear there is little prospect of a long-term solution.


Chris Maden runs a small IT business and is a consultant for central banks in developing countries. He writes fiction, non-fiction and blogs at chrismaden.com.

No whitewash and no witch hunt; Hong Kong needs a truth and reconciliation commission