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An Urgent Call for Earnest Dialogue and Responsible Action

Regarding universal suffrage and civil disobedience

Statement of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong

In recent months there have been growing concerns that “genuine universal suffrage” for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 might not be achieved. In particular, there are worries that Article 45 of the Basic Law might be restrictively interpreted or otherwise used to set up a “nominating committee” that is “broadly representative,” in name only, but in reality is not, and a “method for selecting the Chief Executive” which professes to be, but is in fact not truly “in accordance with democratic procedures”. 

It appears that the “Occupy Central” movement currently being organised by some local people, as a form of “civil disobedience”, has come about precisely as a consequence of the above and other related concerns which must be seriously and responsibly addressed by the authorities and by all who have a stake in the future of Hong Kong. 

Since a democratic form of government is essential for the well-being of Hong Kong society, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong calls upon the Government to begin formal consultations on the appropriate electoral reform model without any further delay, and urges all stakeholders to enter into and maintain sincere and earnest dialogue with one another and actively search for solutions that will help to remove all root causes for civil disobedience and realise the goal of universal suffrage.

On 19 February 2012, in the diocesan weeklies, Kung Kau Po and the Sunday Examiner, and in three local newspapers, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong issued a statement expressing its expectations for the new government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. 

In that statement, the words of the late Pope John Paul II, quoted from his encyclical On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (“Centesimus Annus,” 1 May 1991, #46), voiced out the aspirations not only of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, but of all people of good will: “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.” 

In fact, a strong appeal for States to establish a democratic form of government had been made many years before in Article 21 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(10 December 1948):

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. This will is to be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage, and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The Catholic Church, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (“Gaudium et Spes”, 7 December 1965) of the Second Vatican Council, states that “the choice of political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens” (#74). 

The same document continues: “It is fully consonant with human nature that there should be politico-juridical structures providing all citizens without any distinction with ever improving and effective opportunities to play an active part in the establishment of the juridical foundations of the political community, in the administration of public affairs, in determining the aims and the terms of reference of public bodies, and in the election of political leaders” (#75).

Citizens have the right, and indeed at times the duty, to express their just criticisms and to make related recommendations in regard to what seems harmful to the dignity of persons and the good of the community [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), #2238]. 

Such right and duty are part of our civic responsibility and are fully consistent with the respect that is due to civil authority, which exists to serve the common good (cf. CCC, ##1898, 1902). 

In general, the legislature and the courts are the principal legal instruments for citizens to express discontent, achieve change and/or to redress grievances. 

Nevertheless, if persistent calls to correct serious injustice have not been given any positive response, or legal recourse is unavailable, or if non-democratic political structures do not allow any effective access to the normal means of redress or reform, exceptional situations can arise in which “civil disobedience”, within certain limits, is justified.

“Civil disobedience” by its very nature is intended to be non-violent. This feature, important though it is, is clearly not by itself a sufficient justification. 

In the case of the “Occupy Central” movement, it appears to be accepted by its supporters that there are other factors, as well as contingencies, to be taken into account, including, for example, such questions as when the government is going to start formal consultations and what nomination mechanism and procedures are eventually put forward by the authorities as being permitted by or ruled out as being incompatible with the Basic Law.

Whether “civil disobedience” in the form of “Occupy Central”, or indeed in any other form, is in fact justified must be considered on a case by case basis. It is the position of the Diocese, in line with the Catholic social teaching on civic responsibility (cf. CCC, #2234-2243; #1898-1903), that the conditions that justify “civil disobedience” are strict. 

In general, in the context of a society such as Hong Kong, which values justice, peace and freedom under the Rule of Law, an act of civil disobedience must not only be carried out in a peaceful and non-violent manner, but must also itself be an act of conscience directed at preventing or removing grave injustice and/or violation of fundamental rights. 

Other conditions include:

All concerned should continue to make every effort at rational dialogue.

All other peaceful means of redress have been exhausted.

The act of civil disobedience must itself be a just and proportionate response to the injustice that it reasonably seeks and hopes to prevent or remove.

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong takes the view that unjust exclusion from meaningful political participation in the choice of one’s leaders and representatives in civil government is certainly a grave injustice and violation of fundamental rights which ought to be redressed without further delay. 

Therefore, in line with its statement of last February, the Diocese calls upon the authorities for the following to be planned for and achieved, with an increased sense of urgency:

The Chief Executive shall be directly elected by universal suffrage in 2017 (on a one person, one vote basis). 

All the members of the legislature shall also be directly elected by universal suffrage in geographical constituencies (on a one person, one vote basis), in any event, no later than 2020. Functional constituencies should be abolished. 

All members of District Boards shall be directly elected on a one person, one vote basis by citizens of each District.

The mechanism and procedures for nominating candidates for election to the office of Chief Executive must be truly democratic so as to facilitate the right of the citizens to choose their leaders and fully realise the principle of universal suffrage. 

 

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong makes this urgent appeal for earnest dialogue and responsible action in the hope that, through the collaborative efforts of all, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be able to build up a truly democratic, fair and accountable system of government which is essential for the maintenance of justice and peace.

 

 

24 July 2013

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