UPDATED 10 January 2020. See BBC Link on PTSD level in Homg Kong comparable to “conflict zones.”
Did you forget somebody’s anniversary this year? Did you forget everybody’s anniversary this year? December 10th is World Human Rights Day, a symbolic commemoration of the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A humanitarian landmark.
Can you imagine a world where that momentous event had never happened? A dehumanitarian world?
Close your eyes. I want you to imagine a City of violence; a fractured place where the people wage a war against their government. Imagine that you are injured in those protests, in a violent confrontation with law enforcement. You call for an ambulance. But a police car arrives. And you are arrested. Or an ambulance arrives. With police inside instead of ambulance men. And you are arrested.
Imagine a City where you are taken to hospital. Injured. And you are secretly allocated a tracking code, which labels you as an enemy of the state – and which is accessed by the police. They are the ones who patrol the hospital. And who arrest you.
Imagine a City where you need an emergency operation for your injuries, and the police request to enter the operating theatre. You wake up from the emergency surgery. And you are arrested in your recovery bed, perhaps by the very policeman who shot you.
Imagine the City that you return to after leaving the hospital. With the bullet still inside your body. Or not, it doesn’t matter. Because your Hospital Discharge Certificate reads: ‘trauma injury, unspecified cause’. Because the doctors have been warned not to diagnose an injury attributable to the police.
Who is caring for your children?
Imagine that City when you try to take legal action against the policeman who shot you. At recklessly close range. And you are told he cannot be identified. Ever. Because he was excused from wearing his identification number. In fact, none of the police have an identification number. Or a face. They are anonymous on duty, acting with the security of impunity sanctioned by a higher authority.
Imagine your City University. Where the students (your children) are protesting to protect their vision of the future. Their future. Their City. Their identity. And they are wounded. And hurting. And dehumanised. There is nobody to comfort them. Or treat them. This is because all the nurses and doctors who volunteered to care for them have been arrested. They are made to kneel with their wrists bound behind their backs. Arrested, arrayed and humiliated like so many red-crossed terrorists. (See article on Korea’s Tiananmen by Finnish journalist Rauli Virtanen)
Imagine your City Teaching Hospital, where the doctors have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Government. Not to Hippocrates. So nobody trusts the Government Hospital system anymore. And a new underground system of doctors and nurses, and clinics and hospitals has flourished to provide care in safety and security. With your human rights and confidentiality respected.
Open your eyes. Welcome to Hong Kong.
Now imagine what would it take to ‘rehumanise’ this place. Could the government and the people do it amongst themselves? Anymore than the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland could have on their own? (See Global Geneva article on One Man’s War for Dignity, the book on human rights activist Kevin Doyle by Hong Kong-based journalist Mike Chinoy, who also compares the situation to that of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland).
Surely not. A mediator. A good faith actor. Equally acceptable (or unacceptable) to both sides. A conduit through which the delicate shoots of a resolution can be channeled, to take root in the soil of the imagination of the other side. That is what is needed. And urgently so. Is that really so far beyond our collective humanitarianism ?
Darren Mann is a surgeon based in Hong Kong.