(November25, 2019) The UN’s highest official principally responsible for human rights,High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, should publicly denounce the Hong Kong Governmentfor its systematic violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly andfreedom of expression, and condemn the unnecessary and disproportionate use of forceby police in Hong Kong.
The HongKong Police Force have systematically suppressed the right to peaceful assemblyby using excessive force against individuals exercising their rights, includingbeating peaceful protesters and using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubberbullets. Police have increasingly denied permits for assemblies and marches andarbitrarily detained individuals for “unlawful assembly.”
TheHong Kong and Chinese Central governments have allowed police to operate withcomplete impunity. No police officer has faced legal action over excessive useof force or abuse of power in connection to the violent suppression of theprotests since the demonstrations broke out. In contrast, police have arrested almost4,500 individuals in connection to the protests since June 9. There has been credibleevidence of torture and ill-treatment ofprotestors by police in detention.
OnNovember 19, the Office of the High Commissioner released a press briefing whichstated incorrectly that the Hong Kong “authorities have by and large respected the exercise of[the] right [to peaceful assembly].” The Office of the High Commissioner failedto condemn police violence. This amounts to a denial of the extensivedocumentationfrom credible sources of violations of human rights in Hong Kong and ignoresconcerns raised by other UNindependent experts.
According to the mandate determined by the UN General Assembly, theHigh Commissioner has the responsibility to “promote and protect the effectiveenjoyment by all of all human rights,” and to “play an active role in removingthe current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization ofall human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violationsthroughout the world.”
This mandate asks that the HighCommissioner use her position to raise serious concerns about human rightsabuses everywhere in the world. By not doing so, the Office has harmed its credibilityby ignoring police brutality and the suppression of the Hong Kong people’slargely peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms.
China’s Government in Beijing has increasinglysignalled that it is ultimately in charge in Hong Kong. On November 16, People’sLiberation Armysoldiers cleared up debris and bricks, withoutbeing invitedby the Hong Kong Government to assist, as required by the Basic Law. OnNovember 18, China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming said, “We[the Central Government] have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.” Holding the China-controlled HongKong Government accountable for its human rights abuses is a key test if the UNcan resist interference in the UN human rights system by anincreasingly powerful China.
Beginning in June, millions of peoplein Hong Kong have publicly demonstrated against an extradition bill to MainlandChina that would have underminedthe separate freedomsthat are enshrined in law in Hong Kong. The police have repeatedly responded to these peaceful protests with excessiveforce, and theprotests have since morphed into a movement denouncing police violence anddemanding full democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong. Policeinaction in the faceof attacks on protesters, journalists and bystanders at the Yuen Long MTR Stationon July 21 represented a clear failure to protect the rights to life andsecurity of persons. Journalists trying to cover the protestshave faced violence, intimidation, and threats from police,including an incident in which police shot anIndonesian journalist in the face with a rubber bullet while she covered theprotests, permanently blinding her in one eye. Medics and social workersproviding assistance to arrestees and injured individuals have also facedpolice obstruction.
The political situation in Hong Konghas deteriorated since October. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam usedcolonial-era emergencypowers to banface-masks at assemblies (which was later ruledunconstitutional)and police have used live ammunition to shoot three young protesters. The deathof 22-year-old studentChow Tsz-lok (周梓樂)on November 8 after being injured close to a police operation sparked the mostrecent outbreak of violence; the campuses of ChineseUniversity of Hong Kong (CUHK) and PolytechnicUniversityhave been turned into battlefields. While certain protestors have usedviolence, including petrol bombs, bricks and arrows, the Hong Kong PoliceForce’s response has been severe and disproportionate. Hong Kong police mustdistinguish violent elements from peaceful protestors and restrict the use offorce to the minimum extent necessary, in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on theUse of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
On June 28, four UN independenthuman rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council sent a communication to the Chinese Government raisingconcern over allegations of excessive use of force by Hong Kong police on June12 against “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrators. These same four expertsthen issued a publicstatement on September 12stating, “We are seriously concernedby credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed toensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free fromviolence or interference.” We are disappointed that this language does notappear in the Office of the High Commissioner’s November 19 press statement.
OnAugust 13, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said the Office has “credible evidence” of lawenforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited byinternational norms and standards” and urged the Hong Kong authorities to “actwith restraint.” The failure of Hong Kong authorities to heed this call fromthe High Commissioner’s office should have been raised in the latest pressstatement. Instead, the statement lacks a senseof proportion between the violent actions of small groups of protesters and thesystematic use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police againstunarmed protesters.
TheHigh Commissioner herself called on the Hong Kong Government to immediatelycarry out an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation” intoviolence during a press conference on October 5. HongKong has no independent mechanism toinvestigate excessive use of force by authorities, as the Independent PoliceComplaints Council (IPCC)’s expert advisers themselvesre-confirmed recently. The IPCC does not have investigatory powers such assubpoenaing documents and summoning witnesses. The Human Rights Committee,which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights, raised concernover the lack of independence of the IPCC to the Hong Kong Government in 2013.
The HighCommissioner for Human Rights must call on Hong Kong authorities to takeconcrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce violence on both sides - policeand protesters. As a minimum first step, Hong Kong authorities must establish anindependent commission of inquiry into excessive use of police force, bringing tojustice any law enforcement official responsible for unlawful use of force, aswell as their superior officers. Any response to allegations of violent attackson police must be handled through a fair judicial process. Those detainedsolely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expressionshould be unconditionally released and charges against them should beimmediately dropped.
Thisstatement is endorsed by:
ChildRights International Network (CRIN)
ChineseHuman Rights Defenders (CHRD)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
CSW(Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
Genevafor Human Rights
InternationalCampaign for Tibet
InternationalMovement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
InternationalService for Human Rights (ISHR)
InternationalTibet Network Secretariat
International Women's Rights ActionWatch Asia Pacific
Studentsfor a Free Tibet
TaiwanAssociation for Human Rights
Tibet Justice Center
WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT)
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