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World’s Top Human Rights Official Must Uphold Her Mandate and Press for Human Rights Protection for the People of Hong Kong

November 22, 2019

HRIC is deeply concerned about the statement by the spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during a briefing on November 19, 2019, that castigated the “extreme violence” committed by young protesters in Hong Kong, “including against the police force.” While acknowledging that “[t]he vast majority of the people of Hong Kong have been exercising their right of freedom of assembly peacefully and in accordance with the law,” the spokesperson went on to state that “the authorities have by and large respected the exercise of this right.”

These official statements seriously contradict the extensive documentation by the media and citizens of sustained and deadly escalation of violent and excessive force used by the Hong Kong police since mid-June against the protesters in a large-scale movement that had begun peacefully. Even more troubling, the statements ignore the fact that police violence—condoned by the Hong Kong SAR government— has fueled public anger in a deepening political crisis that the government has refused to address, and has been the driving force in what has become a humanitarian crisis that is now engulfing Hong Kong.

By implicitly condoning state-sanctioned violence in Hong Kong and narrowly focusing on the violent acts of a small number of protesters, the Office’s statement echoes the Communist Party of China’s narrative of protester violence and reinforces government impunity.

“The timing of the OHCHR statement is particularly alarming, made just days after Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong called for a harsher crackdown on ‘terrorist’ protesters, urging the Hong Kong government to ‘severely punish their violent acts,’” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “The tacit acceptance by the Office of the High Commissioner of the false reality advanced by the Hong Kong SAR and Beijing governments only serves to legitimate the systematic and ongoing violation of the rights of the Hong Kong people.”

Such violation has been legion over the five months of protest. In addition to routinely denying protesters their lawful rights to assemble and march, the police have deployed staggering amounts of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and water cannon to attack and disperse peaceful protestors and bystanders—all in clear violation of domestic and international standards for appropriate use of force. In the siege of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus begun last Saturday, the police blocked all exits, trapping protestors and non-protesters alike and forcing many to flee by dangerous routes. In all, the police have used over 10,000 tear gas canisters, affecting up to 88 percent of Hong Kong residents; they have fired live ammunition wounding three young protesters; and they have blinded a journalist with a rubber bullet. Police authorities have arrested at least 5,000 people, including 51 individuals who identified themselves as first-aid workers and reporters in the PolyU siege—and hundreds of minors—with some 600 people charged; among the convicted is a boy aged only 12. These statistics are even more alarming in light of credible reports of denial of access to lawyers, mistreatment, sexual abuse and rape, and torture of suspects while in detention, along with widely-circulated video evidence of police brutality in carrying out arrests and harassment and terrorizing of bystanders, including schoolchildren.

In the briefing, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson urged the Hong Kong SAR government to “bring together all sectors of society . . . to find peaceful solutions to the grievances.”  A critical first step toward addressing the grievances would be the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all acts of violence by the police and hold those accountable before the law—a step that has received sustained strong support in public opinion. We urge the High Commissioner to exercise the authority of her mandate to press the Hong Kong SAR government to take this critical first step.

Related Resources

UN Statements & Actions, & China's Response

HRIC Interviews

HRIC Commentaries

Civil Society Efforts

Hong Kong related resources

2019 Anti-Extradition Protests

2014 Occupy Movement


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