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UN experts urge China to respect protesters' rights

GENEVA (12 September 2019) - UN human rights experts* reacted with alarm to reports of attacks on demonstrators, arrests of activists and human rights defenders, and threats to communications, as protests in Hong Kong entered their third month.

The experts welcomed the detailed response to their concerns and looked forward to continued dialogue with the authorities.

They urged the authorities of Hong Kong and China to ensure the full protection of individuals exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to ensure that any restriction is authorised by law, and necessary and proportionate. “We are seriously concerned by credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed to ensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free from violence or interference,” the experts said.

“The way forward is not through the repression of dissenting voices and the use of excessive force. We urge authorities to engage in a genuine dialogue with a view to addressing the concerns of an enormous number of protesters who are worried about the future of Hong Kong.

“We note that Hong Kong officials announced the withdrawal of the extradition bill, which indicates willingness from the local authorities to address some of the claims articulated by demonstrators.”

The experts underlined the obligations of the authorities under fundamental principles of international law to respect, protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. “We condemn any form of violence by anyone, especially excessive use of force by law enforcement,” the experts said. We recall that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is applicable in Hong Kong, authorities must protect the safety and rights of those who participate in assemblies and create an environment conducive to a diverse and pluralistic expression of ideas and dissent from government policy.

“We understand the responsibility of authorities to ensure public order, but international standards require that such an objective cannot displace the rights of individuals to freedom of expression and the right to protest.

“Likewise, we have been concerned by reports of sporadic violence among a small segment of demonstrators, and we thus welcome the fact that demonstration leaders have called for protesters to maintain the peaceful nature of the protests and to refrain from violence and hostility. We urge that all heed the calls for peaceful protest and that authorities strictly observe the principles of necessity and proportionality in dealing with violence.”

They also said that everyone in Hong Kong, whether protesting or not, enjoys the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.

The experts concluded by reiterating their condemnation of violence from any side, and by urging police forces to distinguish violent elements from peaceful protesters, who must be free to express their views.

The UN experts have shared their concerns with the authorities. “We take note of the challenges faced by local authorities as expressed on 3 September, and we support a peaceful way to address the current tensions. We welcome the engagement of the Chinese authorities who have been sharing updates on the situation in the past weeks, and we commit to continue our constructive and frank dialogue with State authorities and all stakeholders. We remain ready to support any efforts to facilitate a participatory, inclusive and genuine dialogue between government authorities and peaceful protesters,” the experts added.

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