A panel of United Nations experts on Thursday called for China to protect the rights of protesters in Hong Kong and expressed alarm at reports of attacks on demonstrators and arrests of activists.
“The way forward is not through the repression of dissenting voices and the use of excessive force,” the experts said in a statement. “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.”
The group of experts, comprised of special rapporteurs David Kaye, Michel Forst, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule and Nils Melzer, issued the statement from Geneva after a hearing at the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The council also heard opposition to the protesters from pro-Beijing members of the business community on Wednesday, including billionaire Pansy Ho, one of Hong Kong’s richest women.
Ho, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Women and daughter of Macau casino kingpin Stanley Ho, told the U.N. panel that she felt “repressed” by the protesters and that her family and business associates “live in fear on a daily basis.”
Ho said the demonstrations were having a negative impact on Hong Kong’s economy and that young protesters were being radicalized into “violent extremism.”
The U.N. experts, however, called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to ensure the protection of individuals exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
“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 protests have been marked by violent attacks against demonstrators by masked assailants thought to be tied to Hong Kong’s organized crime triads as well as multiple accounts of police brutality and the arrests of activist leaders.
The experts also condemned violence from a small segment of demonstrators and noted that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s decision last week to withdraw a contentious extradition bill “indicates willingness from the local authorities to address some of the claims articulated by demonstrators.”
Protesters, however, have called Lam’s move “too little, too late,” and have shown no inclination to curtail their movement until all of their demands are met, which include an investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections to choose the city’s politicians.
A new round of demonstrations and actions are planned for the weekend, including a hike up Hong Kong’s Lion Rock mountain on Friday and a “stress test” to disrupt transportation networks to Hong Kong’s airport on Saturday.
A march planned for Sunday was officially banned by police but organizers have appealed the decision.
Smaller-scale demonstrations have continued to pop up around Hong Kong throughout the week, including “sit-ins” at several shopping malls, where crowds gather to chant and sing a recently composed song that has been adopted as an anthem for the protest movement, “Glory to Hong Kong.”