Protesters call for pro-democracy reform during a demonstration at the Hong Kong International Airport yesterday. Photo: Reuters
PROPORTIONATE RESPONSE: The UN is not saying that the Hong Kong police have it easy, a spokesman said, but only by avoiding excess force can the situation get better
/ Reuters, GENEVA, Switzerland
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet yesterday urged Hong Kong to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear gas in ways banned under international law, as protesters severely crippled airport operations for a second day, forcing authorities to cancel all remaining flights out of the territory.
Hong Kong authorities should engage in meaningful dialogue with protesters to restore public security, Bachelet said in a statement, while welcoming Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s （林鄭月娥） remarks on her commitment to listen to grievances.
“Officials can be seen firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” Bachelet said.
Her office “urges the Hong Kong authorities to act with restraint, to ensure that the rights of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected, while ensuring that the response by law enforcement officials to any violence that may take place is proportionate,” she said.
Her spokesman Rupert Colville conceded that security forces in Hong Kong were sometimes in a difficult situation.
“We are not saying it is easy, but nevertheless they have to avoid excesses, otherwise they can just make the situation worse,” he said.
A state of “panic and chaos” exists in Hong Kong, Lam said at a news conference yesterday morning, defying calls to quit.
Colville said that Bachelet’s office was in contact with both Hong Kong and Chinese officials about the situation.
Asked about China’s comments that “sprouts of terrorism” were emerging in Hong Kong, he said: “The use of strong rhetoric of the type you mentioned can only serve to inflame tensions and make an extremely volatile situation worse. There needs to be a genuine attempt by all sides towards a process of dialogue.”
After a brief respite early yesterday during which flights were able to take off and land, the Airport Authority Hong Kong announced that check-in services for departing flights were suspended as of 4:30pm.
The authority said that it did not expect arriving flights to be affected, although dozens were already canceled, and it advised people not to come to the airport.
Meanwhile, Chinese paramilitary police were continuing to assemble across the border in Shenzhen for exercises that some see as a threat to increase force against the mostly young protesters who have turned out in their thousands over the past 10 weeks.
Police have arrested more than 700 protesters since early June and have said that they have infiltrated the ranks of the demonstrators, leading to concerns that officers were inciting violence.
Additional reporting by AP and The Guardian