UN watchdog faults Hong Kong on reforms

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A United Nations rights watchdog on Thursday pressed Hong Kong to enact democratic reforms, saying moves so far fell short of what was needed.

Amid weeks of mass pro-democracy protests and roadblocks in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, the UN Human Rights Committee said Hong Kong authorities had failed to properly heed its calls for change.

"It's clear that a C1 grade is appropriate, since we have received a response, but from the response it appears that no actions have been taken that implement our recommendation," said committee member Cornelis Flinterman, a Dutch human rights expert.

The committee oversees respect for global rules on civil and political rights, and submits governments to regular review.

Hong Kong's turn came in 2013. It was given a year to report back to the committee, which grades governments' responses from A down to E.

During the 2013 review, the UN body urged Hong Kong to "take all necessary measures to implement universal and equal suffrage".

Last year, Hong Kong told the committee that it could grant equal voting rights in time for its 2017 chief executive elections and for the 2020 elections to its legislative council.

- 'Lack of a clear plan' -

But the UN panel expressed concern about the "lack of a clear plan to institute universal suffrage and to ensure the right of all persons to vote and to stand for election without unreasonable limitations".

Hopes for genuine democracy in the former British colony were dashed in August when China's National People's Congress, or parliament, ruled that candidates for the 2017 leadership election would be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

The 2017 vote will mark the first direct election for the post of Hong Kong chief executive, and activists want the public to have the right to nominate candidates.

They say that vetting by a loyalist committee will create a "fake democracy", with only pro-Beijing candidates able to run, and have taken to the streets to demand greater freedoms in the financial and trading hub.

The city's Beijing-backed leaders have been trying to defuse the mass protests, and held their first meetings with student leaders on Tuesday.

But the students have accused the government of failing to make any meaningful offers to end weeks of unrest.

The negotiations have been seen as the only way to end nearly a month of protests without a police crackdown or further violence.

If talks are abandoned, many fear a return to violent scuffles seen late last week with dozens injured after demonstrators battled police as they tried to clear barriers.

The ongoing protests have also seen confrontations between protesters and residents fed up with the disruption caused by blockades of several main roads.

But polls show rising support for the democracy movement.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong found 37.8 percent of respondents in favour, compared to 31.1 percent in early September. The poll interviewed 802 residents between 8-15 October.

© 2014 AFP

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