U.N. rights body to examine ‘systemic’ U.S. racism and police brutality

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The top U.N. human rights body agreed on Monday to hold an urgent debate on allegations of “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests” in the United States and elsewhere on Wednesday.

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s decision followed a request last week by Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries in response to the killing of George Floyd, an African American, on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. His death has ignited protests across the nation and worldwide.

“We think it is a moment to really discuss this issue, as you have seen with the demonstrations all over Europe, including here in Geneva,” said Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s ambassador who serves as current president of the Council.

“This is a topic which is not just about one country, it goes well beyond that,” she told a news conference.

African countries may prepare a resolution for consideration at the debate, Tichy-Fisslberger added.

The United States is not a member of the 47-member state forum in Geneva, having quit it two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel.

The U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment on the Council’s decision, but last week issued a statement decrying the “senseless death of George Floyd” and saying that justice and transparency were “core values” of the United States.

The African group’s request, in a letter made public by the United Nations, said: “The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident. The numbers of previous cases of unarmed people of African descent who met the same fate because of uncontrolled police violence are legion”.

The outrage provoked by the death underlines the importance of the Human Rights Council discussing these issues, the letter said, noting that 600 activist groups and victims’ relatives had called last week for a special session.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

Explainer: Can Trump send the U.S. military to quell violence at protests?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he would use federal troops to end unrest that has erupted following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody last week.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but police in some cities have used force against journalists and protesters, and protesters have clashed with police. Many U.S. cities have set curfews.

To deploy the armed forces, Trump would need to formally invoke a group of statutes known as the Insurrection Act.

WHAT IS THE INSURRECTION ACT?

Under the U.S. Constitution, governors generally have the authority to maintain order within state borders. This principle is reflected in a law called the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally prohibits the federal military from participating in domestic law enforcement.

The Insurrection Act, which dates to the early 1800s, is an as exception to principles later codified in the Posse Comitatus Act.

The Insurrection Act permits the president to send in U.S. forces to suppress a domestic insurrection that has hindered the normal enforcement of U.S. law.

CAN TRUMP SEND IN TROOPS WITHOUT A GOVERNOR’S APPROVAL?

Yes. The law lays out a scenario in which the president is required to have approval from a state’s governor or legislature, and also instances where such approval is not necessary, said Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.

Historically, in instances where the Insurrection Act was invoked, presidents and governors have usually agreed on the need for troops, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton.

In 2005, former President George W. Bush decided not to invoke the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in part because the state’s then-governor opposed the move.

HAS IT BEEN INVOKED BEFORE?

Yes. The Insurrection Act has been invoked on dozens of occasions through U.S. history. Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, its use has become “exceedingly rare,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

The Insurrection Act was last used in 1992, when the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King led to deadly riots.

CAN A COURT STRIKE DOWN TRUMP’S APPLICATION OF THE LAW?

Hoffmeister said he did not think invoking the Insurrection Act was warranted because governors can handle the current unrest through their criminal justice systems.

“The Insurrection Act should only be used in dire situations and I don’t think the circumstances right now call for it,” Hoffmeister said.

But Chesney said a successful legal challenge to Trump’s use of the law was “very unlikely.” Courts have historically been very reluctant to second-guess a president’s military declarations, he said.

“The law, for all practical purposes, leaves this to the president with very little judicial review with any teeth,” Chesney said. “That may be a terrible state of affairs, but that’s what it is.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Edited by Noeleen Walder, Gerry Doyle and Steve Orlofsky)

Lantern-waving Hong Kong protesters take to hills, as leader pledges housing reform

By Jessie Pang and Lukas Job

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters took to the hills to form flashlight-carrying human chains on Friday, using the colorful Mid-Autumn Festival as a backdrop to the latest in more than three months of sometimes violent unrest.

The peaceful protests, on a day when families traditionally gather to gaze at the moon and eat mooncakes while children swing colorful lanterns from the end of sticks, came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised to focus on housing and jobs to try to end the turmoil.

Lam, who said she caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the crisis and would quit if she had the choice, said in a Facebook post her government would increase the supply of housing in the Chinese-ruled city.

“Housing and people’s livelihoods are the main priorities,” Lam said. “The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed.”

Hong Kong has some of the world’s most expensive real estate and many young people say the city’s housing policy is unfair, benefiting the rich while forcing the less well-off to live with their parents or rent “shoe box” apartments at exorbitant prices.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, which reported its earnings on Thursday, said the current unrest was a wake-up call to both the government and private companies to build more housing.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan told reporters a new vacancy tax aims to push developers to launch completed apartments on to the market as soon as possible.

As darkness fell on Friday night, protesters armed with flashlights, mobile phones and lanterns gathered at Victoria Peak and Lion Rock.

They lined the path running along the north face of the Peak, looking across the harbor to Lion Rock in the distance, with mainland China beyond.

Protesters gathered in their hundreds across the territory, singing and chanting, in contrast to the violence of many previous weekends when police have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

“Today, there’s not many here because we have an event in every district, and because this area is not a residential area, it’s a working area full of offices,” said protester Jason Liu in the Admiralty district of government offices and hotels.

The spark for the protests was a now-withdrawn extradition bill and concerns that Beijing is eroding civil liberties, but many young protesters are also angry at sky-high living costs and a lack of job prospects.

The demonstrations started in June in response to a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts, but have broadened into calls for greater democracy.

The former British colony returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland – including a much-cherished independent legal system.

At lunch on Friday, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters packed into a shopping mall waving China flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.

Sit-ins at shopping malls are also planned over the weekend.

Activists also plan to gather outside the British consulate on Sunday to demand that China honors the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984, laying out Hong Kong’s post-1997 future.

China says Hong Kong is now its internal affair. It denies meddling in Hong Kong and has accused the United States, Britain and others of fomenting the unrest.

Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by its obligations under the Joint Declaration.

Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade as a result of the unrest. A surge in migration applications suggests more locals are making plans to leave.

China has called on its biggest state firms to take a more active role in Hong Kong, including stepping up investment and asserting more control over companies.

Multiple Hong Kong events and conferences have been canceled and the number of visitors plunged 40 percent in August. The city’s premier women’s tennis event scheduled for October has been postponed.

Organizers also called off the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Matilda the Musical”, due to run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 20.

Police on Tuesday set up an “anti-violence hotline” on which people could call in giving intelligence on planned unrest.

On Friday they announced it had been shut down because of “different opinions”.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Noah Sin, Marius Zaharia, Poppy McPherson, Lukas Job, Amr Abdallah and Farah Master; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson)

Hong Kong readies for further protests after huge, peaceful rally

Riot police officers detain an anti-extradition bill protester during a demonstration in Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood in Hong Kong, China, August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is gearing up for further protests this week after hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators braved heavy rain to rally peacefully on Sunday, marking a change to what have often been violent clashes.

Sunday’s massive turnout, which organizers put at 1.7 million, showed that the movement still has widespread support despite chaotic scenes last week when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city’s airport.

Some activists had apologized for the airport turmoil and on Sunday night protesters could be seen urging others to go home peacefully.

Police said on Monday that while Sunday’s demonstration was mostly peaceful, there were breaches of the peace in the evening when some protesters defaced public buildings and aimed laser beams at officers.

It was a far cry from the violent clashes between protesters and riot police throughout the summer, with activists storming the legislature and targeting China’s main Liaison Office in the city. The weekend was also noteworthy for a lack of tear gas use by police.

The protests, which have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, began in June as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. They have since swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that promised wide-ranging freedoms denied to citizens in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, but many in the city believe Beijing has been eroding those freedoms.

Aside from Lam’s resignation, demonstrators have five demands – complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as “rioting”, a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.

One protester, speaking at a “citizen’s press conference” on Monday, was asked what path the protests would take now, peaceful or violent.

“We have started our rallies very peacefully but after two and a half months it seems that the Hong Kong government has not responded to our five demands so one thing leads to another and it may cause escalation,” the speaker, named Wang, said.

“If you ask me, I personally hope there will be a quick resolution to this from the government so we don’t have to protest anymore.”

On Sunday, protesters spilling out from Victoria Park, the designated rally area on Hong Kong island, streamed onto major thoroughfares toward the city’s financial center, chanting for Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam to step down.

Police estimated the size of the crowd in Victoria Park at 128,000 at its peak, although that excludes the masses of umbrella-carrying demonstrators who packed the streets.

CHINESE FORCES ACROSS THE BORDER

The Hong Kong government said in a statement on Sunday night it was important to restore social order as soon as possible and that it would begin talks with the public and “rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down”.

The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, attributed the change in the character of Sunday’s protest to the presence of Chinese paramilitary forces, which have been conducting exercises in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.

“This was widely seen as a stern warning to the violent elements in Hong Kong,” it said, adding that a backlash from Hong Kong residents over last week’s airport occupations was another factor.

The Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper warned again in an editorial on Monday that hostile foreign influences were inciting the protest movement. Beijing has accused some countries, including the United States, of fomenting unrest.

U.S. President Donald Trump hinted on Sunday that the White House would like to see Beijing resolve the protests before the world’s two largest economies could reach a trade deal.

“I would like to see Hong Kong worked out in a very humanitarian fashion,” Trump said. “I think it would be very good for the trade deal.”

Further demonstrations are planned in coming weeks, including protests planned by Christians and even an accountants’ group.

Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations, but there was a minimal police presence on Sunday and no arrests were made. More than 700 people have been arrested since June.

The central government has sought to deepen integration between the mainland and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and nearby Macau, a former Portuguese-run enclave which returned to China in 1999. The State Council called on Monday for greater development of the so-called Greater Bay Area and to enrich the “one country, two systems” policy.

China has also put strong pressure on big companies, especially Cathay Pacific Airways <0293.HK>. CEO Rupert Hogg quit in a shock move last week after Beijing targeted the airline over staff involvement in the protests.

Hogg’s sudden departure was announced by Chinese state television on Friday and was seen as a signal to other multinationals, such as HSBC Holdings and Jardine Matheson Holdings, to support Beijing.

Cathay also fired two pilots for taking part in the protests.

Shares in Cathay rose more than 2% early on Monday before paring gains to be down 0.6%. Jeffries analysts wrote in a note on Monday that it maintained its “buy” rating on Cathay and that it expected the company to remain profitable.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)