We are writing to urge the Hong Kong government to carry out an independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation into the use of force, including tear gas, guns firing bean bag rounds and rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray by the Hong Kong police against protesters at the vicinity of the Central Government Offices on June 12, 2019.
On June 12, tens of thousands of protesters assembled around the Legislative Council (LegCo) building and its nearby roads, calling on the government to drop its proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law. The Hong Kong police used the violent acts of a small number of protesters as a pretext to use unnecessary and excessive force against the vast majority of peaceful protesters.
The following incidents are of particular concern:
- Police unleashed tear gas from both sides of Lung Wui Road at the same time to disperse a large crowd gathered outside Admiralty’s CITIC Tower. With no other escape routes, hundreds of largely unarmed protesters were then cornered by the police while trying to get into CITIC Tower to escape the tear gas.
- A group of riot police using batons and the edge of their shields to brutally beat a female protester multiple times during the daytime after she had been wrestled to the ground outside the Legislative Council.
- Special Tactical Squad members firing what are thought to be rubber bullets into crowds of protesters on the pavement and the flyover at the intersection between Harcourt Road and Cotton Tree Drive during daylight hours on 12 June. The footage shows a protester being hit in the face by a suspected rubber bullet.
A police officer in protective gear spraying 14 shots of suspected pepper liquid at close range in the face of a man sitting alone and passively on the edge of an outdoor planter during the daytime on 12 June in Lung Wo Road.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials clearly establish that law enforcement officials may only use force for certain justified legitimate purposes and when other non-violent means remain ineffective or are unlikely to be effective to stop persons engaged in violence. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved.
Despite public demands for an independent Commission of Inquiry to be established to carry out a full investigation into police conduct on June 12 and the events leading up to it, both the Commissioner of Police and you have been unwilling to do so on the basis that existing police complaint system is adequate to investigate allegations of police violence or other misconduct.
As of February 2016, various United Nations human rights treaty bodies have criticized on the shortcomings of Hong Kong’s police complaint mechanism. In the existing mechanism, the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), which is a branch of the Hong Kong Police Force, is mandated to “oversee[s] the investigation and successful resolution of all complaints made both externally and internally against members of the force.” CAPO is advised by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), a body that the UN Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on Hong Kong in 2013 said had limited powers and lacked independence.
Despite a considerable number of reportable complaints filed with the CAPO, only a small percentage of them were classified as substantiated. Between 2004 and 2018, CAPO received 6,412 complaints alleging police assault. Only four cases were substantiated by CAPO, while over half of the cases were dismissed without actionable conclusions. Between 2010 and 2018, among all of the cases on police misconduct substantiated by the IPCC, the police responded by referring only one case for prosecution, while officers in the majority of cases were only given “advice.”
Because of the ineffectiveness and lack of independence of the existing mechanism in handling complaints against police, it is therefore imperative that an independent Commission of Inquiry be set up to carry out an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into the use of force incidents by Hong Kong police against protesters on 12 June.
Amnesty International Hong Kong, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, and Human Rights Watch call on the Hong Kong government to establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation into the use of force on June 12, 2019. A suggested terms of reference is included in the annex. This Commission of Inquiry should also provide the basis for bringing any law enforcement official responsible for the unlawful use of force as well as their superior officers to justice and disciplinary action. The Hong Kong government’s failure to act appropriate action at this time will undermine the Hong Kong police force’s reputation as a generally rights-respecting law enforcement agency.