Hong Kong: Widespread police violence during protests must be investigated to prevent further clashes

Throughout the protests, Amnesty International documented an alarming pattern of reckless and indiscriminate tactics by the Hong Kong Police © Jimmy Lam @everydayaphoto

New report sets out need for independent commission of inquiry to investigate widespread human rights violations that occurred in 2019

‘Authorities may be counting on coronavirus to extinguish the unrest, but unless they take action the demonstrations – and abuses linked to them – are likely to return’ - Nicholas Bequelin

An independent investigation into police violence during the Hong Kong protests is essential to prevent unrest from reigniting in the city and rebuilding public trust, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.  

The 22-page report - Missing truth, Missing justice - sets out the need for establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate widespread human rights violations that occurred during the mass protests which erupted last year.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia Director, said:

“The mass protests that rocked Hong Kong in the latter half of 2019 are not over. The authorities may be counting on the coronavirus epidemic to extinguish the unrest, but unless they take action the demonstrations – and abuses linked to them – are eventually likely to return.

“Each passing day that the Hong Kong government stubbornly resists establishing an independent inquiry adds to the accountability vacuum and erodes public trust further.

“Hong Kong’s existing police complaint system is not fit for purpose and the police force should not be trusted to investigate itself – it is accountable to the public. 

“It is essential that the government urgently allows an impartial body to establish the full facts of the protests and make recommendations to address them. The police’s use of unnecessary and excessive force with effective impunity has left the people of Hong Kong deeply frustrated.” 

The call for an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force remains one of the key demands of the Hong Kong public, and has been echoed by the United Nations. Last October, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation”.

The Hong Kong government has nonetheless continued to resist establishing a separate investigatory mechanism, such as a commission of inquiry. Instead, it claims the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) is adequate for dealing with allegations of police violence and other misconduct.  

Reckless and indiscriminate tactics

Throughout the protests, Amnesty International documented an alarming pattern of reckless and indiscriminate tactics by the Hong Kong Police as they adopted a zero-tolerance approach to policing assemblies. 

Widespread human rights violations included unnecessary and excessive use of force, such as the dangerous use of rubber bullets and bean bag rounds; beating protesters who were not resisting; misuse of pepper spray and tear gas; and use of water cannons.

Amnesty collected several accounts of detained protesters being severely beaten in custody and suffering ill-treatment, in some cases amounting to torture. 

Strong evidence suggests that the police not only failed to de-escalate tension, but also fuelled it further through the use of unnecessary and excessive force and the persistent impunity for such behaviour.

In July 2019, the IPCC decided to conduct a fact-finding study into several public order events connected to the protests and invited an expert panel to take part.

The panel stepped down in December 2019, saying the IPCC lacked the investigative powers and capabilities necessary to “begin to meet the standards citizens of Hong Kong would likely require of a police watchdog operating in a society that values freedoms and rights”.  

Interactive timeline of 2019 protests: Patterns of Repression 

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