Civil Rights Observer and Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor are concerned about the use of large amounts of non-lethal weapons by the Hong Kong Police Force since June 12 to disperse protesters who attended demonstrations and assemblies. These weapons include pepper spray, OC water jet pack, tear gas rounds, pepper balls, rubber bullets, sponge grenades, and more. We have also noticed that since July 21, the Police began to use these weapons in a much broader and indiscriminate manner, of which the scores of tear gas bombs used to disperse protesters is particularly concerning.
We believe that although the Police have the legitimate aim of maintaining public order of the demonstrations from June to the present, the Police must act in accordance with human rights such as the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press, as enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (as implemented by virtue of Article 39 of the Hong Kong Basic Law), and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. In doing so, the Police must also perform their duties in a humane and non-degrading manner. The Police should, as far as possible, exercise their powers in a non-violent manner, and should use force only when absolutely necessary, so as to act in compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
We are also concerned about the several dispersal operations by the Police, where there is an obvious problem of excessive use of force, as well as the disregard of the safety of other peaceful protesters, journalists, citizens, and residents of the nearby communities. For example, the Police did not use the minimum level of force nor gradual escalation of tactics to disperse protesters, and also deployed large amounts of tear gas in unnecessary situations (such as where there was no provocation by protesters). As it is difficult to control the affected area when deploying tear gas, to use it in this widespread manner indiscriminately harms those in its vicinity.
We believe that the rising tensions between Police and citizens are a result of the Government’s refusal to respond to the protesters’ demands, and the Police’s trend of using excessive force to attack protesters is steering towards a worrying direction.
We believe that the Government is the initiator of the entire societal controversy, and has the responsibility to respond to the protesters’ demands proactively and to ease the present political crisis and potential humanitarian disaster. In order to avoid serious casualties caused by conflicts with the Police, we urge the Hong Kong Police Force to adopt the following recommendations to handle demonstrations and assemblies:
(1) Understand that protesters’ actions originate from the maladministration of the Government, that the Police should act in a restrained manner to prevent the need for further escalating and intensifying the methods used to handle demonstrations, for example through negotiation and mediation to facilitate and protect peaceful assemblies, or, as far as possible, through avoiding the use of force;
(2) Strictly abide by the principle of minimum force and to use force only in gradual escalation; the use of force must be necessary and proportionate;
(3) Perform duties in a defensive manner, not to permit riot police or the Special Tactical Squad to actively attack protesters;
(4) The Police should not disperse protesters by surprise; instead, before taking any action, the Police should first give clear instructions and directions for leaving the area and ensure that protesters can either hear the broadcast or read the warning signs by the Police;
(5) When taking any action to disperse protesters, the Police should maintain a distance or remove any road obstacles in order to avoid confrontations with protesters or the need to use force;
(6) Tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, sponge bullets and other weapons should only be used where there are actual, serious, and critical threats to personal safety and a less-lethal option is not available; when using such weapons, the Police should not shoot continuously, and should stop immediately after reaching its aim;
(7) Instruct all Police officers to use batons in a restrained manner, and affirm the prohibition of using modified batons or to strike persons on their head, spine or other sensitive body parts;
(8) Any use of force by the Police must be targeted and must take into account the effect of the force on other nearby persons or communities;
(9) The Police should not arrange for the use of water cannons to handle demonstrations in the near future. The public is unfamiliar with water cannons, and the Police have not disclosed the relevant guidelines, the potential bodily harm, and the Police’s monitoring and authorisation procedures relating to the use of water cannons. Coupled with the fact that water cannons are seen as a new Police weapon, to use water cannons at this stage will only further intensify the emotions of protesters;
(10) The authorities should also implement the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its 2013 Concluding Observations on Hong Kong, strengthen Police training on the proportionality principles of use of force, while giving adequate consideration to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.