Response to the report of the Independent Police Complaints Council on the police’s handling of protests and assemblies in Hong Kong

15 May 2020

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) released a report today on the police actions in response to the public order events arising from the Fugitive Offenders Bill since June 2019. The IPCC stated that the report is to give a broad picture of the public order events and the police actions in response. Civil Rights Observer finds the report very weak and fails to give any complete picture or to address public concerns over violations of human rights and sexual violence committed by the police.

As pointed out by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the IPCC has no investigative powers. Complaints against individual police officers are investigated by the Complaint Against Police Office, which is part of the police force. Sources of information for the IPCC study did not include testimonies of victims, and although the police submitted operational orders to the IPCC, it is unclear whether the IPCC obtained all the operational orders. These challenges may have made it difficult for the IPCC to review some of the incidents comprehensively.

For incidents clearly captured by the media, such as white-clad men’s assault on citizens in Yuen Long on 21 July and the police’s assault on passengers in the Prince Edward Mass Transit Railway Station on 31 August 2019, the IPCC concluded that there was no collusion between the police and the white-clad men and did not review the indiscriminate assault on passengers, raising concern over the impartiality of the IPCC.

The IPCC did not study some repeated cases of concerning use of force by the police, such as beating arrested persons in the head with the baton, shooting tear gas canisters and rubber bullets from above or horizontally, and sexual violence. It makes no demand for the police to ensure frontline officers follow guidelines on the use of force.

Particularly about the police action in the Prince Edward Mass Transit Railway Station on 31 August 2019, as widely seen on the media and shown in the testimonies gathered by Civil Rights Observer, the police indiscriminately assaulted citizens on the night. However, the IPCC did not review this aspect of the incident.

Furthermore, many arrested persons have reported to Civil Rights Observer that their human rights were violated while they were in police custody, including assault, sexual assault, delayed access to medical care and legal assistance. The reported ill-treatment would amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in some cases, and possibly torture in some. The IPCC report does not address these issues.

The IPCC repeatedly quotes the police in the report, including quoting in full twice the Deputy Commissioner’s speech at the Human Rights Council in March 2020, which forms part of China’s narrative that at the United Nations that evades concerns over police abuse of powers, and the police’s definition of “riot”. This violates the principle of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental principle of the rule of law. These raise serious concerns over the impartiality and fairness of the IPCC study.

The IPCC’s comment on how the public drove and conducted the democracy movement in Hong Kong does not fall within its mandate. The comment has no legitimacy and does not serve to build trust in the IPCC or the police.

As recommended by the Human Rights Committee, an independent mechanism with investigative powers should be set up in Hong Kong to ensure the accountability of the police.

“The IPCC has failed to study the police’s handling of the public order events in Hong Kong impartially or to give constructive recommendations. It does not achieve its proclaimed goal of building public trust in the police. The IPCC, as a statutory body, is similar to a human rights institution but it does not consider the police’s handling of public order events with international human rights standards. The report gives the public the impression that they are letting the police go and the recommendations are not adequate for the protection of human rights in Hong Kong,” said Icarus Wong and Andrew Shum, Founders and Spokespersons of Civil Rights Observer.