HONG KONG: Changes in Hong Kong’s policing needed to meet international obligations

This March 2006 the Hong Kong administration is having its human rights record examined for the second time by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, under its commitments as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The government has submitted an extensive document speaking of the rule of law and guarantees for human rights in Hong Kong. However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Hong Kong People’s Alliance (HKPA) have taken the occasion to raise concerns over policing in Hong Kong, in view of the maltreatment of protesters at the World Trade Organisation sixth ministerial conference in the territory during December 2005.

The alternative report submitted to the Committee by the AHRC and HKPA casts a shadow over the Hong Kong government’s claims to a good record on human rights and the rule of law. It points out that during the demonstrations in December the authorities had breached rights to freedom of expression and assembly, deployed police that used excessive force in dealing with largely peaceful crowds, arbitrarily arrested and detained more than one thousand persons and denied them food, water, blankets, and toilet and medical facilities, and kept detainees in crowded conditions for long periods: some reportedly being forced to sit in police vehicles for more than ten hours, while being moved from one police station to the next. Some female detainees were subjected to humiliating searches, one group of them in the presence of men, and also had to use the toilet with their hands bound in the presence of police officers. Other detainees alleged deliberate police brutality. Police also did not inform detainees of their rights in accordance with the law, denied requests to contact friends and relatives outside, obstructed lawyers from gaining access, and in many cases did not provide interpreters to persons in need of them.

Articles 19 and 21 of the ICCPR articulate the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. However, despite organisers having initiated discussions with the Hong Kong police as early as March 2005 about venues for demonstrations in December, it was not until October and November that approval was given. Proposed areas for demonstrations near to the conference venue were rejected on spurious grounds, while alternative venues put forward by the police were far away, small and inconvenient. Police posted at the demonstrations constantly “inspected” demonstrators, apparently with the aim of causing frustration and provoking a reaction. They also questioned local businesspersons who had made arrangements with groups coming for the demonstration, resulting in several cancellations. A labour union office was raided and the persons present interrogated without warrants being produced or reason given for the investigation. The immigration department similarly detained and interrogated persons coming from at least six countries, including one from an organisation accredited by the World Trade Organisation itself.

Article 7 of the ICCPR protects persons from cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment. Nonetheless, during December the Hong Kong police engaged in numerous unjustified acts of violence and cruelty. These included the excessive use of water cannon, pepper spray, tear gas and other offensive weapons without sufficient warning, or no warning. As a result, many people who were not directly involved in any confrontations with the police were injured and maltreated.

Article 9 of the ICCPR states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. But on December 17 and 18 the police surrounded hundreds of persons who were not involved with small violent confrontations and arrested them without justification. The police also showed deliberate discrimination in making the arrests, permitting local residents and westerners–or those holding European passports–to leave the area while detaining those from Asian countries. One boy aged 11 was detained for 27 hours allegedly because he was Korean: requests to have him released were rejected, including by a senior commanding officer.

All of the above speak to serious deficiencies in the management of policing in Hong Kong, which in turn go to the heart of the ICCPR: article 2, which stipulates that the rights it embodies must be implemented through law and the necessary institutional arrangements, and where violations occur, effective redress be given. The existing system for making complaints against the police in Hong Kong is at present hostile to the interests of the complainant and not independent, thus denying the possibility of effective redress as envisaged by the ICCPR. Persons attempting to make complaints after the violence in December were discouraged from doing so by staff receiving the complaints, and by attempts at “informal resolution” aimed at misleading the complainant and avoiding a full and proper inquiry. Complaints that are formally recorded are handled by the police themselves, and where complainants are also charged with offences their statements made in complaints can be used against them. Furthermore, the case against the complainant is conducted before the complaint against the police officer is taken up, even where the complaint against the police is criminal in nature. All of these obstacles to the making of a complaint violate article 2. 
As a result of their findings into the events of December 2005, the AHRC and HKPA have in their report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee called upon it to recommend that the government of Hong Kong:

1. Carry out a thorough and independent inquiry into the human rights violations that occurred during the mass arrest of protesters and their detention by the police on December 17 and 18.

2. Conduct a comprehensive review of the police’s guidelines, methods and use of force and weapons for policing demonstrations and public assemblies to ensure that they comply with the ICCPR.

3. Set up an independent complaint mechanism against the police.

In view of the firm commitments that the government of Hong Kong has made to the rule of law and human rights, and given that the territory’s prosperity rests heavily upon the good reputation that it has for effective administration, it would do well to pay full attention these proposals, as well as any other salient recommendations coming from the Human Rights Committee when it shortly releases its concluding observations.

Link: http://www.ahrchk.net/pdf/HKPA_AHRC-UNReport2006.pdf

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-45-2006
Countries : Hong Kong,