Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters' questions during a press conference at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Vincent Yu

(Hong Kong) — Hong Kong authorities should immediately establish an independent commission to investigate alleged excessive use of force by police on June 12, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The Hong Kong government has opposed public calls for a full inquiry into the police handling of the largely peaceful protest that day.

“While police have a responsibility to provide public security, they need to abide by human rights standards on the use of force,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong police’s well-documented use of excessive force against peaceful protesters urgently demands a fully independent investigation.”

On June 12, Hong Kong police used beanbag rounds, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters who gathered around the Legislative Council building in opposition to two laws that would allow extradition to mainland China. At least 81 protesters were injured, according to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Police said 22 officers were injured. Human Rights Watch previously called on the police to not use excessive force to suppress peaceful protests, and expressed concern about authorities’ unwillingness to investigate police conduct.

Hong Kong authorities have rejected calls for an independent investigation and repeatedly contended that existing police complaint mechanisms are adequate in dealing with allegations of police abuse. However, the police internal review board, Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), and its oversight body, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), have long been criticized for being ineffective in holding officers accused of misconduct to account.

“Hong Kong authorities’ reputation is on the line, not only for advancing deeply unpopular legislation, but also for its treatment of protesters,” Richardson said. “Committing to an independent commission of inquiry – one that upholds Hong Kong’s human rights obligations – could help restore some credibility.”