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A protestor shows five demands gesture as Hong Kong people participate in their annual pro-democracy march in Hong Kong, January 1, 2020. The five demands include democratic elections for Hong Kong's leader and legislature and a demand for a probe of police behavior during the six months of continuous protests. © 2020 AP Photo/Vincent Yu
(New York) – Hong Kong authorities should urgently establish an independent, impartial investigation into alleged excessive use of force by the police against protesters, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam. No police officers are known to have been disciplined or prosecuted for abuses committed in relation to the demonstrations that began in Hong Kong in June 2019.

“Hong Kong authorities have international legal obligations to investigate alleged abusive police conduct,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “They have failed to do so in the face of calls from Hong Kong citizens, legal experts, and rights groups, missing critical opportunities to demonstrate a commitment to human rights and the rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch highlighted recent allegations of excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police and set out key parameters for an independent commission of inquiry. These include a clear scope of inquiry; a comprehensive investigation; the authority to offer anonymity, confidentiality, and protection to witnesses; and adequate investigatory authority. The commission should also have adequate resources to perform its functions and be headed by well-regarded people from relevant communities.

In June, more than two million people in Hong Kong demonstrated against proposed amendments to the law that would enable extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. Although Chief Executive Lam eventually withdrew the amendments, her refusal to condemn police brutality and her designation of protesters as “rioters” led to ongoing protests across the city.

The police have arrested nearly 7,000 people, and fired more than 16,000 rounds of teargas, 10,000 rubber bullets, 2,000 beanbag rounds, and 1,900 sponge grenades. An estimated one million people marched on January 1, 2020, in the latest demonstration for democracy and accountability.

“An independent commission of inquiry is the first step to addressing the serious human rights violations against protesters since June,” Richardson said. “Hong Kong police need to be held accountable to the law – not just to their bosses.”

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