Foreign experts resign from Hong Kong police brutality inquiry

Hong Kong protester shot by police speaks out
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A group of international experts in Hong Kong has announced it will step down from an inquiry into alleged police misconduct, claiming the city’s watchdog lack sufficient powers.

The city’s anti-government, pro-democracy protests have grown increasingly violent since they began in June, and have sparked calls for an independent investigation into alleged police brutality. In response, the government appointed a panel of overseas experts to assist the city’s longstanding Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).

However, last month a member of the panel voiced criticisms of the IPCC, suggesting the council lacks sufficient independent investigative powers.

The experts reiterated the point in a statement Wednesday, saying they had identified “a crucial shortfall” in the IPCC’s capabilities. The panel said the issue needed to be addressed for the IPCC to meet the standards of a police watchdog — but that “dialogue with the IPCC has not led to any agreed process through which the IEP (International Experts Panel) would be able to effectively support the Thematic Study (of several key protest events) any further at this stage”.

“As a result, the IEP has taken the decision to formally stand aside from its role,” they said. The statement added that the panel would continue to support the IPCC’s work “if and when it develops the necessary capabilities.”

In a statement later Wednesday, the IPCC thanked the experts for their contribution, but did not respond directly to the criticisms. IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh also cautioned in the statement that “we do not have investigation power under current setting,” and that any changes to the council’s powers or functions would require “consensus from the community and stakeholders.”

IPCC Vice Chair Tony Tse clarified in a press conference that the experts had not resigned, but were standing aside because “the first round of the jobs have come to an end.”

“We hope that we will continue to keep in touch, at this moment, their tasks were completed and this will be reflected on the interim report,” Tse said.

The experts’ departure comes as the Hong Kong pro-democracy, anti-government protests approach the six-month mark. The protests had begun in opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but the relationship between the police force and protesters quickly deteriorated as clashes grew violent and frequent. Protesters accuse the police of using excessive force and tear gas; the force has repeatedly claimed it is using the minimal necessary force.

The protesters now have four major remaining demands — including an independent inquiry into police conduct.

Many have accused the IPCC of not being sufficiently equipped for such an investigation — and the experts’ statement on Wednesday appeared to confirm their fears.

“The entire IEP (International Expert Panel) decided to jump ship,” said Tanya Chan, a legislator from the Democratic Party, on Wednesday. “This is a very crucial act and its a vote of non-confidence to this report.”

However, the government has repeatedly pushed back against these claims. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said last month that the IPCC needs time and space to finish the study, adding, “I have confidence the IPCC will spare no effort.”

The IPCC is set to finish their report by January, when it will then be sent to Lam to review.