(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s police watchdog has neither the authority nor the resources to effectively investigate the ongoing protests in the city, according to the Independent Expert Panel brought in to advise it.
The panel saw “a shortfall” in the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Council, according to a statement posted on the Twitter account of panel member Clifford Stott, a dean for research at Keele University in England. In July, Chief Executive Carrie Lam tasked the IPCC with conducting a fact-finding study into the unrest after growing public concern about police behavior and tactics.
The five experts of the panel were announced in September by the IPCC to advise the council as the rift between the government and protesters widened, with activists including the establishment of an independent inquiry into police conduct as one of their five demands. The demonstrations, sparked by a proposed law to allow extraditions to jurisdictions including China, have dragged on for about five months, taking a toll on the city’s economy.
“There’s a requirement for the IPCC to have increased capacity if it’s going to address the scale of events in question,” Stott said by phone. “We’re calling for that as a matter of urgency.”
Lam has been careful about not being seen to embrace the idea of an independent commission of inquiry, instead calling it a “fact-finding study.”
The panel’s statement, which was agreed upon by all members as speaking points, highlighted “structural limitations in the scope and powers” of the IPCC inquiry. It called on the IPCC to enhance its capacity to gather factual accounts from police and other bodies, to access documents and validate accounts supplied by police “in a timely fashion,” and to improve its ability to find evidence from key witnesses outside policing.
It does not rule out the possibility of a commission of inquiry, but says that if the IPCC is able to gain increased capacity for conducting a thematic study on the events of the protest from June to September, it may still be able to report findings that can support needed reforms, Stott said.
While Lam initially said the study could take six months, the IPCC’s interim report may not come out until January. “There’s a pressing need to release the thematic study,” Stott said.
The commission needs the resources and expertise to help it to develop the data and evidence required, he said. “Our judgment is at present that they don’t have that.”
A police official confirmed that officers met with the panel at police headquarters in Wan Chai last week.
A spokesman for the government’s Security Bureau said that the fact finding study is “with a view of pointing the way forward” and is by no means a final report. “We need to give IPCC time and space to focus on and complete the study,“ the spokesman said by email. “We will study all recommendations carefully and thoroughly before deciding in any follow ups.”
Police tactics, which have drawn criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.S. lawmakers and Amnesty International, have become a major focus of recent rallies.
Protesters hit the streets Friday to mark the death of a student who fell in a parking garage near a protest last week. Hong Kong police have denied their officers chased and pushed the student, and have called for a coroner’s inquiry into the incident.
Among the protesters’ demands is a call for greater democracy, posing the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule over the former colony since its return to China in 1997.
On Saturday, Zhang Xiaoming, China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs, said Beijing will ensure only people loyal to it will become the city’s chief executive. The majority of representatives in Hong Kong’s cabinet, judiciary and legislative bodies should also support the central government, he said. His comments will further damp hopes of pro-democracy activists.
(Adds Security Bureau comment in 12th paragraph.)
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