HONG KONG: An international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong on the police response to huge pro-democracy protests announced Wednesday they were quitting, saying the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights”.
The group’s damning conclusion is a blow to Hong Kong’s government, which has insisted its Independent Police Complaints Commission is capable of holding the force to account over snowballing claims of brutality.
“We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of IPCC,” the experts said.
Critics have long charged the body lacks adequate powers, is stacked with pro-establishment figures and has been toothless when it comes to keeping the police in line.
The watchdog can only handle complaints forwarded by the police themselves and it cannot subpoena documents or compel witnesses to testify.
Such limitations, the expert panel said, do not “begin to meet the standards citizens of Hong Kong would likely require of a police watchdog operating in a society that values freedoms and rights”.
Protests have rocked Hong Kong for more than six months, with up to two million people taking to the streets, initially against a now-shelved extradition bill.
Latterly, one of the core demands of protesters — alongside fully free elections — has been an inquiry into the police, who have been left to battle increasingly violent black-clad activists and are now loathed by significant chunks of the deeply polarised population.
But both chief executive Carrie Lam and the police have repeatedly rejected those calls.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan described the resignation of the expert group as a “vote of no confidence” in the IPCC and the interim report it is expected to produce next year.
Political scientist Ma Ngok said the panel’s decision confirmed Hong Kong people’s doubts on the IPCC’s ability to find the truth.
“The government’s strategy of making the report independent by having a panel of overseas experts has failed,” Ngok told AFP.