Hong Kong: ensure police do not use excessive force against protesters

Authorities in Hong Kong must avoid using excessive force to respond to protesters as the political crisis in the city deteriorates, the ICJ said today.

Media reports today show scenes of spiraling violence as police try to force their way into the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) past barricades erected by students and demonstrators.

“Any police who use excessive force, particularly as they surround and attack student protesters inside PolyU, must be sanctioned,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Director.

“The events of the past week mark a further deterioration in the situation in Hong Kong – one that can only be effectively addressed through genuine political dialogue, and a commitment to holding police who use unlawful force accountable,” he added.

This morning, more than 100 people were also arrested in Tsim Sha Tsui, hands zip-tied by police and detained in public.

The ICJ urges the Hong Kong SAR government to:

• Ensure that people are able to exercise their freedom of expression, assembly, association and right to political participation;
• Review the means and methods used for the policing of assemblies, including the use of water cannons, tear gas, batons and shields, to ensure that they are not applied indiscriminately and excessively or against peaceful protesters and that they do not result in an escalation of tension;
• Ensure that all victims of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials are provided with access to medical services;
• Ensure that the detained people’s rights to timely and confidential access to counsel;
• Undertake prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigation of all allegations of unlawful use of force, with a view to holding accountable any responsible authorities including possibilities of criminal prosecution of police officers, and providing an effective remedy and reparation, including compensation and rehabilitation to victims.

Additional information

  • Under the Bill of Rights Ordinance and Basic Law Article 39, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is applicable in Hong Kong. Pursuant to the ICCPR, the Hong Kong SAR government has a duty to guarantee and protect the rights to freedom expression and freedom of assembly and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including through the unlawful use of force.
  • Under the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
  • Since June, large numbers of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong to protest against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to mainland China.
  • Police have used excessive and indiscriminate force against protesters, in contravention of international standards, as well as arrested, harassed and attacked journalists. Police have regularly deployed tear gas against crowds and using water cannons, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons on protesters. On 15 November, hundreds of riot police fired more than 1,500 canisters of tear gas on the grounds of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). On November 11, a police officer shot a protester with live ammunition.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Director, t +66 644781121 ; e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org

Boram Jang, ICJ Legal Adviser, Asia & the Pacific Programme, e: boram.jang(a)icj.org

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