Police have been using enormous amounts of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds against protesters over the past months.
According to figures released by law enforcement, between June 9 and Dec. 9 last year, police fired 16,000 and 10,000 rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd respectively.
A number of protesters and journalists were also severely injured as a result of the police’s use of force.
In order to find out the true effects of these less-lethal weapons on people’s health, I have commissioned the Research Office of the Legislative Council to compile a report on the subject by referring to and sorting out information on weapons including tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and police batons available globally.
In the meantime, I have also asked the research office to take reference to the safety guidelines currently adopted by the British, US and Australian police forces on the use of these weapons in order to study whether our own law enforcement has been using force against protesters appropriately during its operations.
The findings of the Legco report indicate that, as stipulated in the guidelines adopted by the police forces of the above-mentioned countries, tear gas is not suitable for use in confined spaces.
Moreover, before firing tear gas, frontline police officers must give sufficient warnings to those at the receiving end and provide the crowd with retreat routes.
As far as the use of police baton is concerned, it should only be aimed at non-lethal body parts such as limbs, but never at crucial body parts such as head, neck and chest.
When it comes to firing rubber bullets, the guidelines adopted by these western countries also stress that the projectiles should always be aimed only at the lower body or the legs, but never at the head, neck and pubic region.
The United Nations also published the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials back in 1990, which are also applicable to low-lethal weapons.
According to the UN rules, law enforcement officers around the globe must always stick to six basic principles when it comes to using force, namely, legality, minimizing damage and injuries, necessity, proportionality, consistency and accountability.
Unfortunately, the reality is, ever since the start of the anti-extradition bill movement, Hong Kong police have been using tear gas relentlessly in areas where elderly homes, primary and secondary schools, and residential neighborhoods are concentrated, not to mention firing tear gas canisters into indoor spaces on multiple occasions.
Worse still, in many cases, police officers have been deliberately hitting protesters in the head with force including batons, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, as well as using excessive and unnecessary force against people who posed no threat, including protesters who were already subdued, journalists and even passersby.
Apparently, what our police have been doing to protesters goes against international guidelines.
Meanwhile, the UN principles also put emphasis on the importance of accountability, under which law enforcement officers who are on duty must be identifiable and must also be held accountable for their decision and act of using force.
In other words, “merely following the orders of their superiors” should never be accepted as a legitimate excuse for any law enforcement officer to justify their violation of the UN principles.
But again, the reality in our city is, most frontline police officers are continuing to deliberately conceal their identity when carrying out their duties, with the existing Independent Police Complaints Council having no power to investigate or subpoena any police officer in question to testify before it, let alone punish them.
As such, there is definitely a pressing necessity for the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to probe the causes and courses of events of the entire protest saga, so as to put forward suggestions on improving the current mechanism and to enforce accountability.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 16
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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