Thirty-four former senior officials and legislators have launched a second petition urging for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate political decision-making and police-protester clashes during the ongoing extradition bill saga.
The group – including ex-chief secretary Anson Chan – previously called for the withdrawal of the extradition bill on 14 June. After the bill was suspended the following day, former officials and legislators wrote again on June 23 to demand its full withdrawal and the establishment of a commission of inquiry.
“Since our last appeal on 23 June we have watched with grave concern the deteriorating situation, both in terms of governance and public order, caused by the government’s proposed amendments,” wrote the petitioners on Tuesday.
“We have seen the Hong Kong community torn apart, and watched with particular concern the estrangements between our police force and the public whom they serve, with claims of unjustified use of force or violence being resorted to by either side. This cannot continue.”
The open letter proposed possible parameters for the commission of inquiry. The commission would aim to ascertain the causes of opposition to the extradition bill.
It would also investigate whether demonstrators or others provoked clashes with the police, and whether the tactics and use of force by the police were appropriate and proportionate.
An independent judge-led commission of inquiry into allegations of police brutality has been a core demand of anti-extradition bill protests over the past month. But police unions and some pro-Beijing politicians have claimed it would unfairly target the force.
“Since the government is unresponsive after two million marched… we thought we would throw out the idea of the scope and duties of an independent commission of inquiry,” former chief secretary Chan told HKFP.
“I hope the police force can realise that the aim is not to target them,” she added. “In fact, it might even exonerate them.”
The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) – a watchdog reviewing complaints against officers – set up a task force in early July to investigate complaints against police. But critics including former chief justice Andrew Li have cited its lack of powers to summon witnesses and gather evidence.
“The way events have unfolded – especially with Sunday’s incident in Yuen Long – I believe the public definitely does not accept handing the investigation to the IPCC, and does not have confidence in it,” said Chan.
“Of course, [establishing a commission of inquiry] now would be very late, but it may be able to alleviate the current tensions to some extent,” she added. “At least the public knows that the SAR government has agreed to setting up an independent commission.”
Since our last appeal on 23 June we have watched with grave concern the deteriorating situation, both in terms of governance and public order, caused by the Government’s proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislative (Amendment) Bill 2019. We have seen the Hong Kong community torn apart, and watched with particular concern the estrangements between our Police Force and the public whom they serve, with claims of unjustified use of force or violence being resorted to by either side. This cannot continue.
The only mechanism in our view which would take a recognized and substantial step towards healing wounds and beginning the process of reconciliation in the community is the establishment of an independent Commission of Inquiry under Cap. 86 of the Laws of Hong Kong.
Truth and reconciliation go together; without truth established by a body with credibility in the community, reconciliation and restoration to normal life would be difficult. We therefore strongly urge the Government to take steps to establish such a Commission, and to this end we propose the terms of reference of the Commission should be drawn on the following terms. We would welcome the public to endorse these proposed terms, as well as using them as a basis for their own deliberations.
The terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry are:
1. To ascertain the causes and circumstances leading to the wide-spread public opposition to the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, including but not limited to inquiring into the appropriateness (or otherwise) of the Government’s handling of the Bill from its publication to the announcement of its decision on 15th June, 2019 to suspend the Bill but not withdraw the same.
2. To ascertain the facts, and circumstances leading to and surrounding the clashes between the Police and the demonstrators (or other members of the public) during and/or shortly after the public processions and demonstrations on the following occasions: that is, on 9th June 2019, 12th June 2019, 16th June 2019, 21st June, 2019, 26th June 2019, 1st July 2019, 14th July 2019 and 21st July 2019 or such other occasion(s) as the Commission sees fit, including but not limited to the following:
(a) To inquire if there were instances of the demonstrators (or other members of the public) using excessive force or deploying deliberate tactics to provoke a clash with the Police;
(b) To consider and evaluate the appropriateness of the tactics employed and actions undertaken by the Police in handling the clashes, including whether the force applied was proportionate and in keeping with the object of preventing violence and injuries, and/or restoring order in the community.
3. In the light of its findings on (1) and (2) above, to make recommendations on measures conducive to reconciliation in society.
23 July 2019
Former officials who newly joined the group of petitioners for Tuesday’s open letter include former secretaries for civil service Joseph Wong and Denise Yue.