Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers slammed city leader Carrie Lam on Dec. 11, after experts announced that they would resign from their posts as international observers assisting in a study of police use of force.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), a statutory body set up by the Hong Kong government to observe, monitor, and review complaints against police, is headed by a chairman, three vice-chairman, and other members, all of them appointed by the chief executive—a position currently held by Lam. The agency also reports to the police force.
In early July, when ongoing protests in Hong Kong were less than one-month-old, IPCC announced that it would launch a thematic study to investigate complaints against police actions that occurred from June 9 to July 2.
During her weekly press conference on Aug. 20, Lam announced that IPCC would seek help from foreign experts to compile the study. She also announced that the study would cover complaints lodged after July 2.
On Sept. 4, IPCC announced on its website five foreign experts that would be part of its international expert panel (IEP) to provide their expertise and advise the IPCC’s study. The panel was headed by Sir Denis O’Connor, who was the top official in the British police force from 2012 to 2014.
The other four experts included Professor Clifford Stott, dean for Research Faculty of Natural Science at the Keele University in the UK, and Judge Colin Doherty, chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority in New Zealand.
Protesters have questioned the IPCC’s ability to conduct impartial investigations of complaints against the police, and have continually called for an independent commission to investigate police use of force. Their other demands included universal suffrage in city elections and for the Hong Kong authorities to drop all charges against arrested protesters.
On Dec. 11, the foreign experts released a statement, saying that “a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity, and independent investigative capacity of IPCC.”
The statement added that dialogues with IPCC “has not led to any agreed process through which the IEP would be able to effectively support the Thematic Study any further at this stage.”
“As a result, the IEP has taken the decision to formally stand aside from its role,” the statement concluded. The group added that they would continue to support the IPCC if in the future it “develops the necessary capabilities and provides its draft interim report on the protests.”
In response to the resignation, IPCC issued a statement saying that it would “liaise with the IEP members” after publishing its first interim report.
In the statement, IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh stated that the agency was aware that it does not have investigative powers, but it has “solicited” support from Lam and the commissioner of police.
According to Hong Kong media, the IPCC study is scheduled to be submitted to Lam before the end of this year.
Tanya Chan, convenor of the pro-democracy camp in the city’s legislature, said that the experts’ decision was a “slap in the face” for Lam, during a press conference on Dec. 11. She said the experts’ resignation has further raised doubts about the study’s credibility.
Chan elaborated that the decision amounted to a “vote of no confidence” for the report. She also called on Lam to persuade authorities in Beijing to set up the independent inquiry as demanded by protesters, during her upcoming trip to China.
Lam is scheduled to travel to Beijing on Dec. 14.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, called the resignation a “gargantuan joke” on the Hong Kong government, in a tweet.
“We knew the international experts would just find out what HKers already knew,” Mo wrote.
Stott previously expressed concerns about IPCC’s limitations in a tweet in early November.
“IPCC needs to substantially enhance its capacity … to assemble a coherent account of the facts from the police and other bodies … to significantly improve its capability to identify and secure evidence from key witnesses from outside policing,” Stott wrote.
The UN Human Rights Commission had previously raised concerns about IPCC’s ability to hold police accountable. In a 2013 report, the UN commission recommended that Hong Kong “establish a fully independent mechanism,” given that the IPCC “has only advisory and oversight functions.”