Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a press conference on Aug. 20, promising to establish a platform for dialogue about the ongoing extradition bill crisis. However, her remark was quickly rebuked by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the main opposition group behind the Hong Kong protests.
“We will immediately start the work to establish a platform for dialogue. This dialogue, I hope, will be based on a mutual understanding and respect and find a way out for today’s Hong Kong,” Lam said, adding that the platform would involve “people from different walks of life.”
Her comments came two days after more than 1.7 million people took to the streets once again in protest of an extradition bill that’s widely perceived as a threat to the city’s judicial independence. The bill would allow anyone in Hong Kong to be extradited to China for trial—where there is no rule of law.
Although Lam suspended the bill in mid-June amid mounting public pressure, protesters have continued their rallies and marches en masse, saying that they wouldn’t accept anything short of the bill’s full withdrawal.
Since then, protesters have broadened their demands to include an independent investigation into police use of force when dispersing protesters, as well as universal suffrage in the city’s elections.
Local observers have noted that the massive march turnout on Aug. 18 applied pressure to the Hong Kong government to respond to their demands.
But Lam didn’t relent, saying there was no need for an independent inquiry because the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), the city’s police internal watchdog, would “create a fact-finding study” into the demonstrations. She said the study would provide her government with recommendations.
Protesters and local rights groups have repeatedly said that since the IPCC only investigates complaints that the police force forwards to the agency, it wouldn’t provide an impartial judgment.
When asked by a reporter why she has consistently refused to withdraw the bill as Hongkongers have demanded, Lam replied that she had already answered the question on previous occasions, saying that the “bill is dead” and “there is no plan to revive the bill.”
Lam first declared that the bill was “dead” at a press conference on July 9, but has refused to use the word “withdraw” to retract the bill. Protesters fear that the vagueness of her language could mean that the suspended bill could be reintroduced for debate any time at the city’s unicameral legislature, the Legislative Council.
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a pro-democracy umbrella group and organizer of the Aug. 18 march, called a press conference soon after learning of Lam’s remarks, saying that she has again failed to answer protesters’ five demands and urged her to do “something substantial.”
Her two proposals—the platform for dialogue and the IPCC study—were also questioned.
Wong Yik-mo, one of CHRF’s vice conveners, said that based on Lam’s previous comments, she didn’t see Hong Kong citizens as “stakeholders in society.” Thus, she wouldn’t genuinely respond to citizens, and such a platform would be a waste of money and time.
Instead of the platform, Wong suggested that a mechanism be put in place in Hong Kong so that people could directly vote for the chief executive and elect someone who truly represents the people and listens to people’s voices.
Currently, in Hong Kong, candidates for the chief executive are vetted by Beijing and voted in by an electoral committee made up of mostly pro-Beijing elites.
As for the IPCC, Wong said that it has no credibility, and noted that the United Nations has also called for more independence in Hong Kong’s system for investigating complaints of police misconduct.
In 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that Hong Kong’s IPCC has “only advisory and oversight functions … and that the members of the IPCC are appointed by the Chief Executive.”
The UN Committee recommended at the time that the Hong Kong government “take necessary measures to establish a fully independent mechanism” to conduct an independent investigation into complaints against the police, and empower it to “formulate binding decisions.”
Wong said the IPCC didn’t even have the power to summon police officers for its hearings. He urged Lam to set up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police conduct.
Since June, police have fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and other crowd control equipment at protesters during demonstrations. These police actions have drawn condemnation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, when she said in an Aug. 13 statement, “The UN Human Rights Office has reviewed credible evidence of [Hong Kong] law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.”
Bachelet also urged the Hong Kong government to investigate the police use of force and ensure that they “comply with the rules of engagement.”
Meanwhile, the legislature’s pan-democracy camp also called a press conference in response to Lam’s remarks. Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said that her response was a disappointment to the 1.7 million people who took to the streets on Aug. 18.
He urged Lam to show her sincerity by fulfilling protesters’ demands.