The departure of international experts tasked with advising Hong Kong’s policing watchdog was a “vote of no confidence” and blow to the government’s credibility, pro-democracy lawmakers said on Wednesday.
The panel had been hired to advise the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on an upcoming report, scrutinising the force over its handling of pro-democracy protests since June.
Tanya Chan, convenor of the pro-democracy camp in the legislature, said the experts’ departure would “definitely affect the effect or the standard” of the upcoming interim report, which is expected to be released in January.
“It is obviously a slap in the face for Chief Executive Carrie Lam… I hope that she won’t waste time, and seize the opportunity to establish an independent commission of inquiry,” Chan added, referring to protesters’ call for a judge-led inquiry into alleged police misconduct.
On Wednesday, the experts issued a statement saying that “a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability” of the IPCC. They added the panel had decided to “formally stand aside from its role,” citing an inability to effectively support the study.
IPCC leaders on Wednesday said there was no falling out between the two parties, but claimed that the experts had left because their work was finished.
“I don’t think of it as ‘quitting.’ They didn’t quit, they are just leaving after this stage,” watchdog chair Anthony Neoh told reporters, adding that the experts told him they would still be happy to collaborate with the IPCC after the report’s publication.
Responding to the experts’ criticism of the IPCC’s investigative powers as limited, Neoh said he agreed but had no solution for expanding its powers under the law.
“Needless to say, it is always better to have more investigative powers. But we are constrained by existing laws, and we must work within this framework. What a new framework might look like is a question left to the public and the government to study,” he added.
Neoh’s deputy Tony Tse also denied that the experts had quit: “We hope to keep in close contact with them. In this first stage, their work has practically concluded… This stage has ended, which is what they mean by ‘stand aside,’” he said.
The IPCC said in a statement that it “deeply appreciated the participation and contribution” of its overseas experts and was “pleased” that they wanted to remain engaged with the probe.
Neoh said the report is expected to be mostly a fact-finding exercise concerning events up until July 1 and would not include too many recommendations.
‘Not independent or neutral’
Reports of the panel’s exit prompted activists to challenge the IPCC’s credibility.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) – which has organised multiple mass pro-democracy marches – urged the chief executive to set up an independent commission of inquiry with the power to summon and protect witnesses.
“The CHRF has criticised the IPCC multiple times for its lack of independence, neutrality and investigative powers… The resignation of overseas experts today shows that fact. Carrie Lam should stop believing that saying ‘the existing system works’ would make it true,” the group said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung made an appearance at the legislature on Wednesday but declined to answer a question on plans to establish an independent inquiry.
Prior to their departure, the experts issued a statement last month raising questions about the efficacy of the IPCC. They said the body lacked power and urged for a more comprehensive investigation by an independent organisation.
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