Hong Kong police have made a rare appearance at the United Nations to fend off accusations of brutality and insist they have been the victims of relentless violence during the anti-government protests that have ravaged the city since last June.
Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, Deputy Commissioner of Police Oscar Kwok Yam-shu described chaotic scenes of petrol bomb attacks on officers, the detonation of explosives in public areas and widespread vandalism over months of social unrest sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The force had the “unenviable task” of trying to preserve the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens for months, he said. In doing so, officers had stood in the way of those who “extorted their demands from the government through mob violence”.
Kwok said in Geneva: “This is the real reason they are relentless in accusing police of brutality, as part of a comprehensive effort to vilify the Hong Kong police, with the aim of removing it from the equation so that the extortion could be successful.”
He said violent criminals preached to their followers that their noble cause justified the means. But he added that it was not the police’s job to judge their cause.
“We are police officers. Our one and only mission is to find out whether anyone has committed a crime. If someone breaks the law, it is our lawful duty to stop him and arrest him,” he said.
“Whether a cause is altruistic or in fact self-serving is completely irrelevant to us. The law demands that we arrest them. The basic premise of the rule of law is that. No one is above the law.”
Kwok wrapped up his speech, saying: “This is the truth about Hong Kong.”
Police faced accusations of using excessive force during protests that turned increasingly violent as radical protesters clashed with officers.
The UN Human Rights Office last year accused police of defying international norms and standards in their use of weapons, creating “a considerable risk of death or serious injury”.
Police have fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas, 10,000 rubber bullets, 2,000 beanbag rounds, and 19 live bullets, two of which hit and wounded protesters.
Radicals hurled petrol bombs and bricks at officers, blocked streets, firebombed metro stations and attacked people with opposite opinions. More than 550 police officers were injured, with one being shot in his calf with an arrow.
Kwok was part of the Hong Kong government delegation attending the council’s 43rd regular session, which is examining human rights issues in various member states.
The Hong Kong group, part of the Chinese delegation, was led by Undersecretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Andy Chan Shui-fu and included officials from the police, Department of Justice and Security Bureau.
In Hong Kong, Icarus Wong Ho-yin, founder of the group Civil Rights Observer, said that Kwok had not addressed the issues, which stemmed from the force’s failure to establish an independent complaints system. He said the public felt it had no channel to air grievances.
Various Hongkongers have had their say in Geneva in recent months, including Canto-pop singer and pro-democracy campaigner Denise Ho Wan-sze, who said people’s rights had been eroded in the city.
Billionaire Pansy Ho Chiu-king, who spoke at a meeting as chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, accused protesters of silencing her. She said that pupils had being “indoctrinated” to hate police.
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