30 November 2019 open letter from the legal profession to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam
(Please scroll down for Chinese translation 繁体中文请往下滑).
Open Letter to the Chief Executive HKSAR
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, GBM, GBS Chief Executive The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region The People’s Republic of China
Dear Chief Executive,
We write in our capacities as individual members of the legal profession and as ordinary members of the Hong Kong community, to express our shock and disappointment at the lack of any meaningful and constructive action taken by your administration to bring about a peaceful solution to the ongoing protests. It is clear that the current strategy of using force has not brought about the intended result of stopping the protests and restoring stability. Despite this, we are alarmed by calls to you from members of the public, including from those who profess to speak on behalf of the legal profession, to escalate the use of force to restore peace, even if it is excessive, unjustified, or illegal.
More force is not the solution ----------------------------------------------
We strongly condemn violence and law breaking perpetrated by anyone, and we do not believe more force is the answer. Therefore, those urging you to use even more oppressive means to crackdown on protesters are wrong and have been proven wrong over the last few months. They either misunderstand or refuse to acknowledge the true causes of people’s frustrations or the underlying complexities driving the current situation. Categorising them as “terrorists” or attempting to silence the community’s genuine grievances with force just leaves the real causes unresolved and only invites future retribution.
This cannot be the way forward and while we do not condone the violence by the protestors, we can also not support the unfettered use of force, including lethal force, by the Police Force. As members of the legal profession, we are steadfastly dutybound to uphold the rule of law and the due administration of justice. This includes a system of checks and balances, a presumption of innocence, and a right to due process, which make up the bedrock of our legal system and are enshrined in the Basic Law under ‘One Country Two Systems’.
Given this, it is equally (if not more) important that the Hong Kong Police Force also observes the bounds of the law. The Police Force, traditionally viewed as guardians of the peace, is now considered by some (including some inside the force itself) as thinking it is above the law, beyond accountability and free to act without consequences. The Police Force’s indiscriminate, continuous and blatant use of force against civilians, medics, journalists and protesters, forced illegal entry into private premises, are an affront to our legal system and Hong Kong’s values. Such acts of lawbreaking must be stopped if order is to be restored and we believe it is within your power to make this happen immediately.
Stop the cycle of hate ----------------------------------
We are also alarmed by increasingly militant and toxic public discourse, magnified by a 24-hour news cycle and social media that only serves to deepen divisions between families, neighbours, colleagues and friends. These include such acts as calling, and encouraging others to call, large sections of the community who engage in peaceful public protests “cockroaches”. Or the “doxxing” of Police Force and the threatening of their family and children. Such actions are wrong and only serve to dehumanise the victim, be it our fellow residents or our uniformed officers. If left unchecked, it will only perpetuate a cycle of hate and further fuels the violence, leaving Hong Kong at risk of falling into permanent cycles of sectarian violence. This needs to stop immediately, before it becomes irreversible.
Therefore, we hope that you will join with us and call upon the small number of protestors who have resorted to violence to return to peaceful demonstrations and to respect those with different views. Equally, we hope you will call on the Police Force to stop the unlawful use of force and blatant disregard of the Police General Orders by certain officers. In doing so, we hope that you and all members of your administration can lead by example and reframe the content of public discourse by avoiding inflammatory language and dehumanising labels.
Towards a peaceful way forward ---------------------------------------------------
We know that condemnation alone has not and will not resolve this situation nor will pointing out the dangers ahead. The current crisis is a political one, in need of a political solution. Challenging times requires you, as the city’s leader, to take responsibility to find a solution. We implore you to do that and to show strength as a leader, by taking bold steps to de-escalate the situation and to give peace a chance. We therefore respectfully make the following suggestions for your consideration:
1. Publicly declare a standstill. The escalation towards the use of lethal force must be stopped We ask that you stop the spiral of violence by immediately declaring to all parties that you would like a moratorium on all forms of lawbreaking, brutality, disruption, and violence in order to make room for you to lay out a timetable for an inquiry and to establish a process for constructive dialogue. This moratorium must call a stop to all illegal acts by protesters and Police, and their respective supporters. It should last at least until after an agreed process can be found to end this crisis. In a gesture of goodwill, we ask that you call the Police to suspend their operations against the protestors, including a tactical withdrawal from the universities, and return to their stations immediately for a limited period of time, say 48 hours, to give the protestors time to match your gesture with theirs. While we understand that this would be politically difficult, somebody needs to take the first step to call a ceasefire.
2. Set a clear timetable to an independent Inquiry. Given the Government’s own panel on the Independent Police Complaint Commission has said that it does not have sufficient jurisdiction or power to investigate the current complaints made against the Police, the Government should set out a timetable to establishing an independent commission of inquiry. We support the Government in establishing an Inquiry with wide ranging power and scope to ensure that it fully examines the entire situation since these demonstrations began and so that it will be able to propose wholistic solutions, openly and with legitimacy. Such an inquiry will also provide an opportunity for law enforcement to explain its position and why it considers its use of force has been proportionate and legitimate. While we do not speak on behalf of them, it is significant to note that many sectors of the community, including The Bar Association and the Law Society, have already expressed support such an inquiry on various occasions.
3. Enter into meaningful and constructive process. You will no doubt be frustrated like many in the community that there has been little meaningful and constructive engagement over the last six months between the increasingly polarized factions. There should now be a concerted effort to find a process through which everyone can engage with, so that we can agree a roadmap to a resolution in a way that overcomes the current animosity, restores trust, and rebuilds harmony in our society and in the Government. We invite you to consider appointing a council of neutral mediators (who have no political affiliations and are drawn from across the community) to facilitate the establishment of a suitable process for dialogue or negotiations. Whilst the protest movement is declared to be leaderless, there will nonetheless be many ways for the Government to participate in a structured process conducted through intermediaries, including those who may wish to remain anonymous. We implore the Government to be flexible in its approach and consider any creative non-violent means that would allow all parties to achieve a peaceful resolution to the current situation, without preconditions.
As of 21:00 on 30 November 2019, 452 people have signed this open letter. Approximately half of the signees are members of the legal profession. This list will be updated periodically. 截至2019年11月30日21:00，已有452人簽署本公開信。大約一半的簽名者是香港法律專業人士。我們將定期更新本清單。
行政長官 林鄭月娥女士， 紫荊勳賢（GBM），金紫荊星章（GBS） 中華人民共和國香港特別行政區政府
雖然我們並不代表社會各界發言，但有多個團體（包括大律師公會及香港律師會）已曾多次表示支持獨立調查。 3. 展開有意義且具建設性的過程。過去六個月來，日益分化的各黨派之間幾乎沒有作出任何有意義及具建設性的對話。毫無疑問，特首與廣大群衆一樣亦感到萬分沮喪及惆悵。現時社會理應尋求一個各界人士均可參與的過程，以共同達成一套解困路線圖，剋服目前的敵對狀況，並恢復各方間的信任以及社會和政府的和諧。我們建議特首考慮委派一個由（無政黨關係且來自社會各階層的）中立調解員所組成的委員會，協助制定對話或談判的適當流程。據稱近日的抗議活動並無領袖，但政府其實仍有許多渠道可通過中間人（包括希望保持匿名的中間人）參與有組織的過程。我們懇請政府採取靈活的應變方式，深入考量任何具創意的非暴力措施，以期讓各方達成無條件的和平解決方法，走出當前困局。