Advocating for the protection of human rights is fundamentally based on the idea that humans — individuals — are the basis of society. Once we sacrifice the well-being of individuals for the sake of political ideologies, any claim that such actions were carried out in the name of human rights automatically becomes void.
Clashes between Hong Kong protesters and the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) have now been ongoing for over five months. Originally sparked off by peaceful demonstrations in defiance of an extradition bill, it has now turned into city-wide protests, calling for democratic reform and an end to police brutality, with increasing levels of violence. Over the past six months, the HKPF has fired 9000 canisters of tear gas, introduced the use of water cannons and long-range acoustic devices, and increased their usage of live ammunition.1 Protesters have also escalated their use of force, now employing bows and arrows, trebuchets, and molotov cocktails. Amidst the increasing chaos in Hong Kong, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) would like to call for international attention on the disproportionate infringement of the right to health and security of Hong Kong citizens.
Over the past few months, the HKPF has carried out obstruction and destruction of medical care on a large scale. They have denied first aiders and paramedics access to locations where medical help was needed, which unnecessarily delayed medical access to the injured. Tear gas was widely fired near hospitals and into first-aid stations, as first-aid stations were raided and wrecked. Moreover, a photo of arrested first-aiders, paramedics and doctors went viral on the internet, harshly manifesting the denial of HK protesters’ right to health.2-11 The obligation to respect and protect medical practitioners, activities, and transports in armed conflicts is well established in customary International Humanitarian Law.12 Although the IHL is only applicable in times of war, it would be unreasonable to suggest unbreachable moral codes in times of war are breachable in civil conflicts. The HKPF’s obstruction of medical transports and medical personnel contradicts these moral principles, preventing medical access by those in need. The Federation calls upon the HKPF, along with all other societal stakeholders to uphold these fundamental rights. We also urge the Hong Kong government to develop and implement specific measures to ensure the continuity of health services in cases of such sudden disruptions in society.
The force used by both protestors and the HKPF is also becoming increasingly disproportional. Irritants such as dioxin in tear gas and water cannons are known to be able to result in permanent disabilities such as blindness, vegetative state from traumatic brain injury, and even death13. Given the seriousness of its side effects, it is concerning that tear gas is commonly deployed in enclosed and highly concentrated areas, or even near hospitals, elderly care centres, and first aid stations.4,10,14 We urge the Hong Kong government to re-evaluate its guidelines on tear gas use to ensure its appropriate usage by the HKPF, and to ensure that the proper guidelines are abided to by the police. Devices such as tear gas and water cannons ought to only be used for the dispersion of crowds, but inappropriate usage of such tools have inflicted direct harm on protestors and the uninvolved public, resulting in skull fractures in serious cases.15,16 The HKPF’s increasing use of live ammunition has also resulted in protesters being shot in the chest or in the abdomen without appropriate warning.17,18 Such use of force is unwarranted, and minimal force ought to be used by the HKPF when controlling crowds.
On the other hand, escalating violence on the part of protestors is also concerning. There have been isolated cases where a man has been doused in flammable liquid before being set on fire, leaving him in a critical condition19; a 70-year-old has passed away after being struck in the head with a brick20, and a police officer was shot in the leg with an arrow21. Protesters have also thrown objects from a height onto roads22 in an effort to blockade roads, posing a genuine threat to the safety of uninvolved individuals. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, IFMSA maintains that all individuals are entitled to the freedom of expression and the right to protest. However, the Federation also condemns all attempts at inflicting grievous bodily harm on others or ending another person’s life.
As mentioned in the beginning, IFMSA maintains that the fundamental right to health must also be defended under all circumstances, regardless of institutional and individuals’ own political beliefs. Therefore, we call upon all Hong Kong stakeholders to respect the sanctity of medical assistance — that its only intention be that of saving lives.
- 李 慧妍. (2019, November 17). 【11.17】《癲狗日報》攝記遭水炮車射中 後腦骨折須手術抽瘀血. HK01. Retrieved from https://news.mingpao.com/ins/港聞/article/20191115/s00001/1573799632530/統計警方5個月發逾9000發催淚彈-團體促警公布成分釋疑
- 被捕者嘔吐倒地 警拒急救員治理 醫護斥「只顧拉人 罔顧人權」 – 20191029 – 要聞. (2019, October 29). Retrieved from https://news.mingpao.com/pns/要聞/article/20191029/s00001/1572287296729/被捕者嘔吐倒地-警拒急救員治理-醫護斥「只顧拉人-罔顧人權」.
- 關 冠麒. (2019, July 21) 遊行前 警充公急救站.Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://hk.news.appledaily.com/local/daily/article/20190722/20734810.
- Hong Kong’s protests explained. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/09/hong-kong-protests-explained/.
- Editorial Board City University Student Union. (2019, October 1). “急救被暴力拗手拘捕[video-file]” [First-aider forcibly arrested with upper limb twisted]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/cityusuedb/videos/385328608828777/
- Medics delayed by ‘no casualty’ claim by police. (2019, September 12). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1480215-20190912.htm.
- 3名急救員屯門被捕 黃任匡：警暴造成人道危機愈趨嚴重. (2019, September 24). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://www.hkcnews.com/article/23704/急救員-黃任匡-921屯門衝突-23704/3名急救員屯門被捕-黃任匡：警暴造成人道危機愈趨嚴重.
- Cheung, J. (2019, November 19). Hospital patients choke on tear gas. The Standard. Retrieved from http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=213670&sid=11
- Hong Kong police enter PolyU campus following day-long battle, as officers fire live warning shots nearby. (2019, November 18). Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved from https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/11/18/hong-kong-police-enter-polyu-campus-following-day-long-battle-officers-fire-live-warning-shots-nearby/
- 伊利沙伯醫院急症室至周三凌晨不接收非危急病患. (2019, November 18). 明報. Retrieved from https://news.mingpao.com/ins/港聞/article/20191118/s00001/1574053291760/伊利沙伯醫院急症室至周三凌晨不接收非危急病患
- Volunteers of Hong Kong Democracy Now. (2014, October 7). Violence in Hong Kong: the translated evidence. Retrieved November 26, 2019, from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/violence-in-hong-kong-translated-evidence/.
- ICRC, Customary IHL Database (n. d.). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter7
- Chan, E., Hung, K., Hung, H., & Graham, C. (2019). Use of tear gas for crowd control in Hong Kong. The Lancet, 394(10208), 1517-1518. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(19)32326-8.
- 鄧 詠中, 陳 永武, & 黎 靜珊. (2019, July 28). 【元朗遊行】催淚煙攻入安老院片段曝光 「有煙！婆婆入返去！」. HK01. Retrieved from https://www.hk01.com/突發/357158/元朗遊行-催淚煙攻入安老院片段曝光-有煙-婆婆入返去
- 天水圍15歲少年疑頭中催淚彈危殆 叔叔：為何警察要射頭？. (2019, January 14). 明報. Retrieved from https://news.mingpao.com/ins/港聞/article/20191114/s00001/1573690012018/天水圍15歲少年疑頭中催淚彈危殆-叔叔-為何警察要射頭
- 【11.17】《癲狗日報》攝記遭水炮車射中 後腦骨折須手術抽瘀血. (2019, November 17). hk01. Retrieved from https://www.hk01.com/社會新聞/399317/11-17-癲狗日報-攝記遭水炮車射中-後腦骨折須手術抽瘀血
- Ting, V., McCarthy, S., & Lo, K. (2019, November 17). Hong Kong protests: residents turn out in force to clear roads near university campuses after five days of traffic mayhem. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3038072/hong-kong-protests-residents-turn-out-force-clear-roadsl
- As it happened: Hong Kong protester shot in chest, six live rounds fired on National Day. (2019, October 1). The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3031044/chaos-expected-across-hong-kong-anti-government-protesters
- Yiu, K. (2019, November 11). Hong Kong protester shot by police while a pro-China man is set on fire, over 260 arrested. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/International/hong-kong-protester-shot-police-pro-china-man/story?id=66905300
- Creery, J. (2019, November 15). 70-year-old dies after being hit on head with brick during Hong Kong protest clash. Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved from https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/11/15/70-year-old-hongkonger-dies-hit-head-object-protest-clash/
- Lam, J. (2019, November 18). Tear gas fired as radicals attempt to escape Hong Kong university, battle with police intensifies. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3038151/tense-stand-between-hong-kong-protesters-and-police
- Ting, V., McCarthy, S., & Lo, K. (2019, November 17). Hong Kong protests: residents turn out in force to clear roads near university campuses after five days of traffic mayhem. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3038072/hong-kong-protests-residents-turn-out-force-clear-roads
- (n.d.). Retrieved from https://images.app.goo.gl/o53qZwmudxG4iA4YA.