UN group criticises HK policy on body searches

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2008, 12:00am

The Hong Hong Police Force's practice of automatically body searching everyone in police custody - and its frequent use of strip searches - has come under fire from the United Nations' Committee Against Torture.

The committee has urged the government to require such searches to be limited to cases where there is reasonable and clear justification and, if carried out, they be conducted by the least intrusive means.

In its report on a hearing of Hong Kong groups' concerns early this month, the committee also says the government should provide an independent mechanism to monitor strip searches if the detainee asks for it.

Police set up new guidelines on strip searches in July after complaints by detained activists. But legislators set up a subcommittee on the issue last month after learning that more than 1,600 full strip searches had been conducted in the three months since the guidelines took effect.

The UN committee's report welcomes the new guidelines but says strict guidelines should also be applied to other law enforcement agencies, including the immigration and correctional services departments.

Under the guidelines, anyone detained in police custody is searched, but the duty officer determines the level of intrusiveness on a case-by-case basis.

On the issue of body cavity searches - also raised by activists at the meeting - the committee's report says alternate methods should be sought.

It says such searches must be used only as a last resort and should be performed by trained health personnel and with due regard for the individual's privacy and dignity.

In response, a government spokesman said police were authorised by law to search detainees in the performance of their duties and only conducted strip searches with strong justification.

The committee's report also urges Hong Kong to adopt a legal framework on asylum and to establish an effective procedure for the determination of refugee status.