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Amnesty International: Security forces routinely misuse rubber bullets

By Paul Godfrey,


March 14 (UPI) -- The international trade in rubber bullets and other weapons used by riot police and security forces should be regulated to reduce the number of peaceful protestors being killed and injured, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Amnesty International called Tuesday for tighter controls on the trade in riot-control weaponry such as the LBD-40 riot gun commonly deployed by French police pictured here backing away from an anti-LBD40 gun placard in Paris, February 2, 2019, during protests across the country against police violence. File Photo by Eco Clement/UPI

Pressing for strict controls on their use and a U.N.-backed "Torture Free Trade Treaty," the group said security forces across the world were routinely misusing rubber and plastic bullets and other law enforcement weapons to violently suppress peaceful protests and causing life-changing injuries and deaths.

Amnesty's call follows a five-year study in more than 30 countries that found thousands of protestors have been maimed and dozens killed by the "often reckless and disproportionate use of less lethal law enforcement weaponry, including kinetic impact projectiles, such as rubber bullets, as well as the firing of rubberized buckshot, and tear gas grenades aimed and fired directly at demonstrators."

"We believe that legally-binding global controls on the manufacture and trade in less lethal weapons, including KIPS, along with effective guidelines on the use of force are urgently needed to combat an escalating cycle of abuses," said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International's Researcher on Military, Security and Policing issues.

The report, which was produced in cooperation with Omega Research Foundation, documents what it said was an alarming increase in eye injuries, including eyeball ruptures, retinal detachments and total sight loss.

Other injuries include bone and skull fractures, brain injuries, the rupture of internal organs and hemorrhaging, punctured hearts and lungs from broken ribs, damage to genitalia, and psychological trauma.

According to an evaluation by Chile's National Institute for Human Rights, police actions during protests which began in October 2019 resulted in more than 440 eye injuries, with over 30 cases of eye loss, or ocular rupture.

Amnesty said that at least 53 people died from projectiles fired by security forces, according to a peer-reviewed study based on medical literature worldwide between 1990 and June 2017. It also found that 300 of the 1,984 people injured suffered permanent disability, but actual numbers were likely to be far higher.

Since then, the availability, variety and deployment of KIPs has escalated globally, furthering the "militarization of protest policing," said Amnesty.

The Amnesty-Omega report found that national guidance KIP use rarely met international standards on the use of force which states they should be used only as a last resort when violent individuals pose an imminent threat of harm to persons.

Police forces routinely flout regulations with impunity, the report alleges.

Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation are among 30 organizations calling for the U.N.-backed treaty that would prohibit the manufacture and trade of "inherently abusive KIPs" and other law enforcement weapons and introduce human rights-based trade controls on the supply of other law enforcement equipment, including rubber and plastic bullets.

"A Torture-Free Trade Treaty would prohibit all production and trade in existing inherently abusive law enforcement weapons and equipment, including intrinsically dangerous or inaccurate single KIPs, rubber-coated metal bullets, rubberized buckshot and ammunition with multiple projectiles that have resulted in blinding, other serious injuries and deaths across the world," said Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation.

In December, The Guardian reported that Iranian security forces were targeting women at anti-regime protests by firing at their faces, breasts and genitals, according to interviews with medics across the country.

Doctors and nurses -- treating demonstrators in secret to avoid arrest -- said they first observed the practice after noticing that women often arrived with different wounds to men, who more commonly had shotgun pellets in their legs, buttocks and backs.

A 2019 survey of French public opinion by Statista, the European Union's main statistical agency, found 54% of people opposed the use of Flash-Balls rubber bullet-firing guns, the so-called "LBD-40" gun, by police.

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