by Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, Rohini J. Haar, MD, MPH
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of popular protests in which people have taken to the streets to express grievances and claim their rights. In many cases, police and security forces have responded in ways that profoundly undermine the fundamental rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, often leading to escalations in violence through unwarranted, inappropriate, or disproportionate uses of force.
Law enforcement throughout the world is increasingly responding to popular protests with crowd-control weapons (CCWs). The proliferation of CCWs without adequate regulation, training, monitoring, and/or accountability, has led to the widespread and routine use or misuse of these weapons, resulting in injury, disability, and death. There is a significant gap in knowledge about the health effects of CCWs and an absence of meaningful international standards or guidelines around their use. As a result, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) partnered to document the health consequences of CCWs and examine their roles and limitations in protest contexts and make recommendations about their safe use.
This report aims to raise awareness about the misuse and abuse of CCWs, the detrimental health effects that these weapons can have, and the impact of their use on the meaningful enjoyment of freedom of assembly and expression. We also seek to foster a global debate to develop international standards and guidelines. Ultimately, our goal is to prevent injury, disability, and death by providing information about CCWs and insisting on their safe use.
The misuse of CCWs and the human rights concerns that arise from this misuse are the result of a number of factors, the most significant of which are: gaps in international standards and regulations; insufficient testing, training, and regulations; a rapidly-growing industry; and a lack of accountability.
There are many flagrant examples of the misuse of CCWs, some of which are documented in case studies included in this report. The report examines six kinds of CCWs used internationally: kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs), chemical irritants, water cannons, disorientation devices, acoustic weapons, and directed energy devices.