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NEWS

The use and abuse of less lethal weapons by the police in Latin America

FairTrialsAdmin - July 9, 2020

This post was written by Matthew McEvoy, a Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation, Manchester (UK) and Verónica Hinestroza Arenas a specialist on International Human Rights Law and Torture Prevention.

 

Less lethal weapons such as pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades can be found in the armouries of law enforcement agencies worldwide, but their misuse can have serious human rights implications. Mass protest movements in Nicaragua in 2018 and Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia in 2019, were met with widespread excessive force which included the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Shotgun-fired rubber pellet ammunition is being widely used by Argentinean police to enforce COVID-19 social distancing and quarantine measures. Pepper spray has been used by Venezuelan police and Brazilian prison guards to torture people deprived of their liberty.

These and countless other examples show that although less lethal weapons are intended to provide law enforcement officials with a less dangerous alternative to firearms, their use can also result in serious injury or death. For this reason, states, manufacturers and civil society have adopted the term “less lethal” in place of “non lethal”. Use of the latter term, however, persists in the Americas, creating confusion for police officers and the general public, and increasing the risk of excessive force.

Furthermore, the general public and even key stakeholders who deal with allegations of misuse, such as legal practitioners and forensic pathologists, are frequently unfamiliar with their characteristics and the limits placed on their use by international human rights law and standards. A greater understanding of these would enable a more objective assessment of use of force incidents.

This article presents the new UN Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement to a Latin American audience. The authors address common misconceptions which often legitimise the abusive use of force by public security forces and analyse problematic practices involving less lethal weapons in the Americas. They conclude that it is vital that political authorities create a culture of accountability for law enforcement, reversing the tendency towards militarisation which leads to certain sectors of the population being treated as the “enemy”.

This article was originally published on La Silla Vacía and is reproduced below.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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