UNITED NATIONS, March 14 (IPS) – When the US planned to sell fighter jets to a politically repressive regime in Southeast Asia in a bygone era, a spokesman for a human rights organization responded to a reporter’s question: said there were no plans were to oppose the proposed sale because “it is very difficult to link F-16 fighters to human rights violations”
If fighter jets are fair game and cannot be used to violate human rights, the same cannot be said of “weapons of mass control” (WMCs), which include water cannons, tear gas grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets – usually used against civilian protesters.
But these weapons, contrary to popular belief, are not only the sole monopolies of authoritative regimes in Asia, the Middle East and South and Central America, but are also used by Western democracies such as the US, Spain and France – along with Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Gaza, Guinea, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Peru, Sudan, Tunisia and Venezuela.
An October 2019 Reuters report on mass resistance in Hong Kong said protests erupted over planned legislation that would have allowed extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China.
Police reportedly fired more than 6,000 tear gas grenades, about 2,400 rubber bullets, some 700 sponge grenades and more than 500 bean bag grenades.
The report, My eye explodedpublished in collaboration with the Omega Research Foundation, is based on research in more than 30 countries over the past five years.
It documents “how thousands of protesters and bystanders have been maimed and dozens killed by the often reckless and disproportionate use of less-lethal law enforcement weapons, including kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs), such as rubber bullets, as well as the firing of rubber buckshot, and tear gas grenades aimed and fired directly at protesters”.
“We believe that legally binding global controls on the production of and trade in less-lethal weapons, including KIPs, along with effective guidelines on the use of force are urgently needed to counter an escalating cycle of abuse,” says Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Military, Security and Police Issues.
Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation are among 30 organizations calling for a UN-backed torture-free trade treaty to ban the production and trade of inherently abusive KIPs and other law enforcement weapons, and to introduce human rights-based trade controls on the supply in to feed. of other law enforcement equipment, including rubber and plastic bullets.
Dr. Michael Crowley, research associate at the Omega Research Foundation, said a torture-free trade treaty would ban all production and trade of existing inherently abusive law enforcement weapons and equipment.
These include intrinsically dangerous or inaccurate single KIPs, rubber-coated metal bullets, rubber-coated buckshot and multi-projectile ammunition that have resulted in blindness, other serious injuries and deaths around the world.
The Amnesty report says that in hundreds of cases these weapons have resulted in permanent disability and many deaths.
There is an alarming increase in eye injuries, including eyeball ruptures, retinal detachments and complete loss of vision, as well as bone and skull fractures, brain injuries, internal organ rupture and bleeding, pierced hearts and lungs from broken ribs, damage to genitals and psychological trauma.
A recent report in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times said dissent in Sri Lanka is often met with tear gas and water cannons fired by the Sri Lankan police. Mass demonstrations that culminated in a protest site following an economic and political crisis last year were often quelled with police tear gas and water cannons.
Some protesters were killed, while some deaths were attributed to complications following tear gas attacks. The Sri Lanka Police are now accused of abusing the riot control officer. Lawyers have also lodged complaints with human rights authorities, the police and courts.
Sri Lankans who have been exposed to tear gas claim to have experienced prolonged coughing, phlegm, throat irritation and, in some cases, asthma. Between March and July 2022, police had fired more than 6,700 tear gas canisters.
Meanwhile, according to an assessment by the Chilean National Institute for Human Rights, police actions during protests that began in October 2019 have resulted in more than 440 eye injuries, with more than 30 cases of eye loss or eye rupture.
At least 53 people died from projectiles fired by security forces between 1990 and June 2017, according to a peer-reviewed study based on medical literature. It also concluded that 300 of the 1,984 wounded suffered permanent disability. According to the report, the actual numbers are likely much higher.
Since then, the availability, variety and deployment of KIPs has escalated worldwide, furthering the militarization of protest policing.
The Amnesty report finds that national guidelines for the use of KIPs rarely meet international standards for the use of force, stating that their deployment is limited to situations of last resort when violent individuals pose an imminent threat of harm to persons. The police routinely break the rules with impunity.
In the United States, the report said, the use of rubber bullets to suppress peaceful protest has become increasingly common.
A protester who was punched in the face on May 31, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, told Amnesty International: “My eye exploded from the impact of the rubber bullet and my nose moved from where it should be to under the other eye. The first night I was in the hospital, they collected the pieces of my eye and sewed it back together. Then they returned my nose to where it should be and reshaped it. They have placed a prosthetic eye – so now I can only see out of my right eye.”
In Spain, the use of large, inherently imprecise tennis ball-sized rubber KIPs has resulted in at least one death from head trauma and 24 serious injuries, including 11 cases of serious eye injuries, according to campaign group Stop Balas de Goma.
In France, a medical examination of 21 patients with facial and eye injuries caused by rubber bullets revealed serious injuries, including bone fragmentation, fractures and fractures leading to blindness.
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