Police misuse of rubber bullets and other less-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters has killed dozens and maimed thousands in more than 30 countries over the past five years, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights organization said in a new report published Tuesday that a global torture-free trade treaty was needed to regulate the trade in police equipment, including kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs) such as rubber-coated metal bullets, and to help protect the right to protest.
“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 abuses,” says Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International researcher. on military, security and police issues.
Misuse of such weapons by police has not only resulted in deaths, but also an “alarming increase in eye injuries,” police said. reportpublished in collaboration with the Omega Research Foundation and titled “My Eye Exploded”.
These injuries include eyeball tears, retinal detachments, and complete loss of vision, as well as bone and skull fractures, brain injuries, internal organ ruptures and bleeding, pierced hearts and lungs from broken ribs, damage to genitals, and psychological trauma.
In Chile, for example, an assessment by the country’s National Institute for Human Rights found that police action during anti-government protests resulted in more than 440 eye injuries in 2019, with more than 30 cases of eye loss.
Among them was Gustavo Gatica, a 22-year-old psychology student, who became blind in both eyes after being hit in the face by rubber-coated metal bullets fired by police during a protest on November 8, 2019.
“I felt the water pouring out of my eyes…but it was blood,” Gatica told Amnesty. He said he hoped his injuries would lead to change and prevent the same from happening to others.
“I gave up my eyes so that people would wake up,” he said.
Amnesty said the use of rubber bullets to quell peaceful protest has become commonplace in the United States as well.
A protester who was punched in the face on May 31, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, said his “eye exploded” from the impact of the rubber bullet, and his nose moved from where it should be to under the other eye.
The protester, who underwent reconstructive surgery, added: “They put in a prosthetic eye so now I can only see out of my right eye.”
In Palestine, Amnesty said Israeli forces have continued to routinely use rubber-coated metal bullets against Palestinians, despite the Israeli Supreme Court’s 2000 recommendation that such weapons are deadly and should not be used for police demonstrations.
A recent report by the United Nations Human Rights Council documented 438 injuries to Palestinians as a result of Israel’s use of rubber-coated metal bullets during the 2018 Great March of Return protests.
Amnesty said it also documented the “widespread unlawful use of metal bullets” by Iranian security forces against demonstrators across the country, resulting in several deaths and thousands injured.
The dead included 19 people killed by security forces firing metal bullets during protests that swept the country following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year.
Amnesty said it has also documented the use of tear gas grenades aimed directly at individuals or crowds and fired in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Gaza, Guinea, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Peru, Sudan, Tunisia and Venezuela.
In Iraq, security forces deliberately targeted protesters in 2019 with grenades 10 times heavier than typical tear gas ammunition, causing “horrific injuries and at least two dozen deaths,” it said.
But despite the great risks associated with using rubber bullets and other less-lethal weapons, there are currently no international rules governing the production and trade of this equipment.
Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation said human rights-based trade controls should be put in place for the supply of such weapons as part of a UN-backed agreement.
“A torture-free trade treaty would prohibit all production of and trade in existing inherently abusive weapons and equipment for law enforcement, including intrinsically dangerous or inaccurate single KIPs, rubber-coated metal bullets, rubber-coated buckshot, and multi-projectile ammunition that resulted in blinding , other serious injuries and deaths around the world,” said Michael Crowley, research associate at the Omega Research Foundation.