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Physicians for Human Rights INCLO

Lethal in Disguise

How Crowd-Control Weapons Impact Health and Human Rights

Respect for freedom of expression and assembly is one of the key indicators of a government’s respect for human rights, and a pillar of modern democracy. In the democratic system, governments are responsible for facilitating protests and ensuring that demonstrators can safely enjoy this fundamental right.

When states respond violently to assemblies by using crowd-control weapons (CCWs), they escalate tension and create panic that can lead to long-lasting psychological traumas, serious injuries, disabilities and even death.

The Lethal in Disguise project highlights the inherent dangers of some of the weapons used by security forces around the world.

We call on governments to respect the human rights commitments they have made to protect protesters and put an end to impunity when violations are committed by state forces during demonstrations.

The Report

Lethal in Disguise 2 contains updated descriptions, case studies and fact sheets on kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs), chemical irritants, water cannons, disorientation devices, acoustic weapons and batons.

Other devices such as drones, electronic shock weapons, heat rays and blinding lasers, are also analysed in order to understand their mechanisms, deployment and potential effects.

The Project

Protests have surged across the globe in recent years to call out inequities, express discontent and demand change from governments. Law enforcement and security forces frequently respond to these demands with excessive force, undermining the’ rights to protest. In this context, the use of CCWs – devices designed to inflict sublethal pain on individuals – has resulted in thousands of people seriously injured and numerous deaths worldwide.

To understand the impacts of CCWs on health and on freedom of expression and assembly, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) have been rigorously documenting injuries caused by these weapons for almost a decade. In 2016, we jointly published the initial Lethal in Disguise report, the first study to systematically catalogue the health risks and consequences of CCWs. Since then, the nature, scale and documentation of protests – not to mention the weapons used – have evolved considerably. These continual developments demanded we revisit the findings of the initial report with Lethal in Disguise 2.

This project aims to bring attention to the inappropriate use and misuse of CCWs, their detrimental health effects and the consequences of their use on fundamental rights. At the global level, we hope this will contribute to developing strong international standards and guidelines that support accountability. In this iteration, we are joined by the Omega Research Foundation who are experts in the manufacture, trade, and use of these weapons.

Ultimately, our goal is to prevent injury, disability and death by providing information about CCWs and insisting on their safe use and the enabling the exercise of protest rights in a safe manner.

The widespread use of crowd-control weapons on demonstrators has real consequences: on the physical health of those targeted, on the mental health of everyone involved and on our society’s ability to exercise our basic human and civil rights.

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