In 2016, INCLO and PHR published the groundbreaking report Lethal in Disguise: The Health Consequences of Crowd-Control Weapons. It documented the misuse and abuse of crowd-control weapons (CCWs), their detrimental health effects and the impact of their use on the meaningful enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The report highlighted the proliferation of CCWs and the widespread misuse of these weapons resulting in injury, disability and death.
Since the publication of the first Lethal in Disguise, there has been an evolution in both the nature and scale of protests, as well as in their documentation.
In recent years, crowd-control weapons have been massively deployed in protests across the planet, causing more injuries, disabilities and deaths. Faced with this reality, INCLO and PHR identified the need to update and expand the Lethal in Disguise project. We are joined by the Omega Research Foundation, an organization that specializes in the study of manufacture, trade, and use of these weapons. There is still a need to educate the public, government authorities, police institutions and press about the lethal consequences of CCWs and proper regulations on their use and trade that can minimize their danger.
Policymakers in many countries (including Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, the United States and France) are for the first time taking seriously the threat posed by CCWs and looking for up-to-date evidence on their impacts as well as specific, actionable recommendations on curbing their use and limiting their harm.
The original Lethal in Disguise report and its complementary research publications ‘Death, injury and disability from kinetic impact projectiles in crowd-control settings: a systematic review’ and ‘Health impacts of chemical irritants used for crowd control: a systematic review of the injuries and deaths caused by tear gas and pepper spray’ are some of the most frequently cited documents in the field of CCWs. These documents informed the development of the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement.
For nearly 30 years, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has used science and medicine to document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. PHR is a global organization founded on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to stop human rights violations.
PHR’s investigations and expertise are used to advocate for the protection of persecuted health workers, prevent torture, document mass atrocities and hold those who violate human rights accountable.
PHR has assessed the health effects of crowd-control weapons (CCWs) in a number of places, including Bahrain, Egypt, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Thailand and Türkiye. PHR studies have documented severe injuries due to birdshot and rubber bullets in Panama and OPT, abuse of tear gas posing risks to health in Bahrain, South Korea and Türkiye, and beatings using batons and sticks.
Through direct examination of victims, desk research and scientific evaluation of weaponry and its potential consequences (when used both appropriately and inappropriately), PHR has brought relevant information to advocates and policymakers seeking to curtail responses by police and security forces that not only suppress lawful dissent, but also harm human health.
About the INCLO
The International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) comprises 15 independent national human rights organizations working to promote fundamental rights and freedoms by supporting and mutually reinforcing the work of member organizations working in their respective countries, and by collaborating on bilateral and multilateral bases.
The members of INCLO are: Agora International Human Rights Group (Agora) in Russia; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the USA; the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI); the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA); Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in Argentina; the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) in Indonesia; Dejusticia in Colombia; the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) in Australia; the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in India; the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU); the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL); the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC); the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in South Africa; and Liberty in the United Kingdom.
Each organization is multi-issue, multiconstituency, domestic in focus and independent of government, and advocates on behalf of all people in its country through a mix of litigation, legislative campaigning, public education and grassroots advocacy.
Police brutality and discrimination and protest rights are priority areas for INCLO. INCLO members have partnered to advocate against government and police repression of protests and human rights activism. INCLO also seeks to promote and protect the right to protest by combining technical work – compilation of standards and analysis – with the creation of material intended for a wider audience.
INCLO has published several reports on protest such as Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World (2013), Defending Dissent: Towards State Practices That Protect and Promote the Right to Protest (2018) in partnership with The Global Human Rights Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School and Protesting During a Pandemic: State Responses During COVID-19 (2021).
The present report has been a collaborative effort between PHR, 13 members of INCLO, and Omega Research Foundation. The INCLO member organizations that participated in the elaboration of this report are the ACLU, ACRI, Agora, CCLA, CELS, KontraS, Dejusticia, HCLU, HRLC, HRLN, ICCL, KHRC and LRC. Liberty is not an author or party to the report.
Founded in 1990, the Omega Research Foundation (Omega) is a UK-based non-governmental research organisation. Omega investigates and exposes the global manufacture, trade, procurement, and use of a wide range of military, security, and policing weapons, including small arms and light weapons as well as large weapon systems, surveillance technologies, vehicles, and a wide range of law enforcement equipment.
Omega works to ensure that human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including torture and other ill-treatment, are not committed or facilitated by people using such equipment and techniques, so that people are free to exercise their full range of human rights without the threat of violence and repression.
Omega’s years of specialist research and investigation have generated an unrivalled source of evidence on equipment used for torture and repression. Using this data, Omega seeks to end the manufacture, trade, and use of inherently abusive weapons, such as batons with metal spikes, which have no lawful use. Omega also strives to strengthen controls on other weapons that are frequently used for repression and human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment, such as batons, handcuffs, and tear gas. Omega looks to increase transparency and improve controls on the trade of military, security, and policing equipment worldwide.
Omega is working to strengthen use of force standards and their application, support human rights monitors and researchers around the world, force governments to change laws, campaign to control the trade in weapons and equipment, hold corporations and individuals to account, and secure justice for survivors of torture.
The report was written by Rohini J. Haar, MD, MPH, Medical Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Research Fellow, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, and Emergency Physician, Kaiser Medical Center, Oakland and Scott Reynhout, PhD, Researcher for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Section 3 on the laws on the use of force and crowd-control weapons was written by Michael Power, Attorney of the High Court of South Africa, Director and Co-founder of ALT Advisory, and consultant for Protest Rights and Policing, INCLO.
This report is based on research conducted by Rohini J. Haar, Scott Reynhout, and James Smith, MBBS, with support from Sunsaara Shergill and Arthi Inagandla. Tara Davis and Wendy Trott assisted Michael Power with the preparation of Section 3.
The primary contributors and editors of the report were Sherylle Dass (Regional Director, LRC), Sofia Forero Alba (Researcher, Dejusticia), Laura Kauer Garcia (Protest Rights and Policing Project Manager, INCLO), Martin Mavenjina (Senior Program Advisor, KHRC), Luciana Pol (Senior Fellow, Security Policy and Human Rights, CELS), Michael Power (Director, ALT Advisory), Lucila Santos (Program Director, INCLO), Anne Suciu (Attorney, ACRI), and Jennifer Turner (Human Rights Researcher, ACLU). The main working group met for an editing meeting in Bogota, Colombia, on 9-11 May 2022. We are grateful to the Dejusticia staff that welcomed and hosted us.
Other INCLO members contributed to the drafting of case studies and reviewing the executive summary and recommendations, including Jamil Dakwar (ACLU), Kirill Koroteev (Agora), Abby Deshman (CCLA), Juliana Miranda (CELS), Sehba Menai (HRLN), Alice Drury (HRLC), Szabolcs Hegyi (HCLU), Doireann Ansbro (ICCL), Auliya Rayyan, Nadine Sherani and Rozy Brilian Dosik (KontraS), and Devon Turner (LRC).
The Omega Research Foundation contributed with research on the trade and manufacture for the Colombia and South Africa case studies, as well as with drafting and reviewing of the recommendations. We are particularly grateful to Rebecca Shaw for her contributions to drafting, reviewing, and preparing for the launch of this report.
Representatives of PHR who reviewed and edited this report include Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, David Berry, Kevin Short, Karen Naimer, JD, LLM, Erika Dailey, MA, Michael Payne, Gerson H. Smoger, JD, PhD, and Christian DeVos, JD, PhD. This report also was reviewed by two content experts who are part of PHR’s Advisory Council, Vincent Iacopino MD, PhD, and Howard Hu MD, MPH, ScD.
INCLO and PHR thank Taryn McKay for the design of this report and its accompanying web-based platform (lethalindisguise.org), Tali Mayer for photo editing, Kale Vandenbroek and Oleh Kolisny for illustrations, and ALT Advisory for copyediting.
INCLO is grateful to the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and the Bertha Foundation for their generous support of its work in this area. PHR expresses its gratitude to the Piper Fund, an initiative of the Proteus Fund, which funded this research.