Weapons | “Non-lethal” Weapons Used With Excessive Force

“Non-lethal” weapons used with excessive force can cause serious injury, disability, and death.

Law enforcement throughout the world is increasingly responding to popular protests with crowd-control weapons (CCWs), also known as “non-lethal” or “less-than-lethal” weapons. The proliferation of CCWs without adequate regulation, training, monitoring, and/or accountability has led to the widespread and routine use or misuse of these weapons, resulting in injury, disability, and death.

After the South Korean government used more than 350,000 canisters of tear gas against demonstrators in 1987, PHR organized an investigation that concluded Seoul’s indiscriminate use of massive amounts of tear gas was clearly excessive use of force, effectively changing the perception of tear gas as a harmless crowd-control tactic.

Since then, PHR has conducted numerous investigations into governments’ excessive use of so-called non-lethal weapons, including in Bahrain, Georgia, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Kashmir, Panama, Thailand, and Turkey.

In 2016, PHR and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations published a report documenting the misuse and abuse of CCWs, the detrimental health effects that these weapons can have, and the impact of their use on freedom of assembly and expression.

With our partners, PHR advocates for international standards and guidelines for CCWs in order to prevent injury, disability, and death.

Health Impact of Crowd-Control Weapons

“Non-lethal” weapons, used throughout the world for crowd control, can cause serious injury, disability, and even death. These fact sheets describe the health impact of acoustic weapons, directed energy devices, rubber bullets (and other kinetic impact projectiles), stun grenades (and other disorientation devices), tear gas (and other chemical irritants), and water cannons. They also outline when and how these weapons can legally be used.

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