A non-kinetic-energy (NKE) weapon is one that threatens or inflicts harm to a person other than through the application to the human body of the energy that a bullet, fragment, or other projectile possesses due to its motion. This term encompasses devices or agents that act as a weapon through the emission of different forms of radiation or sound, diffusion of chemical or biological agents, or the transmission of electricity1. Many of these weapons have been deemed ‘non-lethal’ or ‘less-lethal’ insofar as they are claimed to reduce the risk of fatal or serious injury.
An international meeting of experts was held at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in May 2010 with the support of the Public International Law Section of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland. The May 2010 meeting was an initial step towards reviewing NKE weapons termed ‘non-lethal’ under international law.
An in-depth report, Non-kinetic-energy weapons termed ‘non-lethal’, A Preliminary Assessment under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, is now available. One of the key recommendations is to monitor the use of NKE weapons under applicable international law on a more systematic basis. Another is the need to review relevant international criminal justice standards, in particular the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, to ensure they more accurately reflect developments and concerns regarding NKE weapons. Following a suggestion by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a guide to reviewing weapons under international human rights law is currently being drafted by the Academy. This guide will be published in 2011.
1 This covers the following categories of NKE weapons: a) Directed energy weapons (e.g. laser and millimetre wave weapons); b) Chemical weapons (e.g. tear gas and chemical incapacitants); c) Electrical weapons (e.g. Tasers); and Acoustic weapons (such as the Long Range Acoustic Device, LRAD).