15 October 2019
As recent events in Hong Kong or Iraq demonstrate, use of force during assemblies raises major challenges under international human rights law (IHRL).
While law enforcement officials frequently use less-lethal weapons during assemblies, international guidance on their design, production, procurement, testing, training, transfer, and use was lacking.
The United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – the outcome of research and broad consultations carried out under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the University of Pretoria – fills this gap.
Less-lethal weapons include police batons, chemical irritants such as pepper spray and tear gas, electroshock weapons such as TASER, and water cannon. They are defined in the Guidance as weapons whose ordinary use offers a substantially reduced risk of death when compared to conventional firearms.
Based on international law, in particular, IHRL and law enforcement rules, as well as good law enforcement practice, the Guidance provides direction on what constitutes lawful and responsible design, production, transfer, procurement, testing, training, deployment, and use of less-lethal weapons and related equipment, and promotes accountability.
It is aimed at a wide range of stakeholders, particularly states and law enforcement agencies, as well as weapon manufacturers, human rights mechanisms, private security companies, police oversight bodies, and human rights defenders, along with individuals seeking a remedy for human rights violations caused by less-lethal weapons.
‘This new Guidance meets an important need. We believe it will prevent unnecessary harm, improve accountability and help to ensure people can protest while being protected against unnecessary or disproportionate harm’ explains Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.
This Guidance is the outcome of research and broad consultations carried out under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the University of Pretoria, in particular, its Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA) and its Centre for Human Rights.
A group of experts – academics, representatives of United Nations (UN) agencies and other international organizations, UN special procedures mandate-holders, members of UN treaty bodies, law enforcement officials, experts in police oversight, representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society and manufacturers – helped to draft the Guidance. An inclusive consultation process allowed a broad range of stakeholders to provide input and comment on successive drafts, whether in writing or during expert meetings and consultations in Cambridge, Geneva, and Pretoria.
‘It is a significant step forward that less-lethal weapons and related equipment have become widely available in recent years, as an alternative to, especially, firearms and the technology continues to develop. At the same time, less-lethal weapons can easily be misused or abused. The Guidance is aimed at ensuring that only appropriate force is used, if force is to be used at all’ stresses Christof Heyns, Professor at the University of Pretoria and convenor of the expert group who drafted the Guidance.
The United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement will be launched in Geneva on 25 October 2019 in an event co-organized with OHCHR, the University of Pretoria, and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva.
With more than 400 registered participants – both online and in Geneva – the Annual Conference brought all the relevant stakeholders in the discussions around this topical human rights issue.
Co-organized with the Counter-Terror Pro LegEm Project, the meeting examined the effectiveness of measures to prevent and counter terrorism – closure of places of worship, vague prohibitions of ‘glorification of terrorism’, stop-and-search operations – and their impact on human rights.
This online conference (in French) will discuss content and recommendations of our recent publications on the right to seeds with French partners.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will discuss, along with other panelists, children’s rights in the context of the environment, international efforts and youth engagement
This online short course will examine the protection afforded by international human rights law in these contexts, with a specific focus on the right to peaceful assembly – which is at the heart of such movements –, and the right to life – which is often violated during such transitional moments.
This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, will provide participants with an introduction to substantive human rights law. It will start with an introduction to the nature and sources of international human rights law and its place in the international legal system. The course will then provide a presentation of the main principles applicable to substantive rights (jurisdiction, obligation and limitations).
We are a partner of the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, housed at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre, which aims to map and analyse the human rights challenges and opportunities presented by the use of big data and associated technologies. It notably examines whether fundamental human rights concepts and approaches need to be updated and adapted to meet the new realities of the digital age.
Via a new lecture series on disruptive military technologies, this project aims at staying abreast of the various military technology trends; promoting legal and policy debate on new military technologies; and furthering the understanding of the convergent effects of different technological trends shaping the digital battlefield of the future.