The Relevance of the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons
Current protests in the United States (US) and elsewhere, or measures taken in the context of the COVID-19 show the relevance of the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement.
This document – the outcome of research and broad consultations carried out under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the University of Pretoria and its Centre for Human Rights – provides direction on what constitutes lawful and responsible design, production, transfer, procurement, testing, training, deployment, and use of less-lethal weapons and related equipment.
As recent protests in the US but also elsewhere – Hong Kong, Iraq or Chile to cite a few –demonstrate, use of force during assemblies can raise major challenges under international human rights law.
In these contexts, law enforcement officials frequently use less-lethal weapons – such as police batons, chemical irritants like pepper spray and tear gas, electroshock weapons such as TASER, and water cannon. These are defined in the Guidance as weapons whose ordinary use offers a substantially reduced risk of death when compared to conventional firearms.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Agnes Callamard, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, precisely refers to the UN Guidance and its relevance to the current US protests and response by the security forces.
‘This new Guidance, issued in 2019, meets an important need. It provides crucial guidance to states and law enforcement agencies, private security companies, police oversight bodies, and human rights defenders regarding the lawful use of less-lethal weapons’ underlines Professor Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.
Elvert Xavier Barnes Protest Photography
In an EJIL:Talk blog post, Abi Dymond and Neil Corney – two experts who participated in the Academic Working Group we’ve put in place to help the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights develop the Guidance – discuss the relevance of the UN Guidance to the measures taken in relation to the COVID-10 pandemic.
‘Their article notably shows the relevance of the UN Guidance in contexts where law enforcement agencies are tasked with enforcing lockdowns, quarantine and social distancing measures’ underlines Professor Sassòli.
Elvert Barnes Photography>
In their blog post, Abi Dymond and Neil Corney also highlight that the UN Guidance has already been referred to by oversight and human rights bodies, states and other actors worldwide, including in Chile, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iraq, Jamaica and elsewhere.
‘It is very encouraging to see that this document, which is not even one-year-old, has already been referred to in so many different contexts and by different actors. This is exactly what our research aims at: to make it relevant for, known and used by those who should apply it. We expect that more and more civil society organizations but also law enforcement agencies and oversight and human rights bodies will refer to it and use it in order to ensure the appropriate use of force and accountability’ stresses Professor Sassòli.
‘This June, the UN Human Rights Council will debate its biennial resolution on peaceful protest and we hope that the UN Guidance will be equally helpful and reflected in this document and discussions around peaceful protests’ adds Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.
Elvert Barnes Photography
Helmer Jonelid and Edward Millett – enrolled in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights – represent this year the Geneva Academy at the 14th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition.
The project aims at implementing the rights of peasants in 10 countries of the Global South: Philippines, India Nepal, Kenya, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Bolivia and Mexico.
This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.
This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, focuses on the specific issues that arise in times of armed conflict regarding the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It addresses key issues like the applicability of human rights in times of armed conflict; the possibilities of restricting human rights under systems of limitations and derogations; and the extraterritorial application of human rights law.
This research aims at taking stock of and contributing to a better understanding of the above-mentioned challenges to the principle of universality of human rights while also questioning their validity. It will identify relevant political and legal arguments and develop counter-narratives that could be instrumental to dealing with and/or overcoming the polarization of negotiations processes at the multilateral level.
The Geneva Human Rights Platform collaborates with a series of actors to reflect on the implementation of international human rights norms at the local level and propose solutions to improve uptake of recommendations and decisions taken by Geneva-based human rights bodies at the local level.