Global misuse of police batons exposed in new investigation


Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation have investigated the misuse of batons and other striking weapons, analysing illustrative incidents spanning the past decade from around the world.

The investigation called Blunt Force, examined hundreds of photos and videos, researchers have verified 188 incidents of the misuse of striking weapons including police batons, lathis (long sticks), sjamboks (rigid whips) and improvised weapons in 35 countries.

They cited examples from violent crackdowns of mass protests in countries as diverse as Belarus, Colombia, France, India and Myanmar.

On Thursday (Sept. 09), the organisations called on governments to support a UN-led process to regulate the trade in law enforcement equipment, highlighting how ubiquitous weapons like police batons are routinely misused in ways which can constitute torture and other ill-treatment.

As the UN process moves ahead, Amnesty and Omega are calling all governments for tighter controls on the trade in “less lethal” law enforcement weapons, as well as an outright ban on certain types of inherently abusive equipment used for torture or the death penalty.

“Batons can cause serious injury and even death when used improperly. Yet the trade in law enforcement equipment like this continues to benefit from a shocking absence of regulation. Governments should be obliged to conduct rigorous risk assessments before allowing this equipment to be exported,” said Verity Coyle, Advisor on Military, Security and Policing at Amnesty International.

“States should also ensure that law enforcement agencies are trained and instructed in human rights compliant policing, including in the context of public assemblies, where many of the violations we documented took place. There are international standards governing how police can use force, but our investigation shows these being flouted all over the world – with profoundly dangerous consequences.”

Striking devices are the most common type of less-lethal weapon, carried by police and security forces worldwide.The widespread deployment of this equipment means it is also among the most frequently abused, especially in the context of crackdowns on protests.

Some less lethal weapons and equipment can have a legitimate use in law enforcement, if employed correctly and in line with international standards.

Law enforcement officials face a wide variety of situations which require instantaneous decisions, often in highly stressful and even dangerous circumstances. But the use of force must only be resorted to with the utmost respect for the law, and with due consideration for the serious impact it can have on a range of human rights.

Under the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF), police may only use force for a legitimate law enforcement purpose, and may not use more force than needed to achieve this objective.

Any potential harm caused by police using force must not outweigh the harm they want to prevent.  Furthermore, as with other means of force, batons must never be used for the purpose of punishment. These rules also apply in the context of policing public assemblies.

Blunt Force shows how law enforcement officials routinely act against international human rights law and standards by attacking protesters who present no threat of violence.

The UN Secretary General has tasked a group of experts to develop proposals with the aim of creating an international framework to regulate the trade in equipment that can be used for torture or in the death penalty. This includes less-lethal equipment like batons and tear gas. They must report back to the UN General Assembly in 2022.

Given the clear risk of common law enforcement weapons being misused, any global framework to regulate the trade must cover the broadest possible scope of equipment.

Dr. Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation, said:

“A growing number of states have recognised the need to address the trade in law enforcement weapons and equipment, as part of the global fight against torture and other ill-treatment. The ongoing UN process to develop common international standards is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to regulate a trade which has been out of control for decades.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)