Police are misusing rubber bullets worldwide, Amnesty says

The rights group has called for better global regulation of the trade in policing equipment

A police officer holds a rubber bullet gun amid clashes with protesters on International Workers' Day, in Paris. AFP
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Police use of rubber bullets and other projectiles against peaceful protesters has become increasingly routine worldwide, leading to eye injuries and even deaths, Amnesty International has warned.

The London-based group on Tuesday called for better global regulation of the trade and use of such policing equipment, also called “less lethal weapons”, after a research in more than 30 countries in the past five years.

“Thousands of protesters and bystanders have been maimed and dozens killed by the often reckless and disproportionate use of less lethal law enforcement weaponry,” it said in a report titled My Eye Exploded.

These included rubber bullets, rubberised buckshot and teargas grenades fired directly at demonstrators in south and Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the US.

“There has been an alarming increase in eye injuries, including eyeball ruptures, retinal detachments and the complete loss of sight,” Amnesty International said.

In Chile alone, the police's response to protests from October 2019 caused more than 30 cases of eye loss, according to the country's National Institute for Human Rights.

Other demonstrators in countries surveyed had also suffered bone and skull fractures, brain injuries, the rupture of internal organs, or punctured hearts and lungs from broken ribs, it said.

Demonstrators have also been killed, the report co-written with the UK-based Omega Research Foundation said.

In Iraq, security forces deliberately fired specialist grenades that are 10 times heavier than typical teargas munitions at protesters, causing at least two dozen deaths in 2019, Amnesty said.

In Spain, the use of tennis-ball-sized rubber projectiles has led to at least one death from head trauma, according to campaign group 'Stop Balas de Goma'.

“Legally-binding global controls on the manufacture and trade in less lethal weapons … along with effective guidelines on the use of force are urgently needed to combat an escalating cycle of abuses,” said Amnesty International's Patrick Wilcken.

Updated: March 14, 2023, 8:04 AM