Use of Force, Crowd Control and Peaceful Protests

Completed in October 2019

Use of force in relation to crowd control and peaceful protest raises several challenges under international human rights law at national, regional and international levels. Existing international standards neither capture the multitude of cases of use of force in crowd control and peaceful protest nor encompass new security devices that are used by law enforcement officers during demonstrations. Similarly, no international forum, in Geneva or elsewhere, addresses this issue.

To date, for instance, while less-lethal weapons (LLWs) are regularly used by law enforcement for the management of assemblies, there is no international guidance on their design, production, procurement, testing, training, transfer, and use.

Objectives

This research project aims at addressing the challenges – legal and law enforcement – encountered during the management of assemblies and at filling the protection gaps by developing new standards and useful tools via regular brainstorming on specific issues among law enforcement professionals, peacekeepers, academics, experts, practitioners from the United Nations and regional systems, diplomats and civil society representatives; an annual meeting, targeted research and publications; support to the negotiations at the UN Human Rights Council; support to the work of the UN Human Rights Committee on its General Comment on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; work on specific issues like the use of LLWs.

Advice and Guidance from an Academic Working Group

An Academic Working Group made of leading academics, law enforcement experts and practitioners from different regions and legal backgrounds, and representatives from international organizations and civil society advice the research team and addresses strategic approaches and responses to a specific use of force issues like less lethal weapons, crowd control or the use of new technologies. Its composition varies according to the topics discussed. One example of the work of the AWG is a draft document on LLW.

OUTPUT

The Right to Life

In 2016, the project focussed on the current challenges and opportunities in relation to the right to life, as well as some of the cutting-edge developments in the field.
In the 2016 annual expert seminar, co-organized with the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, leading experts, diplomats, human rights and humanitarian practitioners addressed key issues related to the right to life such as regulation in armed conflict situations and in the context of law enforcement, the role of investigations, new weapon technologies, mandatory death-penalty and the responsibility of non-state actors.

The Geneva Academy In-Brief Use of Force in Law Enforcement and the Right to Life: The Role of the Human Rights Council draws from the discussions of the 2016 expert seminar. It examines how the right to life is affected by law enforcement agencies’ use of force and identifies how the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) could further promote respect for international standards governing policing.

Policing of Assemblies: Use of Force and Accountability

In 2017, the project focussed on the rights affected by the use of force by law enforcement officials during the policing of assemblies.
In the 2017 annual expert seminar, experts and practitioners from the United Nations and regional systems, diplomats, academics, and civil society representatives discussed the implications of ‘public order policing’ for the right to life, comparisons between the practices of law enforcement units in different countries, and comparisons between the practices of law enforcement units in different countries. They also analysed current technological and legal developments in the field, both in terms of their potential advantages and the threats they might engender.

Participants also explored the challenges and opportunities of new technologies, including ‘less-lethal’ weapons (LLWs) and unmanned systems, from the perspectives of both the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They also focused on the problems related to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in an ‘extra-custodial’ setting, which diversified the discussions.

Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons

Under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, a group of experts – academics, representatives of 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 – developed a guidance on less-lethal weapons (LLWs) and related equipment in law enforcement.

A three-month written consultation process, as well as several expert meetings and consultations in Pretoria, Cambridge and Geneva over the course of 2018 allowed gathering inputs and comments from a broad range of stakeholders.

The Guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement will be published in 2019 by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Based on international law, in particular international human rights law and law enforcement rules, as well as good law enforcement practice, they intend to provide direction on the lawful and responsible design, production, transfer, procurement, testing, training, deployment, and use of LLWs and related equipment, and to promote accountability. The Guidelines aim to assist a wide range of stakeholders, namely states, law enforcement agencies, manufacturers, human rights bodies and mechanisms, private security companies, police oversight bodies, human rights defenders, as well as individuals seeking to assert their right to a remedy for human rights violations caused by LLWs and related equipment.

Publications

Cover page of the Guidance

United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement

October 2019

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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NEWS AND EVENTS

Pixabay/joanbrown51 News

Research with an Impact: The Relevance of the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons

June 2020

This document – the outcome of research and broad consultations carried out under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the University of Pretoria – provides direction on what constitutes lawful and responsible deployment and use of less-lethal weapons.

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A police officer during a demonstration News

New Human Rights Guidance on the Use of Less-Lethal Weapons

October 2019

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) is the outcome of research and broad consultations carried out under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and the University of Pretoria.

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Participants in the Geneva Academy Consultation on less lethal weapons News

Towards Guidance on the Use of Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement

October 2018

On 8 and 9 October, academic experts, members of United Nations (UN) specialized bodies, UN Special Rapporteurs, members of UN treaty bodies, representatives of other international organizations, law enforcement officials, experts in police oversight, non-governmental organizations and civil society met to consult states and to discuss revisions made to a proposed text of guidance on less-lethal weapons and related equipment in law enforcement.

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