Inaccuracies in report on UN-approved tear gas

The United Nations in Malaysia would like to refer to the article published in The Star newspaper on May 7, 2012 titled ‘Police: Tear gas used at rally safe, UN-approved’.

We very much regret that the UN in Malaysia was not consulted before the publication of this article as it contains serious inaccuracies.

The UN has consistently condemned the excessive use of force, including through the use of tear gas.

Please also note that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have on various occasions publicly expressed concerns about reliable reports indicating that civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression after his mission to the Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in December 2011 noted that "while the use of tear gas to disperse a crowd may be legitimate under certain circumstances, tear-gas canisters should never be fired directly at demonstrators."

Moreover, unlike what is alleged in the article, the UN does not set international standards on different kinds of irritants, nor has the UN approved ‘CS Gas’ as a ‘riot control’ agent.

As far as the use of force is concerned, the relevant UN instrument is the Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which was adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1990, not the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993.

I provide its general provisions below:

1. Governments and law enforcement agencies shall adopt and implement rules and regulations on the use of force and firearms against persons by law enforcement officials.

In developing such rules and regulations, governments and law enforcement agencies shall keep the ethical issues associated with the use of force and firearms constantly under review.

2. Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms.

These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons.

For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.

3. The development and deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimise the risk of endangering uninvolved persons, and the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled.

4. Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.

5. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall:

a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved;

b) Minimise damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life;

c) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment;

d) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.

6. Where injury or death is caused by the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, they shall report the incident promptly to their superiors, in accordance with principle 22.

7. Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.

8. Exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.

We at the United Nations appeal to all journalists to correctly and accurately research and report all matters and procedures related to the UN. We believe that such professionalism should also extend to all public officials.

 
The writer is United Nations coordination specialist in Malaysia.