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Less-than-lethal is killing People – Ban Aerosolized Riot Control Agents

A hundred years of toxic humanitarianism
Anna Feigenbaum – 24 July, 2013 – Open Democracy

The history of tear gas traces a metamorphosis from chemical weapon of warfare to ‘legitimate’ crowd control technology. Whilst casualties are persistently blamed on ‘misuse’ by police and security forces, history reveals tear gas to be an inherently dangerous weapon.

In August 2012, eighteen months into protests in Bahrain, Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting 34 tear gas-related deaths. These included deaths arising from tear gas fired into enclosed locations such as cars, homes and mosques, as well as from canister strikes to the head. Lost eyes, miscarriages, and respiratory failures also filled the list of causalities.

Human rights campaign groups put pressure on governments to stop shipments by describing injuries as a result of the misuse of tear gas. Amnesty International stated that tear gas in Bahrain was “being used inappropriately,” while Physicians for Human Rights titled their report ‘Weaponizing Tear Gas’.

Last week this language of ‘incorrect use’ appeared again. Human Rights Watch sent out a press release calling on Turkey to “End Incorrect, Unlawful Use of Teargas.” But what does it mean to ‘misuse’ a weapon like tear gas? How did tear gas become an acceptable weapon for public order policing in the first place? And why, as so many commentators point out, is tear gas banned in war but permitted for ‘keeping the peace’?
Tear gas: a chemical weapon of warfare

News stories on tear gas tend to cite the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibited the use of most chemical weapons, as the foundation of these anomalies. It was here that nations signed on to an exception, permitting the use of tear gases for “law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes.” Yet the origins of this exception date back much farther than 1997. To understand how tear gas came to be considered a humanitarian weapon for public order policing we must return to the trenches.

Although primitive forms of tear gas existed prior to World War I, it was during the war that research and resources were heavily invested to develop lachrymatory agents—what we commonly refer to as ‘tear gases’ (though they aren’t actually a gas). These chemical substances were used in efforts to lure the enemy out from trenches so as to ‘weaken his defences’. Designed for this purpose, tear gas was seen as a form of both physical and psychological attack.

It was precisely this aggressive use of tear gas that led to its initial ban under the Geneva Protocol of 1925—a ban the US had not signed on to. Having witnessed the ways tear gas was used as part of trench warfare, delegates in Geneva argued that it was inhumane. However, by the time the protocol was ratified, military and state officials were already busy promoting the benefits of such weapons for controlling the masses. …more

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