UP launches United Nations guidelines on less lethal weapons

Posted on October 17, 2019

Researchers in the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria (UP) led the process to draft the first United Nations (UN) international standards on the use of less lethal weapons. They developed the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement in collaboration with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Guidance was developed under the auspices of three researchers in the Faculty of Law at UP. Professor Christof Heyns, who is also a member of the UN Human Rights Committee and a lecturer at the Geneva Academy, led the project and worked with Professor Stuart Maslen and Dr Thomas Probert, and a group of other experts, who together drafted the Guidance over a two-year period. The expert group included UN experts, law enforcement officials, experts in police oversight, academics and representatives of NGOs, civil society and weapon manufacturers from a range of countries. Expert meetings were held in Cambridge, Geneva and Pretoria. 

The launch will take place at the Palais Wilson, the human rights headquarters of the UN, on Friday, 25 October 2019. One of the keynote speakers will be UP doctoral student on peaceful assemblies, Beryl Orao, a staff member of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission.

The Guidance is designed to build upon existing standards such as the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and has already been used by the UN in its response to the demonstrations in Hong Kong. 

According to Prof Heyns, this is the culmination of a long process. 

“Over the last decade we have developed several UN legal standards on issues relating to the conduct of the police, but finalising the Guidance was somewhat delayed. Less lethal weapon technologies – such as tasers and dazzling and acoustic weapons – only came into use relatively recently, to be used alongside contemporary equipment such as batons and water cannons. As a result, they are still largely unregulated.

“We welcome the fact that lately the police have an increased range of options as, in principle, they must use minimal force weaponry instead of firearms. However, we all know that these weapons are often abused with lethal results, which gave rise to the need for more certainty and guideline principles regarding which weapons may be used under which conditions, if at all.”

Members of the South African Police Service were also involved in the Geneva part of the project. A UP Engineering master's student who has developed a new, less lethal weapon combining kinetic and chemical agents to disperse force more accurately and safely also participated. 

Click here for more on the launch of the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement.

- Author UP Law

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