FRANCE: Civil society demand prohibition of “non-lethal” weapons in policing assemblies

(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Concerned with the increasing number of serious harm inflicted on protesters as a result of the law enforcement use of flash ball (LBD40) during the protests, human rights organisations and doctors, demanded immediate prohibition of this controversial weapon arguing these weapons are unfit for use at assemblies. Victims’ lawyers also urged the government to ban the use of explosive grenades GLI-F4 in law enforcement policing, arguing that they already caused several serious injuries, including “a hand or a foot torn off by the effect of blast”.

On 1st February 2019, the Conseil d’Etat (State Council), France’s highest administrative court, rejected a petition calling for the prohibition or suspension of LBDs in the protests, filed by the France’s Human Rights League and CGT trade union. Although recognising the serious injuries inflicted by the use of LBDs, the Court allowed the continuous use of these weapons for policing assemblies, stating they were “necessary” and “appropriate” in dealing with violent protests, subject to strict compliance with the conditions of use. On 6th February 2019, the France’s Human Rights League appealed the decision of the Conseil d’Etat (State Council), and filed a priority question of constitutionality criticising the “insufficiency and inadequacy” of the current legal framework for the use of the law enforcement  agencies of weapons such as LBDs during demonstrations.

As a response to the criticism, on 22nd January 2019, the Minister of Interior announced that riot police officers using rubber bullet (LBDs) would be equipped with body cameras to record the use of these weapons, a measure that has not been sufficient.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović, after completing a visit to France on 28th January 2019 to discuss human rights concerns related to the Yellow Vest protest, also expressed grave concerns over police violence against protesters including journalists and especially over the use of the defence ball launchers (LBDs).