Memorandum submitted by British Irish
British Irish RIGHTS WATCH (BIRW) is an independent
non-governmental organisation that has been monitoring the human
rights dimension of the conflict, and the peace process, in Northern
Ireland since 1990. Our vision is of a Northern Ireland in which
respect for human rights is integral to all its institutions and
experienced by all who live there. Our mission is to secure respect
for human rights in Northern Ireland and to disseminate the human
rights lessons learned from the Northern Ireland conflict in order
to promote peace, reconciliation and the prevention of conflict.
BIRW's services are available, free of charge, to anyone whose
human rights have been violated because of the conflict, regardless
of religious, political or community affiliations. BIRW takes
no position on the eventual constitutional outcome of the conflict.
British Irish RIGHTS WATCH welcome this opportunity
to participate in the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) inquiry
into children's rights. We have focussed our comments on the interaction
between less lethal force and children in Northern Ireland.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)
have within their arsenal AEPs, a type of plastic bullet, and
tasers; we believe these weapons could seriously injure or even
kill a child. AEPs are most often used in riot situations; BIRW's
concern here stems from the rise in recreational rioting in Northern
Ireland, where children as young as five may be present.
Our concern about tasers is centred upon the extreme danger the
effect of a large electric shock could have on a child and the
potential for a child to be accidentally hit by a taser.
In 2005, the Police Service of Northern Ireland
(PSNI) introduced the attenuating energy projectile (AEP) to replace
the plastic bullet, following research commissioned by the Northern
Ireland Office to search for a less lethal alternative to the
plastic bullet. However, as the Oversight Commissioner for the
the AEP is not an alternative, but simply a different type of
plastic bullet. The plastic bullet has had a long and bloody history
in Northern Ireland; 17 people have died as a result of the use
of rubber and plastic bullets between 1970 and 2005; many others
sustained serious injuries. Nine of the 17 victims were aged 18
or under, the youngest being 10 years old.
AEPs were used within three weeks of their introduction;
21 AEPs were fired on 12 July 2005 in Ardoyne, and a further 11
on 4 August 2005 in North Belfast, all of them by the police.
A very large number of AEPs were also fired over the period 11
to 13 September 2005, during serious rioting following a ruling
by the Parades Commission. Of a total 281 AEPs fired between July
and September 2005 by the police, 211, or 75%, hit their mark.
BIRW has concerns that the injuries caused by AEPs have not been
sufficiently recognised. We draw attention to research published
in the Emergency Medicine Journal which examined patient's records
from emergency departments in areas in which there had been rioting
and AEPs fired.
It found that six out of 14 patients presented with injuries to
the face, neck or head.
BIRW has concerns that the probability of these
weapons causing serious injury to children and young people caught
up in riot situations are high. Officers are trained to use the
belt-buckle area as the point of aim at all ranges, thus mitigating
against "upper body hits."
Unfortunately, this guidance does not mitigate the possibility
of striking the abdomen or the genitals nor does it really acknowledge
the fact that children are small and thus the risk of collateral
damage increased. Further, the guidance provides that, unless
there is a serious and immediate risk to life, use at under one
metre or aiming the weapon to strike a higher part of the body
at any range is prohibited. Yet a range of only one metre is exceptionally
close and must increase significantly the potential to cause injury.
The guidelines also specifically recognise the fact that AEPs
can cause fatalities
and that they can ricochet and thus have the potential to harm
others apart from the intended target.
In 1998, the United Nations' Committee against Torture again found
"the continued use of plastic bullet rounds as a means of
riot control" to be a matter for concern, and recommended
In 2002, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child
said; "The Committee is concerned at the continued use of
plastic baton rounds as a means of riot control in Northern Ireland
as it causes injuries to children and may jeopardize their lives".
Although AEPs have not been used in a serious
riot situation for a number of years, they remain part of the
PSNI's arsenal and could be used at any time. BIRW continues to
have very serious concerns that the potential for AEPs to cause
serious injury and death, particularly to the most vulnerable
in society such as children. In July 2008, the UN Committee on
Civil and Political Rights highlighted its concern at the use
of AEPs and emerging medical evidence that they may cause serious
injuries and concluded: "The State party should closely monitor
the use of Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEPs) by police and
army forces and consider banning such use if it is established
that AEPs can cause serious injuries."
Tasers (electric stun guns) were introduced
into Northern Ireland in January 2008 as part of a three month
pilot scheme. There was strong opposition from NGOs and others
to this decision, particularly as the Chief Constable had declined
to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment prior to their introduction.
This disregard for the impact of tasers on vulnerable groups,
combined with a lack of adequate respect for both human rights
standards and international implementation bodies such as UN Committees,
The lack of data on the long-term effects on the
body of exposure to electric shocks powerful enough to incapacitate
and the known risk of causing heart attacks give rise to significant
concern. Tasers also raise the possibility of violating the prohibition
on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment because,
as has been vividly demonstrated in a Panorama documentary,
they inflict intolerable pain. Whilst we accept that the use of
force will inevitably inflict some pain on its victims, with tasers
the infliction of pain is the means of incapacitating people,
rather than a side effect of their use. Furthermore, where other
means are used it is possible for the operator to use restraint
and to try to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain. However, with
a taser, a high level of pain is inevitable; the impact of such
a substantive voltage on a child is very serious.
Manufacturers of tasers recommend that they
should not be fired on anyone with a dysfunctional heart, pregnant
women, or small children.
This renders them impractical: police officers can have no way
of knowing just by looking at someone that s/he has a dysfunctional
heart, or has a pacemaker. Similarly, it is not always possible
to tell that a woman is pregnant. There is also scope for accidental
injury to such persons, and to children, especially in crowds.
In two surveys conducted in America on the use of the M26 Advanced
Taser used in a UK trial, over 50% of the persons confronted with
the weapon were impaired by alcohol, drugs or mental illness.
According to Amnesty International, since 2001, over 150 people
have been killed in the USA by tasers. One person, Brian Loan,
who had a heart condition, died in the UK on 14 October 2006,
three days after being struck by a taser.
Tasers have been used three times in Northern
Ireland since their introduction. The first time involved a hostage
situation, where small children were present;
the second on a man with a gun; and the third during a disturbance
No injuries have, as yet, been reported. The use of tasers is
subject to oversight by the Police Ombudsman; but, as yet, no
investigations into their use have been concluded.
Finally, we draw attention to the recent conclusion
by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which issued categorical
advice to the United Kingdom, as follows: "The State party
should treat Taser guns and AEPs as weapons subject to the applicable
rules and restrictions and put an end to the use of all harmful
devices on children."
In contrast, the PSNI, during their Equality Impact Assessment,
indicated their belief that the use of tasers was human rights
complaint, despite the UN Committee's statements on this issue.
We believe that the potential of AEPs and tasers to seriously
harm children and should be withdrawn from use.
78 Police appeal for calm over riots, BBC News,
6 September 2005. Back
Office of the Oversight Commissioner, Report 11, September 2004,
p 52. Back
Reply to Freedom of Information request made to the PSNI: F-2005-02695,
19 December 2005 (July and August). Back
See Injuries caused by the attenuated energy projectile: the
latest less lethal option, by Maguire K, Hughes D, Fitzpatrick
S, Dunn F, Rocke L, Baird C, Emergency Medical Journal, November
ACPO Attenuating Energy Projectile (AEP) Guidance, amended 16
May 2005, paragraph 1.17. Back
Ibid, paragraph 4.1. Back
Ibid, paragraph 7.5. Back
Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture:
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, A/54/44,
11 November 1998. Back
Concluding observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/15/Add.188,
9 October 2002. Back
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee, United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 30 July 2008, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G08/433/42/PDF/G0843342.pdf?OpenElement Back
Less Lethal, BBC Panorama documentary transmitted on 9
December 2001. Back
According to www.taser.com, the taser M26 Advanced, the type used
by the PSNI, has Peak open circuit arcing voltage of 50,000 V;
Peak loaded voltage of 5,000 V, average voltage over duration
of main phase 3400 V, average over full phase 320 V, average over
one second 1.3 V. Back
Phase 3 Report, Chapter 3, paragraph 32. Back
Phase 4 Report, Chapter 7, Appendix B. Back
Death sparks Taser safety concern, BBC Internet News, 18
October 2006. Back
First use of taser stun gun in NI, BBC News, 21 August
Taser used at disturbance, by Allison Morris, Irish News,
26 January 2009. Back
Concluding observations, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, 20 October 2008, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC.C.GBR.CO.4.pdf Back