Twenty-three organizations condemned before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) the human rights violations derived from the increase in the use of less lethal weapons in public demonstrations by security forces.
During the hearing, which took place on November 9 in Washington D.C., United States, we raised concerns about the use of weapons such as kinetic impact projectiles and tear gas canisters. Some of these weapons fire multiple projectiles simultaneously, so inevitably their effects are indiscriminate. Others have metallic components that can cause irreparable damage. In both cases, they are unsuitable for use in crowd control. The misuse of this weaponry, documented throughout the region, causes serious injuries, permanent disabilities and in some cases even death.
Across the continent, several countries experienced massive demonstrations and social uprisings in recent years as a result of deep and long-standing conflicts, aggravated in some cases by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The most serious events were recorded in the United States, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina between 2019 and 2023.
In these and other cases, different types of less lethal weapons have been used as the primary response of security forces to break up demonstrations. This use of force, which undermines the right to protest, is also counterproductive to de-escalating conflicts.
The main argument to justify the extension of the use of these weapons is that they provide law enforcement personnel with alternatives to the use of firearms. Although this is true, these weapons have been used in an indiscriminate and disproportionate manner, without protocols or specific regulations, which makes them highly harmful and even lethal.
Rapid innovations in this industry raise specific concerns about the lack of regulation in the production, trade and use of this weaponry, especially in the context of protests. Even so, the devices continue to be used without a regulatory framework and under a concerning lack of transparency.
Additionally, there are great difficulties throughout the region in accessing justice for the victims of the use of police force, a lack of comprehensive care and reparation to those who suffered the consequences of these weapons, and almost no advancement of regulations or control mechanisms.
The consequences of this irregular use can be observed in various countries. In the case of Argentina, the most recent example of these practices was evident during the protests in 2023 against the constitutional reform of the province of Jujuy, in which a young man, Mijael Lamas, lost his sight after being shot by a rubber bullet during the repression and at least two other people received serious eye injuries.