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France Yellow Vests LBDs

France's top court upholds police use of controversial crowd control weapon

A French policeman armed with an LBD, a non-lethal crowd control munition, place de la Bastille, Paris, 12 January, 2019
A French policeman armed with an LBD, a non-lethal crowd control munition, place de la Bastille, Paris, 12 January, 2019 Ludovic MARIN / AFP

France’s highest court, the Council of State has rejected calls to suspend the use of controversial non-lethal munitions that have been linked to several serious injuries at Yellow Vest protests, a day ahead of Act 12 of nationwide demonstrations.

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In a much anticipated response ahead of Saturday’s next round of Yellow Vest demonstrations, the court rejected a call by France’s Human Rights League and CGT trade union, which argued the weapons are unfit for use at demonstrations.

The weapons in question are lanceurs de balles de defense, or LBDs, referred to as flash balls.

They shoot projectiles such as rubber bullets that collapse or disperse on impact.

On Wednesday, the Human Rights leagues and the CGT argued that the munitions are dangerous and have been attributed to serious injuries – such as lost eyes, maimed hands and broken bones – since the beginning of the social movement in November last year.

Questions were also raised surrounding the legal use of such weapons and if the police using them were sufficiently trained.

Patrice Spinosi, the lawyer representing the Human Rights League said they were “extremely disappointed” by the decision.

He added that a new appeal will be launched for a more long-term approach to the use of such weapons rather than under urgent circumstances.

That appeal will likely be heard in a few months’ time.

Council of State

On the part of the French court, it said the repeated risk of “violence and destruction” during future protests meant that the use of such weapons was “necessary to allow forces to maintain order”.

But the council insisted that the use of LBDs would be "strictly regulated by the Internal Security Code".

The judge presiding over the case added that contrary to the plaintiff's arguments, officers did not misuse the weapons in previous weeks in an effort to maintain order during protests.

‘Désarmons-les’

At the hearing earlier this week, the militant collective Désarmons-les, or "let’s disarm them" in English, described an increase in violence in police efforts to repress protesters.

They pointed specifically to the use of LBDs as a central tactic employed by forces since the start of the protests that has led to some 20 serious eye injuries.

Officials say at least 1,900 protestors and 1,200 police have been injured in less than three months of protests, though some estimate that the number of demonstrators hurt may actually be double.

Victims have included several journalists, some hit with rubber bullets fired by police and others beaten up by protesters.

In France, the use of such weapons by the security forces is authorised, despite human rights defenders and a number of other European countries deeming them dangerous.

This Saturday will mark the 12th weekend that the gilets jaunes take to the streets in protest across the country.

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