France should 'stop shooting rubber bullets at Yellow Vest protesters' - Council of Europe

A French riot police officer aims at protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) with a non-lethal hand-held weapon (LBD40) during a demonstration.
A French riot police officer aims at protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) with a non-lethal hand-held weapon (LBD40) during a demonstration. Valery HACHE / AFP
3 min

The Council of Europe rights group has urged France to stop using rubber bullet launchers blamed for injuring anti-government yellow vest protesters in recent weeks.


France is one of the few European nations to allow the use of defence ball launchers, known by the French abbreviation LBDs, which shoot 40-millimeter rubber projectiles that are considered non-lethal.

The council's human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement that French authorities “should suspend the use of LBDs during operations aimed at maintaining public order".

She also called on the government to promptly review its regulations on using so-called intermediate weapons for riot control, to make sure they respect law enforcement's primary task of protecting "citizens and their human rights."

The reported injuries "raise questions about the compatibility of the methods used in operations aimed at maintaining public order with due regard for these rights," she said.

Yellow vest protests

The Strasbourg-based Commission for Human Rights is an independent body responsible for promoting respect for human rights in the 47 Council of Europe Member States through reports, dialogue, and recommendations to States.

Mijatovic’s report, which has no legal weight, followed her visit to France on 28 January to evaluate the use of force by police during the weekly “yellow vest” protests in Paris and other cities since they began in November.

Police have made extensive use of rubber bullets during the, sometimes violent, protests.

Critics say dozens of protesters have been severely injured in clashes with the police, some partially blinded after being struck in the head.

French authorities have rejected the claims, saying both rubber bullets and stun grenades are necessary to respond to violent individuals who have repeatedly attacked security forces.

Use of riot guns 'justified'

The country's top administrative court also ruled this month that the use of riot guns was justified given the sustained threat of violence.

The French government contested the council's findings, saying the guns were needed to suppress repeated attacks committed by a hard core of
protesters against police officers, journalists and others.

French lawmakers are currently pushing through a bill to allow police to ban known or suspected hooligans from demonstrating.

It would increase their powers to search potential demonstrators for weapons, without the need for a prior court order.

The bill, expected to be finalised in March, would also ban demonstrators from covering their faces to avoid identification.

In her report Mijatovic warned the government that such measures "constitute serious interferences with the exercise of the freedom of movement and the freedoms of assembly and expression”.


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