The employment of tear gas by government forces is justifiably illegal in warfare and should therefore be banned as a demonstration-control agent in the law enforcement context.
The use of tear gas, notably CS gas, as a control agent, cannot be harmonized with respect for basic human rights and should therefore be banned completely in international law, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) states in a report published today.
Lawmakers at all levels of government should join to release legislation that banns the chemical weapon, removes any existing stockpiles, and forbid import, export, and manufacture.
Tear Gas is Abused When Trying to Control Protests
The use of tear gas has raised across the world, quickly becoming a weapon of choice for policing groups. The increase in its use by law enforcement for protests and control has caused an associated expansion of the mainly unregulated global market for its trade, demand, which is believed to keep growing.
Utilized as an area weapon, tear gas is by its nature loose and is often abused when released against peaceful assemblies, in enclosed spaces, in huge amounts, and against vulnerable populations. Its deployment also causes a rather large number of health harms, including serious injuries and death.
“Tear gas is not a relatively benign method of crowd control. Its deployment effectively crushes the right to freedom of protest and assembly,” said Vincent Wong, William C. Research Associate at the IHRP and co-author of the report. “Studies are showing that long-term exposure in the form that we are seeing with protest policing leave those affected at higher risk for a host of illnesses, including contracting respiratory illnesses.”
The report, titled “The Problematic Legality of Tear Gas Under International Human Rights Law,” details the deficient legal loosenings and harmful practical implications of the state of human rights law with regard to the use and abuse of tear gas.
No One Knows What Chemicals Tear Gas Contains
Even though tear gas is illegal in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention, an indemnity for the use of control agents for law enforcement purposes was considered during the drafting process in order to obtain a greater number of approving state parties.
Moreover, there are no international agreements managing the trade and manufacture of tear gas. Therefore, the global market for tear gas is mainly unaccountable. There is no common standard for the composition of tear gas as canisters have various shapes and sized and contain a bunch of very toxic chemicals. In most cases, it is almost impossible to even know what combination of chemicals is inside, its level of toxicity, and whether it was tested before it was sold.
Various countries are passing legislation to make illegal exports to other regions where tear gas is being often abused to control protests in a punitive manner, and efforts are being made to pass regulation and moratoriums to ban the use of tear gas by government groups domestically.
“The assumption has always been that tear gas is necessary to avoid the use of more lethal weapons,” said Natasha Williams, IHRP Summer Fellow, and co-author. “But this is a red herring. Banning tear gas under international law will force police to redouble their de-escalation efforts, as well as less harmful and less indiscriminate crowd control strategies.”