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UN Committee Against Torture opposes wide introduction of 'Tasers' among Dutch police

In September 2012, the well-known that Minister Opstelten wants to equip the entire Dutch police force with Taser weapons. At the request of the Privacy First Foundation, the Netherlands has to answer to the UN Committee against Torture on this matter this week.

Eén of the most important and ratified human rights treaties in the world is the UN Convention against Torture from 1984. Under this convention, torture is always and under all circumstances prohibited. Anyone who (has) committed torture anywhere in the world should be prosecuted or extradited. That includes officials, ministers, presidents and heads of state. The Netherlands has been a party to this convention since 1988. Periodically, each treaty party is scrutinised by the supervisory treaty body in Geneva: the UN Committee against Torture. Rulings by the UN Committee provide authoritative guidance on compliance and interpretation of the convention. This Tuesday and Wednesday, the Netherlands "in turn": on Tuesday, the Netherlands will be challenged by Committee members on various issues, followed by responses from the Dutch government delegation on Wednesday. The Committee will then make a series of critical recommendations ("Concluding Observations") to the Netherlands.

In preparation for the Dutch session Privacy First Foundation, the Human Rights Board and the Dutch Legal Committee for Human Rights (NJCM) recently sent so-called 'shadow reports' on the Netherlands to the Committee in Geneva. In doing so, both Privacy First and the NJCM raised the issue of Taser-weapons (electric shock weapons) in the Dutch police force. Privacy First did so through a special letter to the Committee; click HEREpdf. In this letter, Privacy First draws the Committee's attention to Minister Opstelten's intention to soon provide every Dutch police officer with a private Taser-gun. (Now 'only' the Dutch police's arrest teams with Taser-weapons equipped). In Privacy First's view, the use of Taser-weapons, after all, easily lead to violations of the international ban on torture (state torture) and the related right to bodily integrity (the latter being part of the right to privacy). Taser-After all, guns lower the threshold of violence and leave hardly any external marks. At the same time, Taser-weapons cause serious physical and mental harm. Combined with the current lack of weapons training among the Dutch police, this poses serious risks to the Dutch population. We have therefore asked the UN Committee to critically question the Dutch delegation on this issue and to advise the Netherlands to refrain from any Taser-guns for the entire Dutch police force. Last Friday, Privacy First learned from Geneva that the UN committee will indeed critically address this issue. Privacy First will be happy to keep you informed this week.

Update 13 May 2013, 11pm: a livestream of the session can be followed via this hyperlink (Tuesday 10am-15pm, Wednesday from 3pm).

Update 14 May 2013, 15.00: today, the Dutch delegation in Geneva (led by the Dutch Permanent Representative to the UN) was critically questioned by the Committee on many issues, including... Tasers. Dutch answers will follow tomorrow afternoon at 3pm. Below are the relevant excerpts in text and mp3:  

Committee member Nora Sveaass (Norway): "I then want to bring the attention to something that I've been informed of, namely that the State [of the Netherlands] is planning on a pilot of using Taser weapons as a regular weapon within the police force. And the pilot is supposed to take place, I understand, the last half of this year, so it's probably just around the corner. This Committee has on many different occasions warned against the use of Tasers, both in special situations and especially as a regular weapon to all the police, as I understand the plans are. And there are a lot of reasons for this, I won't go into the detail, because these have been described both by this Committee and by a lot of others, because, first of all, health reasons, physical as well as psychological. So I would hope that you would rethink and perhaps change the decision of implementing a pilot and also doing it in practice."
Audio: {mp3}nl_cat_sveaas_14may2013{/mp3}

Committee member Fernando Mariño Menéndez (Spain): "I'm also concerned by the decision that we've heard about to generalize the use of Tasers by all regular police officers, as just referred to by Mrs Sveaass, that the Tasers will be used as an [armament] for standard use across the Kingdom of the Netherlands. That's our understanding, perhaps we're wrong, perhaps there is a special protocol governing the use of Tasers. Our position as a committee is that Tasers shouldn't be used at all. If they are to be used, and this seems to be dangerous, then they need to be used in very specific cases and properly regulated. We'd like to know what's happening in the Kingdom of the Netherlands."
Audio: {mp3}nl_cat_marino_14may2013{/mp3}
Update 14 May 2013, 4.45pm: this afternoon, Privacy First contributor Vincent Böhre was interviewed on this topic on youth channel FunX. Listen to the whole clip below:


Update 15 May 2013: this afternoon saw the Dutch 'rejoinder' to the questions posed by the UN Committee yesterday. In the audio clip below, you can hear the Dutch Permanent Representative in Geneva explain the risks of the Dutch plans around Taser-weapons denies and downplays. The Committee members saw no reason in this to tone down or withdraw their critical comments made yesterday. Privacy First therefore expects the Committee in its soon-to-be-issued Concluding Observations sharp criticism of the Dutch Taser-plans will express. Incidentally, the Committee published a press release about the Dutch session this evening; click HERE.


Update 16 May 2013: A full video recording of both sessions of the UN Committee is available HERE online. The Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Netherlands will not follow until the afternoon of Friday 31 May (no later than 3 June) next, Privacy First learned by phone from Geneva today.

Update 22 May 2013: Following the Dutch session at the UN committee last week, D66 has already submitted a series of critical parliamentary questions to minister Opstelten today; click HERE.

Update 31 May 2013: As previously predicted by the Privacy First Foundation and as Tonight was reported by EenVandaag The UN Committee Against Torture this afternoon negative on Minister Opstelten's plans to have the entire Dutch police force with Taser-weapons to go equipped:

"The Committee is concerned about the pilot plan to be reportedly launched to distribute electrical discharge weapons to the entire Dutch police force, without due safeguards against misuse and proper training for the personnel. The Committee is concerned that this may lead to excessive use of force (arts. 2, 11 and 16). The Committee recommends to the State party, in accordance with articles 2 and 16 of the Convention, to refrain from flat distribution and use of electrical discharge weapons by police officers. It also recommends adopting safeguards against misuse and providing proper training for the personnel to avoid excessive use of force. In addition, the Committee recommends that electrical discharge weapons should be used exclusively in extreme limited situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury, as a substitute for lethal weapons." (para 27. Click HERE for the entire document).

The Privacy First Foundation hopes that this dismissive stance by the UN committee will lead to a reconsideration and halt of Dutch plans to provide every Dutch police officer with a Taser-gun to be equipped. Also, Privacy First hopes that the announced pilot on the matter will not be implemented.