Tasers on trial by the Met Police

Police scientists even warned that in some circumstances, such as if a subject has been sprayed with CS spray or has strong alcohol on them, there is a chance that 'the subject and their clothing may be engulfed in flames'. Amnesty International's report also details several cases from the US and Canada where subjects have died after being shot with tasers.

Amnesty International is calling for full medical trials to be conducted before authorities consider deploying tasers more widely. The organisation also raised concerns at the potential for abuse of the weapons, which deliver a 50,000 volt electric shock, inflicting 'intolerable pain' on the subject and causing them to lose muscular control. Last year police in the US, where the weapons are widely deployed, used tasers to subdue a 15-year-old girl after a disturbance on a school bus.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'That UK police can use a stun gun on British citizens that is banned for export from the UK because of its use in torture around the world is startling enough. But to do so after trials that amount to little more than a literature review, described by government scientists as 'not substantial', is frightening.

'Tasers can kill and have been linked to deaths in the US. Full medical trials must be conducted before the Home Office considers any wider deployment. And strict guidelines must be in place to ensure there is no potential for abuse.'

The report also reveals the trade in torture equipment around the world. From 1990 to 2003, Amnesty International documented electro-shock torture in 87 countries and knows of 57 companies in the EU and accession states who have offered to sell, distribute, broker or manufacture stun weapons between 2000 and 2003.

'For many hours they tortured me on the soles of my feet. Being hit with an electric baton not only made me vomit, but I lost control of everything. I lost control of my bowels, my water, I just could not control anything in my body. I was left in my own vomit and urine all night. That is how they want you to be during a torture.'
'Muhammed', tortured at a prison in Saudi Arabia. The UK reportedly sold up to 5,000 electo-shock batons to the Saudi government as part of the Al-Yamamah deal in the late 1980s.

Amnesty International welcomes a draft EC Trade Regulation which if implemented would ban the export from member states of equipment whose primary practical purpose is torture (such as leg irons and stun belts); and strictly control the export of equipment considered to have a legitimate policing use but which can be used in torture (such as electro-shock stun weapons).

However, the organisation is concerned that the Regulation should be strengthened. Several items listed as having 'legitimate' law enforcement use are items which Amnesty International has found to be used for torture or ill-treatment, and whose effects on human rights have been insufficiently investigated - such as stun guns, taser guns and pepper spray. Amnesty is calling for these to be suspended pending rigorous independent investigation.

Kate Allen said:

'Tough talk about human rights means nothing if you are selling stun guns to torturers in the same breath. The UK and other EU countries must put their money where their mouth is and ensure that companies do not profit from the horrific suffering of others.'

Amnesty International is calling for an outright ban on the trade in torture equipment and suspending the use and transfer of equipment that could lend itself to human rights abuses, pending a full investigation into its use. If equipment can potentially be used to abuse human rights, rigorous rules governing its legitimate use must be established.

Background Information

With respect to the M26 Advanced Taser, the model of taser currently being used in the UK police trials, the DOMILL (Sub Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons) experts stated that manufacturers appeared to have conducted very little in the way of experimental research:

'The body of manufacturers' experimental evidence from biological evidence of the hazardous and intended effects of taser on excitable tissue is not substantial, particularly with regard to the M26.'

They found even less by way of independent medical research on the effects of high-powered tasers such as the M26:

'The peer-reviewed evidence is even more limited'.2

(1) Patten Report Recommendations 69 and 70 Relating to Public Order Equipment: a Research Programme into Alternative Policing Approaches towards the Management of Conflict, Northern Ireland Office in consultation with ACPO, Third Report, December 2002 (2) Ibid.

The report is available online at: www.amnesty.org .

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