Amnesty International documents one death and 29 serious injuries in Spain from rubber balls and ‘foam’ bullets

One person has died in Spain and 29 others have been seriously injured since the year 2000 in Spain due to the impact of riot gear used by police officers in street riots. This is the account given by Amnesty International in the report Meu Olho Issorou, in which it demands the “ban” of rubber bullets and the “suspension of use” of the ‘foam’ projectiles that replaced them. At a global level, the NGO defends “strict controls on the use” and a “global treaty” to regulate the trade of this material.

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Amnesty International recalls that the National Police and the Civil Guard continue to use rubber bullets in Spain, uncontrollable projectiles that can reach up to 360 kilometers per hour. In the last two decades, these balls have caused the death of one person – the young Athletic Bilbao fan Iñigo Cabacas, in 2012 – and caused “serious injuries” to 24 others, four of whom ended up losing sight in one eye as a result of the impact of this ball. material, according to the report.

Autonomous police officers such as Ertzaintza and Mossos d’Esquadra have replaced these rubber balls with ‘foam’ bullets based on the cases of Cabacas and Ester Quintana, who lost an eye to a rubber bullet in 2012 and launched a campaign that managed to ban them two years later in Catalonia. However, Amnesty International denounces that these precision viscoelastic projectiles “also caused serious injuries and were used to disperse crowds, something prohibited by international standards”. The organization documented five cases of very serious injuries caused by its “misuse”: two people who lost an eye, two with severe head trauma and another who lost a testicle.

In fact, the NGO considers that its use to evaluate the protocols put into practice by the security forces and their technical specifications should be suspended. For example, the report points out that the protocol of the Generalitat de Catalunya authorizes the use of this type of ammunition at a distance between 20 and 50 meters, although its manufacturer recommends never firing at less than 30 meters, because below this distance, the risk of injury bass increases exponentially.

The work includes the case of Africa, a 19-year-old girl when on February 16, 2021, during the protests in Barcelona for the arrest of rapper Pablo Hasel, she was hit by a Mossos ‘foam’ bullet which caused him to lose an eye. . Two snipers from the Mossos riot police who were at the place and time of the wound when the regional police fired dozens of projectiles of this material to disperse the demonstration are being investigated for these events.

An expert report provided in this case concluded that the Catalan police protocols on this type of projectiles “do not comply” with the international standards of the United Nations, in addition to being very “ambiguous” in relation to their harmful potential. This study was carried out by two researchers from the Omega Centre, a British organization specializing in the use of military, security and police technologies that also produced this report in partnership with Amnesty International.

The NGO’s work also includes testimony from Eric Cuesta, the father of the girl who lost an eye during those protests. “Now he is very afraid of any noise, with a firecracker or horn he gets scared. She was a girl with a lot of social life, who went to many demonstrations, and now she doesn’t want to go to a place where there are a lot of people. The impact for her was brutal, she even stopped studying. It cannot be that a person goes to a demonstration and comes back without an eye, ”she says.

The Amnesty International report is published in the middle of the parliamentary debate on the gag law, which has seen the use of rubber bullets as one of the main obstacles to an agreement between the groups. The text that is being worked on for more than two years in Congress is voted on Tuesday in the Interior Commission without there being an agreement to go ahead and follow the parliamentary process. One of the issues that made negotiations difficult in recent months was precisely the use of deterrent weapons. This Tuesday’s process requires, at least, the abstention of the two independent partners, but the republicans have already said that, if there is no agreement in extremis, they will oppose it.

The two coalition government partners propose that the Ministry of the Interior prepare a study and that the competent authorities elaborate a specific protocol on the police management of “demonstrations and meetings” that includes the use of force and riot equipment based on this report. This protocol would regulate “the correct identification of agents assigned to units that use this type of material, techniques for selective isolation of violent groups and systems of accountability” with the aim of always using “the least harmful means”. Both the ERC and EH Bildu reject this proposal as they argue that rubber balls should be banned as a riot control material.

The Amnesty International report also echoes the most relevant scientific study carried out on this matter, published in 2017 by The British Medical Journal. This work carried out a systematic review of the medical literature on the damage caused by rubber and plastic bullets and concluded that between 1990 and 2017 a total of 1,984 people were injured in conflicts in different parts of the world due to the impact of this material, of which 53 died from their injuries and 300 suffered permanent disability.

In conclusion, Amnesty International denounces that national guidelines on the use of this type of projectile “almost never comply with international standards on the use of force, which establish that its use must be limited to situations of last resort, when violent individuals represent a imminent danger threat of harm to others.” The NGO reiterates that police forces “regularly violate regulations with impunity”.

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