Proposed alternatives to the baton round in Northern Ireland. March 2003.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission engaged the Omega Foundation to carry out the research documented in this report because the Commission had concerns about potential breaches of human rights related to the use of baton rounds. We were especially concerned about the right to life.
Baton rounds, or plastic bullets, have been a controversial issue since they were first deployed in Northern Ireland. In June 2001 a new baton round was introduced. The Commission was concerned at suggestions that this was potentially more dangerous than its predecessor. This report therefore examines the use of this L21A1 baton round by the police and army since its introduction. Omega concludes that there is indeed much to be concerned about.
As well as looking at the potential human rights implications of the baton round currently in use, the Commission wished to contribute constructively to the debate on safer alternatives to the baton round. The Patten report had advocated urgent research into safe alternatives. The Commission therefore asked Omega to provide advice on some of the alternatives currently being considered by the authorities.
The need for safe alternatives to the baton round is urgent, in the interests of civilians, police officers and soldiers. The Commission recognises the difficult and dangerous task that police and army carry out in the face of violent attack. It is imperative that they are well prepared for this work, as regards not only policing methods which will reduce conflict but also access to equipment which will protect themselves and others from physical attack. It is vital that such equipment is as safe as possible, both for civilians (especially children) who may be caught up in violent situations and for officers themselves.
The Commission would like to thank the Omega Foundation for its work on this report, and to thank all those who contributed to it. We intend to follow it up by pressing those in authority to extend the research into alternatives to the baton round, to make that work more independent and to set a strict timetable and deadline for finding a safe alternative.