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Chemical Irritants

Chemical irritants specially for crowd control are designed to cause individuals to alter behaviour or disperse by causing irritation to the eyes, nose, and skin and making people move away from the source. Omega includes tear gas (CS, CN, and CR), pepper spray (OC or PAVA), and foul-smelling malodorants in this category. They can be sprayed via vehicle mounted water-cannon or hand-held, shoulder-worn, and backpack sprayers or released as a fine powder via weapon-launched or hand thrown ammunition. This page includes information on common types of chemical irritants, relevant reports, and resources.

Chemical irritants can be used in a human rights-compliant way by law enforcement. , but they can also be dangerous and can cause various physical injuries depending on how the irritant is dispersed and the amount used. They should not be used in enclosed spaces where there is no possibility for people to leave the immediate area. Law enforcement should also monitor the amount used to ensure it is not excessive and stop using once there is no longer a threat from violent individuals. Weapon-launched chemical irritants should never be aimed directly at people as the ammunition casing can cause serious injuries.

Omega researches different manufacturers of these less lethal weapons and records incidents of use around the world. Information we gather on the physical appearance of the ammunition and sprayers is frequently used by human rights defenders to identify the type and manufacturers of the weapons used against them.  We call for prohibitions on the trade and use of sprayers and launchers that disperse excessive amounts of chemical irritants and for robust controls to be placed on the trade and use of other kinds to ensure they are not used to violate human rights.

Examples of the misuse of chemical irritants by law enforcement



Chemical Irritants Chapter – Visual Guide
This chapter from our Visual Guide to Law Enforcement Equipment covers the different types of chemical irritants use by law enforcement and the dispersal mechanisms
Available languages: English
Guide on Law Enforcement Equipment Most Commonly Used in the Policing of Assemblies
This guide, developed jointly by ODIHR and Omega, seeks to share some of the technical knowledge monitors need to accurately and independently document the presence and manner of use of law enforcement equipment during public as-semblies.
Available languages: English|Russian
Guidlines for Documentation of Injuries from Policing Weapons and Equipment
Guidelines for documenting injuries from policing weapons and equipment (Brazilian Portuguese)
Available languages: Portuguese
Introduction to law enforcement equipment
An introduction to different types of policing equipment (2015).
Available languages: Arabic|English|French|Spanish
Practical Guide to monitoring places of detention
A guide to help people monitoring places of detention identify and document policing weapons and equipment.
Riot ID – Chemical Irritants
Pocket guide for protesters and protest monitors to identify chemical irritants used in the policing of protests.
Available languages: English|Spanish