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AI calls for moratorium on Taser decision

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
MEDIA RELEASE
12 December 2007

Amnesty International calls for moratorium on Taser decision
Decision should be made at governmental level

Amnesty International is calling on the Police Commissioner and the Minister of Police not to make a decision on the introduction of Taser stun guns or similar electro-shock weapons, until results of comprehensive, independent studies into their use and effects are available(1). Amnesty International believes a decision to introduce powerful and dangerous Taser stun guns should not be made by the Police Commissioner alone. This decision should be made at a governmental level in consultation with the Police Commissioner.

Amnesty International believes it would be unwise, at this time to introduce Tasers into New Zealand for two significant reasons. Firstly, the UN has now declared that Taser use can be a form of torture. Secondly, Tasers have been linked to over 290 deaths in North America. The Taser link to deaths is a relevant factor when considering their introduction, which the NZ Police & Police Association appear to have ignored in their publicly stated stance that Tasers are not lethal.

Gary Reese, Amnesty International Spokesperson said today "Amnesty International believes a decision to introduce stun guns should not be made by the Police Commissioner alone, nor before proper independent studies have been undertaken. These are powerful, dangerous weapons whose use has been described as a form of torture by the United Nations Committee on Torture and they have been linked to over 290 deaths."

As a human rights organisation, Amnesty International acknowledges the importance of developing non-lethal force options to decrease the risk of death or injury inherent in police use of firearms and other weapons. "The Police are doing a dangerous job and are required to use reasonable force to protect themselves and the public. However now is not the time to introduce a very dangerous weapon that has too many unknown risks and potential for misuse", said Gary Reese.

The United Nations Committee against Torture declared on the 23rd November that the use of Taser weapons can be a form of torture, in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and had "proven risks of harm or death".

"This is a committee of experts of high moral standing, recognised in the field of human rights", said Gary Reese. "Amnesty International has also documented many instances where Taser use has amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading use, contrary to international law. It would be inappropriate for the New Zealand Government to allow Tasers to be introduced without a further inquiry into their links to torture and death, particularly when New Zealand is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture.

From June 2001 to September 2007, Amnesty International has recorded 291 deaths of individuals struck by police Tasers in the USA and Canada. While the organisation does not reach conclusions regarding the role of the Tasers in each case, it believes the deaths underscore the need for independent and comprehensive inquiries into their use and effects. In some of these cases the medical examiner or Coroner has ruled that the victims died as a result of electrocution, or that the stun gun (Taser) contributed to some form of heart failure leading to death.

Amnesty International has also been concerned at the misrepresentation by the NZ Police and the Police Association to both the general public and New Zealand Parliament, on the dangers of Tasers.

"There appears to have been a pro-active campaign by the NZ Police and Police Association to convince Parliament and the New Zealand public that Tasers are not lethal", says Gary Reese. "This Police view that Tasers are not linked to deaths is prejudiced and ignores the 290 deaths immediately following Taser use in North America."

Amnesty International is also concerned about stun-guns potential for misuse. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse. One example of this abuse is the increasing use of multiple or prolonged shocks, which has been a factor in many of the recorded deaths.

For this reason, in 2006, Amnesty International sought and received an assurance from the NZ Police that for the NZ Taser trial operational rules and training would include strict prohibition on repeated and prolonged shocks unless absolutely necessary to avoid serious injury or death. However, this assurance was not acted on and no mention of restricting repeated shocks was in the trial's operation manual.


Notes to Editors

1. No studies undertaken so far have met the criteria of Amnesty International's call for an independent, impartial and comprehensive investigation into the health effects and safety of these weapons, including a review of the potential for abuse of such weapons with respect to human rights standards.

• A new Wake Forest University study published in October 2007, funded by the US Institute of Justice, on the safety of Tasers does not address what role the Taser played in more than 200 deaths in the USA nor does it address the effects of Tasers on specific vulnerable groups.

2. There have been a number of media reports quoting the NZ Police Medical Adviser, Dr Peter Robinson, and Greg O'Conner of the Police Association that Tasers have not killed anyone. It was also reported that Dr Peter Robinson advised the Parliamentary Law and Order Select Committee in February this year that "only one person has died after being Tasered….and this was due to a head injury after they fell".

3. As a human rights organisation, AI acknowledges the importance of developing non-lethal or "less-lethal" force options to decrease the risk of death or injury inherent in police use of firearms or other impact weapons such as batons. We support the development of non-lethal options.

Resources

1. AI report: "Amnesty International's concerns about Taser use: statement to the US Justice Department inquiry into deaths in custody" http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511512007?open&of=ENG-USA

2. AI report: "USA: Amnesty International's continuing concerns about Taser use" http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510302006?open&of=ENG-USA

3. AI report: "Canada: Inappropriate and excessive use of Tasers" http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR200022007?open&of=ENG-CAN

ENDS

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