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A French police officer with a non-lethal LBD
Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Souvant

Court: French police can use rubber bullets

February 2, 2019

France's top court for administrative justice has refused to ban police from using the hand-held launchers which fire golf-ball size rubber projectiles. They have been blamed for serious injuries among demonstrators.


The left-wing CGT trade union and the French Human Rights League had asked for the suspension of the use of the police's hand-held launchers. They claimed the "dangerous" weapons had caused many serious injuries and been used more than 9,000 times since the Yellow Vest (gilets jaunes) social protest movement began.

The Council of State (Conseil d'Etat) is the national government's legal adviser of the executive branch and the supreme court for administrative justice. It refused on Friday to ban police from using the "sub-lethal" Defense Ball Launchers (LBDs) saying the risk of violence at the demonstrations made it "necessary to allow security forces to use these weapons."

The LBDs will therefore be used at Saturday's Yellow Vest demonstrations.

Preparing for demonstrations in Paris
Preparing for demonstrations in ParisImage: Getty Images/AFP/G. van der Hasselt

Injuries reported

A number of Yellow Vest protesters, including one of the leading participants Jerome Rodrigues, have reported being hit in the eye. Rodrigues' lawyer said he would be permanently disabled as a result. A number of other casualties have been reported with images diffused on social media.

National police chief, Eric Morvan, recently wrote to security officers reminding them that the use of rubber bullets had to be proportional and they could "only target the torso and lower limbs" in "cases of absolute necessity." The bullets can only be fired at a distance of 10 meters (32 feet) from the target, according to the regulations.

However, an activist group that campaigns against police violence, "Disarm," has reported a hundred serious injuries since the first Yellow Vest protests began in November. They include 17 cases of people losing an eye. The leftwing daily Liberation cited 144 serious injuries, 92 of which were reportedly caused by LBDs.

The interior ministry said it had undertaken 101 investigations but found only four cases of eye injuries.

No officers have been reprimanded so far.

Body cameras

Last week, the government announced that body cameras were to be worn by the officers equipped with LBDs.

The Yellow Vest protesters, named for the safety jacket carried in French cars, have been holding a series of weekly demonstrations which began as rallies against fuel taxes but developed into broader, and occasionally violent, protests against President Emmanuel Macron. There is no organized structure to the movement, with the events across France organized through social media.

French police and Yellow Vest protesters in Paris
French police and Yellow Vest protesters in ParisImage: Reuters/P. van de Wouw

Police defense

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has defended the police: "I have never seen a policeman or gendarme attacking a protester," he said last week.

His ministry ordered a further 1,280 LBDs for the next four years.

The LBDs have been banned in Austria, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the UK. Only Greece, Poland and Spain (outside of Catalonia) allow their use.

France begins national debate

jm/bw (AFP)

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