Since September 2012, Dutch Minister Ivo Opstelten has been planning to equip the entire Dutch police force with Taser weapons. At the request of the Privacy First Foundation, the Dutch government will have to answer some tough questions about this before the UN Committee against Torture.
One of the most important and most ratified human rights treaties in the world is the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture. Under this Convention, torture is prohibited under all circumstances. Anyone who is guilty of torture anywhere in the world is to be prosecuted or extradited. This also applies to civil servants, ministers, presidents and heads of State. The Netherlands has been a party to the UN Convention against Torture since 1988. Periodically, every country that has ratified the Convention is examined by the supervisory treaty body in Geneva: the UN Committee against Torture (CAT). This upcoming Tuesday and Wednesday it's the Netherlands' turn to come under CAT's scrutiny: on Tuesday the Netherlands will be cross-examined by the Committee on various issues, after which the Dutch delegation will come up with answers on Wednesday. Subsequently, the Committee will make a number of critical recommendations (''Concluding Observations'') to the Netherlands.
In preparation of the Dutch session, the Privacy First Foundation, the Dutch National Human Rights Institute (College voor de Rechten van de Mens) and the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten, NJCM) have recently sent so-called 'shadow reports' about the Netherlands to the Committee in Geneva. Both Privacy First and NJCM emphatically raised the issue of Taser weapons for the Dutch police. Privacy First did so through a special letter to the Committee: click HERE. In this letter Privacy First draws the Committee's attention to the intention of the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Mr. Ivo Opstelten to soon supply every Dutch police officer with his/her own Taser weapon. (Currently 'only' the arrest teams of the Dutch police force are equipped with Taser weapons.) In the view of Privacy First, the use of Taser weapons can easily lead to a violation of the international ban on torture as well as the related right to physical integrity, which in turn is part of the right to privacy. Taser weapons lower the treshold for police violence and hardly leave behind any scars. At the same time Taser weapons can inflict serious physical damage and mental harm. In conjunction with the current lack of firearms training for Dutch police officers, this produces serious risks for the Dutch population. Therefore we have requested the Committee to critically examine the Netherlands about this and to advise against introducing Taser weapons for the entire Dutch police force. Last Friday, Privacy First was notified from Geneva that the UN Committee will indeed critically examine this issue. This week Privacy First will keep you up-to-date of the latest developments.
Update 13 May 2013, 23.00h: a livestream of the Dutch session can be viewed online HERE (Tuesday 10am-3pm, Wednesday 3pm).
Update 14 May 2013, 15.00h: Today the Dutch delegation in Geneva (under the chairmanship of the Dutch Permanent Representative to the UN) was critically questioned by the Committee on various issues, among which... Tasers. The Dutch answers will follow tomorrow afternoon at 15.00h. Below are the relevant parts both in text as well as in mp3:
Committee member Nora Sveaass (Norway): "I then want to bring the attention to something that I've been informed of, namely that the State [of the Netherlands] is planning on a pilot of using Taser weapons as a regular weapon within the police force. And the pilot is supposed to take place, I understand, the last half of this year, so it's probably just around the corner. This Committee has on many different occasions warned against the use of Tasers, both in special situations and especially as a regular weapon to all the police, as I understand the plans are. And there are a lot of reasons for this, I won't go into the detail, because these have been described both by this Committee and by a lot of others, because, first of all, health reasons, physical as well as psychological. So I would hope that you would rethink and perhaps change the decision of implementing a pilot and also doing it in practice."
Committee member Fernando Mariño Menéndez (Spain): "I'm also concerned by the decision that we've heard about to generalize the use of Tasers by all regular police officers, as just referred to by Mrs. Sveaass, that the Tasers will be used as an [armament] for standard use across the Kingdom of the Netherlands. That's our understanding, perhaps we're wrong, perhaps there is a special protocol governing the use of Tasers. Our position as a Committee is that Tasers shouldn't be used at all. If they are to be used, and this seems to be dangerous, then they need to be used in very specific cases and properly regulated. We'd like to know what's happening in the Kingdom of the Netherlands."
Update 14 May 2013, 16.45h: This afternoon Privacy First employee Vincent Böhre was interviewed about this topic on Dutch radio station FunX. You can listen to the entire interview (in Dutch) here:
Update 15 May 2013: This afternoon the Netherlands had the opportunity to answer the questions that were asked by the UN Committee yesterday. In the audio file below you can hear how the Dutch Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva denies and downplays the Dutch plans concerning Taser weapons. For the Committee members this was no reason to tone down or withdraw their critical remarks made yesterday. Therefore, Privacy First expects the Committee to express sharp criticism on the Dutch Taser plans in its Concluding Observations that are soon to be issued. Tonight the Committee already published a press release about the Dutch session; click HERE.
Update 16 May 2013: An integral video registration of both session days of the UN Committee is online HERE. The Concluding Observations of the Committee about the Netherlands will follow on Friday afternoon 31 May 2013 (June 3rd at the latest), Privacy First was told by telephone from Geneva today.
Update 22 May 2013: as a result of the Dutch session before the UN Committee last week, Dutch opposition party D66 today has posed a series of critical Parliamentary questions to Minister Opstelten; click HERE (in Dutch).
Update 31 May 2013: As predicted earlier by Privacy First and as reported tonight by Dutch television news program EenVandaag, the UN Committee against Torture has issued a negative statement today about Minister Opstelten's plans to equip the entire Dutch police force with Taser weapons:
"The Committee is concerned about the pilot plan to be reportedly launched to distribute electrical discharge weapons to the entire Dutch police force, without due safeguards against misuse and proper training for the personnel. The Committee is concerned that this may lead to excessive use of force (arts. 2, 11 and 16). The Committee recommends to the State party, in accordance with articles 2 and 16 of the Convention, to refrain from flat distribution and use of electrical discharge weapons by police officers. It also recommends adopting safeguards against misuse and providing proper training for the personnel to avoid excessive use of force. In addition, the Committee recommends that electrical discharge weapons should be used exclusively in extreme limited situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury, as a substitute for lethal weapons." (para. 27. Click HERE for the entire document.)
The Privacy First Foundation hopes that this negative stance by the UN Committee will lead to a reconsideration and withdrawal of the Dutch plans to equip every Dutch police officer with a Taser weapon. Privacy First also hopes that the announced pilot will not be executed.