Who cares about regulations on pepper gas?
A pepper gas canister stands in front on me on my desk. A product of America. The name of the production company is “Combined Tactical Systems” according to what is written on it. Address: 388 Kinsman Road, Jamestown, PA.
The rules that need to be abided by police officials while using are written in Turkish on the canister. On top there is a note as a general warning: “This product should be used only by trained personnel.”
The most important warning comes first. “Do not shoot directly at individuals. It may cause serious injury and death.”
Another warning: “The usage is suitable only for open air. It may cause fire in enclosed spaces.”
Most probably the same warnings were written on the gas canister that hit Berkin Elvan’s head last June, sending him into a coma. There is no need for comment. The gas canister could have been fired at Berkin despite the warning that it “can cause serious injury and death.”
Here, there is, above all, something to do with humanity. How can it be that a deadly weapon can be fired intentionally by a public official in Turkey in 2013?
The issues written on the canister are enclosed in the instructions of the Police Department. The main framework on the rules of this issue was drawn in 2008. The document called “Instruction for use of tear gas weapons and ammunition” sets out necessary regulations despite its shortcomings.
Looking at the instructions, we see that all the controversial practices by the police in the streets, the majority of which fall in the category of things that should not be done. For instance, “tear gas weapons and ammunition should not be used outside their purpose and without taking the necessary measures [like posting a health team],” writes this instruction.
To have a health team in the vicinity of the area where pepper gas is used is a rigid rule of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and it is binding for all countries following the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
We can verify the implementation of this instruction as far as the practice in Turkey is concerned looking at whether there is an ambulance or not in the vicinity of the neighborhoods where police use pepper gas.
The most important point in the instruction comes with this article: “A tear-gas canister should not be shot directly targeting a human body.”
In the instruction of the Police Department, a gas canister must be used to disperse demonstrations as a last resort in the “third stage.”
In addition, it should “be shot at a 45-degree angle to the target.” In other words, it says: “Don’t target and shoot directly at the demonstrator. Shoot into the air.”
Following the big reactions due to the use of pepper gas without abiding by the rules during the events that sparked the Gezi Park resistance in Taksim Square last June, the Police Department issued two separate circulars, one on June 26, 2013, and the other on July 22, 2013, tightening the rules.
We can especially have an opinion about the substance of the second circular from the report on Turkey prepared last November by Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, in the framework of official information that was sent to him by the Police Department. In the July circular, the rule “pepper gas weapons should never be fired targeting demonstrators,” was repeated.
Equally important is the endorsement for the first time of having the limit of 40 meters to use pepper gas weapons. According to the circular, police can shoot the pepper gas canister only from a distance of 40 meters at demonstrators. It cannot be fired from a closer range. In addition, “gas should not be used if there is no resistance or unless there is a physical attack on the security forces.” In other words, if demonstrators stand peacefully, pepper gas should not be used.
It is sufficient to follow the nightly news bulletins on TV to see to what degree police are abiding by these rules while using pepper gas rifles on the popular movements that have taken place in recent days. Following them, you will realize that these rules are worth no more than the scrap of paper that they are written on.