Parliament approves use of Tasers in deportations

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In March, the Swiss parliament approved the use by police of Taser stun guns when forcibly deporting foreigners from the country. Switzerland is thereby one the first European countries to introduce the controversial weapon for deportations, following Portugal which distributed the weapons to its Lisbon Metropolitan Command, the Direct Action Corps, the Special Operations Group and the Personal Security Corps last year. Amnesty International, the Swiss Democratic Lawyers' Association,, the Swiss Refugee Council and solidarité sans frontières had earlier urged the Swiss Council of States (Standerat, which represents the Swiss Cantons) not to pass the law, arguing that it would be better "not to have any immigration law at all than one that allows for the use of tasers".

The law introduces a harmonised regulation on the use of force after several migrants died due to the use of police force during deportation. The cause of death during forced deportation is usually diagnosed as positional asphyxiation. Introducing the use of tasers may add another possible cause of death rather than reducing the risk. The law, expected to take effect in January 2009, will apply to all authorities dealing with foreigner and asylum issues that might involve the use of police force or that carry out transporting prisoners for the state.

Tasers can now be added to the catalogue of arms police may use, alongside handcuffs, dogs, and pepper spray. However, a joint press release by human rights organisations also voiced concern about the possibilities under the new law to delegate tasks that may involve the use of force to private companies, the fact that a formal prohibition of torture has not been included, or the lack of an independent monitoring mechanism whereby forced deportations are overseen by human rights observers, as the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture proscribes. Furthermore, the law fails to prohibit the use of force against children, which may lead to violations of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. Finally, an adequate form of an independent complaint's commission are also lacking.

Tasers are particularly controversial as they are classified as non-lethal weapons, yet have led to more than 290 deaths between 2002 and 2007 in the US and Canada alone, Amnesty International reports. Furthermore, the argument that tasers somehow reduce the use of guns and therefore fatalities ignores the fact that tasers are increasingly used as a disciplinary measure as well as a torture instrument in prisons and by police. In recommendations in its 39th session report to Portugal, which has bought the newest Taser X26 stun gun for use by police, the UN Committee Against Torture last November declared that the use of tasers is a form of torture. Article 14 of the report's Conclusions states that the Committee "is concerned that the use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of torture, and that in some cases it may even cause death, as recent developments have shown", referring to three men, all in their early 20s, who died in the United States in November, days after a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being Tasered by Canadian police.


This article first appeared in Statewatch journal, vol 18 no 2 (2008)

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