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University research highlights dangers of incapacitating chemical weapons and widespread misuse of riot control agents

22 October 09


Seven years ago today, Russian Security Forces employed a secret incapacitating chemical weapon in their attempt to free 800 hostages held in a Moscow theatre by armed Chechen fighters. Over 120 hostages were killed by the incapacitant and many more continue to suffer long term health problems. Despite reports of further Russian research and use of incapacitants, the international community has refused to address the dangers of the development and proliferation of such weapons.

'Dangerous Ambiguities', a new report by the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project (BNLWRP), based at the University of Bradford, highlights the inability of the international control regime established under the Chemical Weapons Convention to regulate incapacitants effectively.

The report warns of the potentially devastating consequences for human rights, international peace and security if this situation is not urgently addressed. In addition to Russia, the report identifies incapacitant research activities of concern in China, the Czech Republic and the United States, as well as interest shown in such agents by France, the UK, NATO and the European Defence Agency.

Author of the report and BNLWRP Project Coordinator, Michael Crowley, said: "Governments have previously considered the regulation of incapacitants a problem too difficult to deal with, but it is one they must now face. As more and more countries become intrigued by incapacitants so the dangers of their use by law enforcement officials for repression or by military personnel in armed conflict will grow, so too will the risks of their acquisition by terrorists and criminal gangs.

"Incapacitant research, if allowed to continue unchecked and in secret, may lead to even more dangerous developments. If the revolutionary advances in genomics, biotechnology and neuroscience are put to use by weapons designers then tomorrow's arsenals may well hold weapons that alter your thoughts and emotions, weaken your immune system, target your sight or leave you sterile."

'Dangerous Ambiguities' also highlights the failure of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to adequately regulate more mature and widespread technologies - namely riot control agents (RCAs) and various means of dispersal and delivery.  The report documents cases of law enforcement officials from 35 countries misusing RCAs between 2004 and 2008. Such misuse includes excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture. In some cases misuse of RCAs, particularly in enclosed spaces, resulted in serious injury or death.

The report also highlights how companies in Turkey and Russia have manufactured and promoted munitions containing chemical irritants that appear to breach the CWC, without any public response from the international community.

Michael hopes that this report will act as a wake-up call to governments. He said: "It is imperative that the international community gives serious and urgent consideration to resolving the dangerous ambiguities that threaten to undermine the Chemical Weapons Convention and ensuring that the CWC regulatory regime is applied effectively to RCAs and incapacitants."

Note to editors

Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project (BNLWRP) monitors the development and use of "non-lethal" weapons worldwide, examining their impact on human rights, human security and international law. It is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

The University of Bradfor's Department of Peace Studies was established in 1973, and is now the world's largest university centre for the study of peace and conflict, as well as one of the UK's leading politics and international relations departments.

22 October 09

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