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ICRC calls on States to prevent the development of toxic chemicals as weapons

06-02-2013 News Release 13/08

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling on States to limit the use of toxic chemicals as weapons for law enforcement purposes exclusively to riot control agents, also known as "tear gas," which have long been accepted as legitimate means for law enforcement.

For many years there has been interest among military forces and law enforcement agencies in developing and using certain toxic chemicals – primarily highly potent anaesthetic and sedative drugs – as weapons for law enforcement. These weapons have been described as "incapacitating chemical agents" or "incapacitating agents."

"It is time for States to take a clear stand against the development of other toxic chemicals for use as weapons, because any such development risks undermining international law prohibiting chemical weapons," said Philip Spoerri, the ICRC's director for international law and cooperation. "We are asking them to put in place the requisite national legislation clearly limiting the use of toxic chemicals as weapons for law enforcement to riot control agents – also known as 'tear gas' – only."

The development and use as weapons of other toxic chemicals – such as so-called "incapacitating chemical agents" – present serious risks to life and health, and, in addition to undermining the prohibition of chemical weapons, could lead to the reintroduction of chemical weapons in armed conflict.

The ICRC's position is based on a careful assessment of the law, and of the risks associated with developing and using toxic chemicals other than riot control agents as weapons. "We believe that these risks far outweigh any perceived operational benefits," said Mr Spoerri.

States will have the opportunity to strengthen efforts to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons during the Third Review Conference of the States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention taking place from 8 to 19 April 2013 in The Hague.

In armed conflict, there is an absolute prohibition on the use of toxic chemicals as weapons under the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and customary international humanitarian law. This also includes a prohibition on the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare.

Outside armed conflict, the Chemical Weapons Convention, international human rights law, and international drug control law form an overlapping legal framework that leaves little room, if any, for the legitimate use of toxic chemicals other than riot control agents as weapons for law enforcement. Hence the ICRC's call to clearly limit any use of toxic chemicals as weapons to riot control agents only.

For further information, please contact:
Philippe Stoll, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 31 40 or +41 79 536 92 49