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Rubber bullets fatal in 3% of incidents – report

Rubber bullets fatal in 3% of incidents – report
Rubber bullets cause fatal injuries in three in every 100 victims, new research has found, prompting calls for an alternative, and less deadly, form of crowd control.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley examined 26 reports on injuries, deaths and permanent disability caused by rubber and plastic bullets between 1990 and 2017. The reports came from India, Israel and Palestine, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Turkey, Switzerland and the US.

Of the 1,984 people struck by rubber bullets, 53 of those died and 300 were left with permanent disabilities, the researchers noted in a study published in the BMJ journal.

“Some 300 (15.5 percent) of all survivors were left with permanent disability as a direct result of the rubber bullet impact they sustained – usually to the head and neck,” the team said. “Blindness, and removal of the spleen, or a section of the bowel as a result of abdominal injuries, accounted for most of this disability.”

Bullets fired to the head and neck accounted for 49.1 percent of the deaths, and 82.6 percent of permanent disabilities, the report found, while 71 percent of reported injuries were classed as “severe.”


Rubber and plastic bullets are also known as kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs) and are sold as a way to ‘stun’ targets rather than kill.

Rubber and plastic bullets were first introduced by the British Army to be used against rioters in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. They were used on South African protesters in the 1980s.

There are “more than 75 different types of bullets and launchers,” produced by manufacturers around the world which are “marketed to military, police and private security forces throughout the world,” the study reads.

“It is important to note that many KIPs have muzzle velocities [speed of the projectile exiting the weapon] equal to those of live ammunition,” the study notes. Some weapons have projectiles that emit tear gas or pepper spray on impact.

KIPs can cause blunt and penetrating injuries, ranging from localised contusions to severe organ damage and death,” the study reads. Manufacturers are not required to keep a record of injuries reported from their products, and military data on their use is confidential.

The “anatomical site of impact, firing distance and timely access to medical care were correlated with injury severity and risk of disability,” the study notes.

On Friday, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the face with a rubber bullet by Israeli forces during protests in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, al Jazeera reports. Mohammed Tamimi was placed in a medically induced coma after he was shot at close range. The bullet broke his jaw and got stuck in his skull, and doctors operated on him for six hours.

“We find that these projectiles have caused significant morbidity and mortality during the past 27 years, much of it from penetrative injuries and head, neck and torso trauma,” the authors wrote. “Given their inherent inaccuracy, potential for misuse and associated health consequences of severe injury, disability and death, KIPs do not appear to be appropriate weapons for use in crowd-control settings.”

“There is an urgent need to establish international guidelines on the use of crowd-control weapons to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths.” the authors concluded.