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French police use excessive violence towards protesters
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The use of flash balls by French police challenged by ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists told a French Sunday news edition that the use of flash ball pistols has become unprecedented after the United Nations launched an inquiry into the crowd-control weapons last week.

Published: March 11, 2019, 7:08 am

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    The Journal du Dimanche reported on March 10, that a group of 35 ophthalmologists sent a letter to the Elysee in February, to alert the President of the Republic on the use of flash balls(LBD) by the police.

    From their point of view as doctors, the situation is unprecedented and in early February, 35 ophthalmologists sent a letter to the Elysee to warn Emmanuel Macron about the dangers.

    “Mr President, such an ‘epidemic’ of serious eye injuries has never before occurred ,” say the authors of the text, including “renowned hospital ophthalmologists, professors and university lecturers”, according to the weekly.

    Specialists are calling for a “moratorium” in the use of these intermediate weapons. It is the lack of response from the Head of State who pushed them to make the mail public, they say. “Our approach is only that of doctors, purely humanitarian, with the sole purpose of avoiding other mutilations,” they add, stating that they want to avoid triggering a “polemic” discussion.

    These 35 doctors even talk of “disabling weapons”. Professor Bahram Bodaghi, head of the Ophthalmology Department at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, noted: “We have seen people (with emergencies) suffering from very serious ocular or facial lesions. Most give rise to irreversible outcomes.”

    Faced with the repeated use of the LBDs, the signatories do not hesitate to mention an “epidemic” of mutilations.

    The United Nations has meanwhile launched an inquiry into the use of excessive violence towards protesters, citing France during the Yellow Vest protests as an example, alongside with developing countries Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.

    The “in-depth investigation” was announced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and France is the only developed nation on the list.

    At a speech in Geneva, high commissioner Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, said that the “Yellow Vests [had protested against what] they considered as the marginalisation of their economic rights and participation in public affairs”.

    She said: “Inequalities affect all countries. Even in rich states, people feel excluded from the benefits of development, and shut out from economic and social rights.”

    At least 100 people have claimed to have been seriously injured due to police actions since the start of the protests – including at least five who have lost a hand, and others an eye.

    The Council of Europe and the independent French human rights authority, le Défenseur des Droits chaired by Jacques Toubon, also called for a suspension in LBD use, due to their “danger” and to “better respect human rights”.

    The French government has rejected these claims, saying that the Yellow Vest protests had “made it necessary to allow law enforcement to have recourse to these weapons”. It responded with a terse statement from Prime Minister Edouard Philippe: “Someone needs to explain to the [UN] high commissioner the extent of the extreme violence [against] law enforcement and public property.”

    He added: “France is a law-abiding state. We have not been waiting for the high commission to shine a light on such actions as soon as there are complaints.” But French police investigation service l’Inspection Générale de la Police (IGPN) has opened at least 111 inquiries into “9 228 uses of LBDs”, according to a report from January 30, cited by Philippe.

    Secretary of State to the PM, Benjamin Griveaux said: “I must say, I am surprised to find ourselves on a list between Venezuela and Haiti, where there have been deaths [due to force].”

    Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, tweeted a response to the UNHCR, asking: “France has been listed…between Haiti (41 deaths) and Venezuela (where [president] N. Maduro is refusing humanitarian aid for his own people).

    “Is this reasonable? French people [are allowed] to express themselves every day in our Grand Débat. We are already investigating the issue of police violence.”

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