GILETS JAUNES: Macron’s State-Sanctioned Violence against Civilians is Condemned by Doctors and Human Rights Groups
The face of French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, with images of civilians injured by Police violence, superimposed. (Photo: Twitter)
The Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, recently visited Paris to discuss issues of human rights violations relating to the Gilets Jaunes (GJ) or Yellow Vest protests that were sparked in France on the 17th November 2018. The protests, that began peacefully descended into state violence against civilians from the 24th November onwards.
“The heightened tensions that persist now in France have triggered my concern and I consider that there is an urgent need to appease the situation” Mijatovic said after her visit. Mijatovic was particularly alarmed by the increasing number of civilians and bystanders seriously injured by the use of the LBD40 “flashball” bullet and the Grenades d’encerclement or GLIF4 grenades. To date, 159 people have been hit in the head by the LBD40 rubber bullets, causing fractured jaws, 17 loss of eyes, one induced coma and many other serious and debilitating injuries.
According to an article in France 24, “France’s legal advisory body, the Council of State, was due to examine an urgent request by the CGT trade union the French Human Rights League on Wednesday to ban police from using the hand-held launchers, which fire rubber projectiles roughly the size of golf balls.”
Lawyers of victims of state-sanctioned violence against protestors have also called for the banning of the GLIF4 grenades which contain 25g of TNT and can contain 10g rubber pellets, capable of shredding flesh if used at close quarters, as you can see in the following video filmed in Dijon during recent GJ protests. A policeman nonchalantly throws a grenade at a nearby GJ who is immediately seen hopping in pain after detonation:
The LBD40 is described as a “sub-lethal” weapon but the injuries they have inflicted upon civilians during the GJ protests contradict this description. Police officers are cautioned to only use the “flashball” in cases of absolute necessity, where they are strictly “proportional” to the situation – they should be fired at least 10 meters from their target and never aimed at the head. Below is one of the infractions being signalled to the French Interior Ministry by independent journalist, David Dufresnes.
The protestor was hit in the face by an LBD40 bullet during Acte IX of the protests in Nimes. He suffered a fractured jaw, 3 upper teeth were torn out and his lower teeth were displaced. “The CRS (civilian reserve police) didn’t allow us to rejoin the firemen and they told me that it served me right” said the injured GJ.
French police using the LBD40 bullet during GJ protests. (Photo: Valery Hache)
French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, has defended the use of the LBD40 bullets despite the mounting tally of horrifying mutilation of civilians as a result of their use. In defiance of the release of a Police laboratory investigation that declared the GLIF4 grenade to be too dangerous for use in crowd control situations, Castaner has declared that they will continue to be used by Police controlling the GJ protests “until stocks are used up” without specifying the amount of remaining stocks. The French government is in violation of recommendations from internal and external human rights investigative bodies.
An article in Le Monde revealed that 9,228 LBD40 bullets have been fired during the two months of GJ protests. Desarmons.net, a collective of activists against state violence in France, have calculated that this number equates to 1,000 shots per week or 838 bullets fired during each protest, which are held weekly. 123 bullets fired per day from November 17th to 31st of January 2019. 159 civilians have now been hit in the head by the LBD40 bullets. Desarmons also make the claim that most of the bullets do hit their target and the weapons are extremely accurate, so this would suggest a far higher number of injured among the GJs than the 2-3,000 recorded by most analysts. What is rarely discussed by state-aligned media is the psychological trauma suffered by civilians who have been mutilated or have witnessed the hideous effects of these bullets often fired at close range into crowds.
If anyone were in any doubt over the brutality of the policeman behind the gun in many instances, please watch this video recorded in Nantes during Acte XI (January 26th 2019). Police violently arrest a civilian who was carrying a small hammer. Witnesses urge the police to stop “its shameful” “he is bleeding” “you don’t have the right to do that”. Those filming the use of disproportionate force are pushed back to a “security distance of 50 meters” and told to stop videoeing.
The following video shows the moment after war correspondent, Florent Marcie, is hit in the face by a LBD40 bullet that leaves a deep hole in his cheek. In later interviews, Marcie describes how he has survived multiple war zones without injury only to be targeted by the National Police in France as he is covering peaceful protests. One of the witnesses describes how he was the target but the bullet passed over his left shoulder and hit the journalist in the face.
A Doctor’s Petition to Prohibit Police use of LBD40s and GLIF4 Grenades
Doctor Laurent Thines is a professor of neurosurgery at Besancon general hospital. Thines has launched a petition demanding a moratorium on the use of “sub-lethal” arms to highlight the extreme risk of their use.
In an interview with Inter, Dr Thines explained why he had been persuaded to intervene. “I am not a politician, above all I am a doctor and a citizen of France – I was so shocked, as a neurosurgeon, by the seriousness of the wounds inflicted upon peaceful protestors”. Although Besancon itself has not witnessed the extreme use of the LBD40, Thines has seen the reports of surgeons across France on head injuries treated in their hospitals. Thines describes the injuries as equivalent to war wounds or the result of a serious traffic incident.
“I would like to transmit the voice of the medical staff, because I am quite surprised that they have not yet taken a stand against the violence even though they are at the frontlines to treat the serious injuries” the Doctor told Inter.
Thines tells Inter that the petition has raised 65,000 signatures to date from medical staff, including paramedics who have to deal with the injuries at the scene. “We can’t remain silent” Thines said “..what we are witnessing is intolerable both medically and from a humanitarian point of view”. Thines has the view that the Minister of Interior, Castaner, has a political agenda behind his drive to strike fear into the GJs and to dissuade them from demonstrating.
“We demand the immediate prohibition of the use of these arms so we can ascertain the associated risk. We either have to ban these weapons during “law and order” operations or impose stricter rules on their use. [..] When we study the recent statistics, 50% (of protestors) have received head injuries, while it is forbidden to target the head!” Dr Thines.
Another doctor, Larbi Benali, based at Bordeaux University, specialist in legal medicine, did not sign the petition but considers it to be a very good initiative “that will enable a real debate on the subject of these weapons” Benali told Inter. Speaking about the the cases of two people seriously injured in the eye that Benali personally studied, the doctor stated:
“It is the use of these weapons and the training of the security forces that must be questioned. It is necessary to train the police and to sensitise them to the dangers of this kind of weapon. Too often, the police and gendarmes who use these LBDs do not have a true understanding of the consequences of a shot that is taken at too close range and not from the regulatory distance.”
In 2016, Benali took part in a study on the risk of the “Flashballs” (now replaced by the LBD40) – The hazardous nature of Flash-Ball®: A case of cranioencephalic trauma and a literature review. This scientific article appeared in the legal medicine review but never prompted a public debate in governmental circles. The following is taken from the summary of the report:
Justice for the Victims of State-sanctioned Brutality. Acte XII -Saturday 2nd February across France. Paying homage to the mutilated, the wounded and the “disappeared”.
Paris route for march: départ Place Félix Eboué en direction de République l. Félix Éboué > Av Daumesnil > Rue Moreau > Hôpital 15/20 > Bastille > Bd Beaumarchais > République
After a short speech the wounded Gilets Jaunes will lead the march. During the march there will be a pause to demand the prohibition of weapons such as Flashball LBD40 and the GLIF4 grenades.
The march will be peaceful and without any violence.
Protestors are asked to wear eye patches, bandages and to put fake blood on the bandages in honour of those who have been mutilated and injured.
This will be a national hommage to the Gilets Jaunes victims.
Paris and all cities of France will collectively pay their respects to the wounded, the Gilet Jaunes victims, injured in their thousands and dozens mutilated for life.
Even though protesting is a right for all French citizens, even though the demonstrations are declared in advance across France – in Paris and in every provincial town, Macron’s government sanctions police repression and extreme violence against the movement. The arms used by the “forces of order” against the demonstrators are Flashball bullets LBD40, GLIF4 grenades – Grenades d’encerclement.
Associated with a “kettling” strategy that shuts down any exit route for the protestors (so they find themselves surrounded by police forces) the use of these arms, targeting the head with Flashballs, result in very serious injuries that are described by the medical teams as “war wounds”.
Many have had their lives permanently turned upside down by state violence. Some have lost hands, others an eye.
Psychologically the repercussions are profoundly painful and it will take a long time to recover from the trauma. The families and the friends of the victim are also affected.
Their life is permanently ruined. They are simple, peaceful citizens of this country who were exercising their right to protest against a capitalist dictatorship which refuses to allow them to live a dignified life.
For more than two months the people who come out into the streets are met with governmental repression. Since the 17th November 2018 we have been on the streets but we have not been listened to.
Every weekend, the same weapons are used, in the full knowledge of their effect on human lives. The circumstances do not justify their use (remember the fireman injured in Bordeaux. The BAC fired at him even though he had his back to them, he was leaving the protest peacefully by a side street)
We demand that Macron brings an end to the repression of the legal citizen protests of the Gilets Jaunes and prohibits the use of LBD40 Flashball bullets and GLIF4 grenades immediately.
“The Powerful will stop dominating us when the “little people” stop crawling” – translation of the poster created by Jerome Rodrigues for Acte XII.
The Council of State (Conseil d’Etat, highest administrative jurisdiction) officially declined to forbid or even suspend the use of LBD40 bullets, despite all available evidence that are being used against all rules of police engagement and are causing terrible mutilation to civilians, risking life in many cases.
The Council of State effectively dismissed all evidence of police violations of their own regulations and infractions against civilians. So, Acte XII will go ahead in the knowledge that there is a high risk of further injuries and targeting of civilians by the forces of law and order with weapons described as “sub-lethal” but lethal when misused.
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Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. Please support her work at her Patreon account.