U.K. Repudiates Police Use of Chemical Incapacitants

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The United Kingdom on Tuesday asserted it neither holds nor is developing chemical agents designed to produce unconsciousness or severely limit functioning in criminal suspects, ending speculation to the contrary and adding momentum to condemnations by several other nations of such "incapacitating" substances.

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt issued the assurance in an address to the third review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention. The treaty's position on chemical incapacitants has remained unclear to date, though it permits law enforcement use of "riot control agents" capable of producing short-term "sensory irritation or disabling physical effects."

Treaty member states have yet to establish formal definitions for "incapacitant" chemicals or legitimate "law enforcement" use of riot control agents.

The potential for incapacitants to prevent victims from escaping additional exposure sets those substances apart from riot control agents, which leave people with an ability to flee. That distinction gained widespread attention in 2002, when Russia employed an anesthetic compound to end an armed standoff involving more than 800 hostages in a Moscow theater. Over 100 of the captives died from exposure to the material.

"We should work together to establish a norm to discourage the use of chemicals more toxic than riot control agents for law enforcement and consider transparency measures or limitations," Burt said.

He stated "unequivocally" that the United Kingdom "neither holds, nor is developing, any incapacitating chemical agents for law enforcement," and invited "all other states parties to state their positions" on the matter.

Last month, a prominent British scientific organization reaffirmed findings from a 2012 report voicing worries over the nation's possible steps to authorize use of such substances by police.

"The majority of states parties to the [Chemical Weapons Convention] have made no public statements on the interpretation of this law enforcement exemption" as it relates to chemical incapacitants, Royal Society leaders said in their March 18 letter. "The review conference provides an excellent opportunity for the U.K. to continue to demonstrate international leadership."

Burt responded that the United Kingdom does not possess and is not pursuing such materials. However, he added the government does not expect obtaining multilateral consensus on the matter "to be either quick or easy."

Switzerland this week informed the CWC review conference it had proposed clarifying language on incapacitants for potential inclusion in the final report participating states are due to deliver next week.

"By 'incapacitating chemical agents' we mean toxic chemicals for law enforcement purposes that are not riot control agents and act on the central nervous system," Swiss Ambassador Markus Börlin said in remarks to the conference. "Switzerland fears that the silence and uncertainty surrounding the use of toxic chemicals for law enforcement purposes other than riot control agents risks eroding the convention."

The United States on Tuesday cited the controversy over incapacitants in describing fears that nations might employ chemical agents in a prohibited manner after procuring the substances "under the guise of a legitimate treaty purpose, such as law enforcement."

"The convention is clear: the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling or use of incapacitating chemical agents -- or any other toxic chemicals -- in types and quantities inconsistent with purposes not prohibited by the CWC, is clearly prohibited by Article 1," acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said in a statement to the meeting.

April 9, 2013
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The United Kingdom on Tuesday asserted it neither holds nor is developing chemical agents designed to produce unconsciousness or severely limit functioning in criminal suspects, ending speculation to the contrary and adding momentum to condemnations by several other nations of such "incapacitating" substances.