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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Plans to sign UN torture protocol sparks taser debate in Australia

August 7, 2008
ABC News, Australia

The Federal Government's decision to sign the Protocol to the UN's Convention Against Torture has the potential to put Australia's police in a difficult position.

The UN Committee Against Torture says the use of Tasers "causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture".

The Taser is an electronic stun gun with a 50,000-volt punch, that paralyses its target. They are used by police in several Australian states and one high-profile lawyer says the Government's decision to sign up to the UN protocol could make their use illegal.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman says Tasers are now being used by police in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Police in Victoria are campaigning for them too.

Mr O'Gorman says they are used every day. "[There was] an incident on the Gold Coast recently where the police were chasing a fellow who hadn't stopped for some mundane reason," he said. "They couldn't catch up with him so they Tasered him. The use of the Taser, which is touted as an alternative to the police drawing their gun and shooting, is being used in ordinary, everyday, mundane, policing situations."

He says very little parliamentary scrutiny has been applied to the decision to issue police with Tasers, but the signing of the protocol against torture could change that.

"It clearly is extremely painful. The United Nations have said that it is a form of torture so the Federal Government has got to grab this whole issue with both hands and address the widespread growing use of Tasers in at least three of the eight state and territory police services in this country," Mr O'Gorman said.

He expects the signing of the UN protocol will strengthen the legal argument against Tasers in Australia, and says it puts the onus on the Federal Government to take action on the issue.

"Deaths in Australia are inevitable. There is clear evidence that the use of Tasers leads to death," he said.

"The fact that Australia is now signing up to the UN protocol, which describes Tasers as a form of torture, just means that this has a degree of urgency which needs to be addressed by at least the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, which is an overarching body which looks at these sorts of issues over the country."

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