Catalan police guidelines allow for foam bullets to be fired without warning and at limbs

Mossos d'Esquadra publish protocol governing use of weapons that have faced criticism from human rights groups

Police officers fire rubber bullets during the unrest that broke out after the arrest and imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel (by Miquel Codolar)
Police officers fire rubber bullets during the unrest that broke out after the arrest and imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel (by Miquel Codolar) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 19, 2021 07:29 PM

Catalonia's police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, have published a summary of the protocol for use of foam bullets by riot police.

The guidelines state that the weapons can be used at a range of between 5 and 50 meters, that officers must aim below the abdomen, and the bullets should be fired on the direct order of a superior and after protesters have received a warning.

There are, however, three exceptions, according to the protocol: shots may be fired without warning if there are disturbances to public safety involving weapons or other violent actions; shot may be fired without a direct order in cases of extreme need with very serious danger to people or property; foam bullets may be aimed at limbs if the target has a projectile, blunt object or knife.

According to the police document, dated last Friday, foam bullets are designed for "less harmful use of force," for cases where a "progressive use of force is needed to control the situation and bring it back to normal."

In general, the Catalan police say, they can be used in situations that involve: serious public disorder and imminent danger to people, police and property; to neutralize individual violent behavior that may result in personal injury or property damage; physical risk to third parties; or situations that are a danger to public safety.

Criticism of use of foam and rubber bullets

The use of foam bullets by the Mossos d'Esquadra has been criticized several times in the past number of years, most recently during the riots following the jailing of the rapper Pablo Hasel.

On the second night of disturbances, a 19-year-old woman in Barcelona lost an eye. The Irídia Center, which defends civil and political rights and first reported the incident, said the injury was caused by a foam bullet.

Irídia said that "for years" it has been arguing that foam bullets are very dangerous and can lead to serious injuries and "even death". They also believe that police leadership must put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure that there is no unwarranted use of foam bullets.

There has also been criticism of the use of rubber bullets by Spanish police, who are allowed to use this more aggressive weapon, unlike their Catalan counterparts.

In October 2019, four people were blinded in one eye and emergency services treated 579 people throughout Catalonia who were injured in the unrest that broke out after the Supreme Court announced it was sentencing 9 independence leaders to up to 13 years in prison for sedition.

The eye injuries were suspected to have been caused by foam or rubber bullets.

At the time, the Council of Europe expressed its concern regarding the ''disproportionate use of force" and inappropriate use of anti-riot weapons by police on demonstrators.