PORTLAND, OR - JULY 20: Federal police walk toward the entrance of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse while a protester shines a laser in their direction on July 20, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. The federal police response to the ongoing protests against racial inequality has been criticized by city and state elected officials. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Portland Rioters Using Lasers to Blind Police is Explicitly Prohibited by UN Weapons Conventions


At least three federal agents who were deployed to Portland, Oregon this past week to defend the federal courthouse and to bring quiet to the city were left “likely permanently blinded” after being attacked with lasers pens, a war crime according to the United Nations’ Convention on Certain Convention Weapons (CCW).

“A federal agent’s hand was impaled by planted nails, another federal agent was shot with a pellet gun, leaving a wound deep to the bone, and tragically, three federal officers were likely left permanently blinded by the rioters using lasers pointed directly into their eyes,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters last week.

The National Pulse has found that such behavior could constitute a war crime if such tactics were used between signatory nations of the Convention. This is despite Democratic Party politicians such as Rep. Jerry Nadler calling such attacks “a myth.”

The Convention’s Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV) would usually constitute a war crime, except Antifa protesters are not signatories to the Protocol – a responsibility reserved for state-level actors.

Despite that, it is worth recognizing that such tactics are roundly condemned by international authorities, in a part of the Convention drafted in 1995, and enforced from 1998.

Specifically, the rules state:

Article 1: It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices. The High Contracting Parties shall not transfer such weapons to any State or non-State entity.

Article 2: In the employment of laser systems, the High Contracting Parties shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision. Such precautions shall include training of their armed forces and other practical measures.

Article 3: Blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment, is not covered by the prohibition of this Protocol.

Article 4: For the purpose of this Protocol ‘permanent blindness’ means irreversible and uncorrectable loss of vision which is seriously disabling with no prospect of recovery. Serious disability is equivalent to visual acuity of less than 20/ 200 Snellen measured using both eyes.

The above protocol was ratified by the US Senate in 1997, wherein it was stated:

The Senate advises and consents to the ratification of the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Protocol IV)

According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), they will “consider all reasonable tools, tactics, and equipment to cease an assault with a handheld laser in accordance with CBP Use of Force Policy and U.S. constitutional standards.”

This policy largely allows for the use of non-lethal force such as the firing of pepper spray bullets.

According to Protocol IV, the very definition of war crimes are taking place on American soil, with supposed Americans committing them on their fellow citizens.

But it’s not the police using them on “protesters.” It’s the other way around.

Nick Regan

Nick Regan is a 2020 National Pulse Writing Fellow

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