European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Electrical discharge weapons
Extract from the 20th General Report of the CPT,
published in 2010
It is becoming increasingly common in countries visited by the CPT for police officers and
other law enforcement officials to be issued with electrical discharge weapons (EDW), and the
presence of such devices in places of detention (in particular prisons) has also been observed by the
Committee in certain countries. There are various types of EDW, ranging from electric shock
batons and other hand-held weapons requiring direct contact with the person who is the intended
target to weapons capable of delivering dart-like projectiles which administer an electric shock to a
person located at some distance.
The use of EDW by law enforcement and other public officials is a controversial subject.
There are conflicting views as regards both the specific circumstances in which resort to such
weapons can be justified and the potential negative effects on health that the weapons can cause. It
is also a fact that by their very nature, EDW lend themselves to misuse. The CPT has on several
occasions gathered credible evidence that such weapons have been exploited to inflict severe illtreatment on persons deprived of their liberty, and the Committee has frequently received
allegations that detained persons have been threatened with ill-treatment via the use of EDW.
The CPT has already addressed the issue of EDW in several of its visit reports. In the
following paragraphs, the Committee wishes to highlight the positions it has adopted to date and
indicate some areas of concern. The CPT would welcome comments on this section of its General
Report, so as to help the Committee develop its standards in relation to this complex subject.
The CPT understands the wish of national authorities to provide their law enforcement
officials with means enabling them to give a more graduated response to dangerous situations with
which they are confronted. There is no doubt that the possession of less lethal weapons such as
EDW may in some cases make it possible to avoid recourse to firearms. However, electrical
discharge weapons can cause acute pain and, as already indicated, they are open to abuse.
Consequently, any decision to issue law enforcement officials or other public servants with EDW
should be the result of a thorough debate at the level of the country’s national executive and
legislature. Further, the criteria for deploying EDW should be both defined by law and spelt out in