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Controversy mounts over police plans to use dumdum bullets

Expanding bullets are designed to immobilise the person they wound Keystone

A controversial proposal to issue Swiss police officers with so-called dumdum bullets - which expand on impact - has provoked widespread criticism from both humanitarian organisations and within the government.

The foreign ministry weighed into the fray this week arguing that, by adopting such bullets, Switzerland risked tarnishing its image as an advocate of international humanitarian law.

Although there is no specific law restricting the use of such bullets in peacetime, the Hague declaration of 1899 forbids their use in war.

A foreign ministry spokesman, Livio Zanolari, said an in-depth inquiry into the issue was necessary.

His comments came in response to a proposal by cantonal police directors to make dumdum bullets standard issue ammunition for officers.

The general secretary for the conference of cantonal police directors, Beat Hegg, said the bullets were more effective than traditional ammunition because they not only immobilise people who are shot, but also prevent them from shooting back.

The bullets expand by about two millimetres on impact and remain lodged in the target’s body. Traditional bullets, by contrast, tend to pass through the body and may then ricochet, presenting a potential hazard for bystanders.

Police say that in 60 per cent of cases, criminals shot with conventional ammunition are either able to flee or to fight back.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also expressed its concern about the Swiss proposal. A spokesman, Darcy Christen, said that, if the Swiss were to adopt dumdum bullets, there was a risk that other countries might follow suit.

“Because Switzerland hosts the Geneva Conventions, such a move could give the wrong example to countries at war,” Darcy observed.

Analysts say expanding bullets have a greater capacity to inflict damage than traditional ammunition. Under international humanitarian law, they fall into the same category as exploding bullets.

The conference of cantonal police directors is expected to formally recommend the adoption of dumdum bullets to the government in November.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR