PARIS — Rejecting complaints that heavy police use of rubber bullets has caused serious injuries during the “Yellow Vest” protests, France’s highest administrative court on Friday upheld their use, bolstering the French government’s tough strategy.
Dozens have been injured, mutilated or blinded by the rubber bullets over weeks of demonstrations, according to victim advocates.
But in its ruling upholding the use of the weapons, the court, called the Council of State, underlined the violence of the Yellow Vest protests. And it noted fears that this violence would continue, as organizers prepared for a 12th straight weekend of protests starting Saturday.
The government has insisted that the 40-millimeter rubber-bullet guns and their projectiles, about the size of golf balls, are essential tools in the police arsenal even though their use makes France an outlier in Western Europe. The country’s official human-rights watchdog has urged banning them.
The strategy of an uncompromising police response to the Yellow Vests — heavy use of tear gas, nonlethal rubber bullets, and water cannons — has coincided with a diminishing of the severe urban vandalism that marked the protests’ early days.
Rights activists have pointed to the heavy toll so far exacted by the so-called defense bullet launchers — more than 350 people wounded or mutilated, including 159 struck in the head and as many as 17 who have lost eyes. The ranks of the wounded also include dozens of journalists.
Régis Froger, a lawyer, said during an emergency hearing before the court this week that such weapons were “simply too dangerous to use in a demonstration.”
Nevertheless, the court endorsed the police argument that it could not keep the peace without rubber bullets. The “numerous demonstrations” all over France “have frequently been accompanied by gratuitous violence, assaults, vandalism and destruction,” the court said.