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Why Take Photographs?

Photographs are very important in documenting human rights abuses: 

  • They show the range of weapons and equipment that security forces have.
  • They may provide the only evidence that weapons and equipment have been used/misused by security forces.
  • If the exact type of weapon or piece of equipment can be identified from a photograph it can help hold the exporting company/country to account.
  • Meta data taken from photographs can show the time, date and location which is useful in providing corroborating information from witnesses or survivors, and later used in trial.
  • Images may provide the only evidence that a company has exported equipment to a particular country.

What to do with the photographs?

Our Arms Watch team can identify weapons, equipment and ammunition used in the commission of rights abuses. Identifying such equipment is usually the first step towards ending their use in   atrocities. Please share photographs with the Arms Watch team through:


What to Photograph?

Anything used or carried by law enforcement agents or the military, especially:

How to Record?

Military, Security and Police (MSP) Equipment?

Taking photographs that record the shape, size and distinguishing markings of any equipment makes an accurate identification possible.

Colours / Shape(s) 

The colour of a less lethal canister/grenade – both the body of the canister and any markings can be key in identifying the manufacturer. However you need to be careful when naming companies as:

  • Ownership of companies can change.
  • A company might not have exported directly to the country in question.
  • Markings can change, be copied, or be falsified.


Assault rifles manufactured by different companies also have distinctive shapes. 




Show the exact dimensions to help make an identification possible.   

It is important to show the scale of the weapon.



Markings are helpful to make a conclusive identification of weapons. Also show any markings clearly in your photographs.  


Less Useful Photographs

To aid identification photographs need to be in focus and capture the relevant information.  


Documenting Use

It is important to record how a piece of equipment is being used as this may vary from its recommended safe use. For example, photographic evidence in the past has shown: 

  • Security forces beating people with the butts of their rifles / grenade launchers.
  • Vehicles including water cannon being driven directly into crowds of people.
  • Tear gas sprays being sprayed at close range at individuals in handcuffs.

If you are at the scene of a protest / human rights incident which involves the use of lethal or less than lethal projectiles (e.g. live ammunition, tear gas, rubber baton rounds etc.), when safe to do so try to take photographs which show: 

  • The distance between the protestors and the police. Wide-angle shots can be useful.
  • The positions of the protestors and the police.
  • Where the firing came from.
  • How the projectiles were fired i.e. weapon launched, hand-thrown, vehicle launched.


The following checklist is useful when documenting the use of military, security and police equipment as a reminder of things to record. 

1. Date/Time. 

2. Location –  country/town/city/street.

3. Environment –  inside / outside / at police station / in street, where are the users of equipment and where are the “victims”?

4. Equipment: What equipment can you see? What is in use? What is available for use?  How is it being used? Is it being misused?

5. Actors x1: Who is using the equipment? (security forces/police etc.) What are they wearing? Do they have any insignias? What language are they speaking?

6. Actors x2: Who is the equipment being used against? (group/gender/ethnicity/religion etc.)  What are the actions of this group? (peaceful protest/stone throwers etc.)

7. Notes


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