Legal loopholes allow European companies to trade in 'tools of torture'
European companies are participating in the global trade in types of equipment widely used in torture or other ill-treatment, according to evidence presented in a new report by Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation. Fixed wall restraints, metal "thumb-cuffs", and electroshock "sleeves" and "cuffs" that deliver 50,000V shocks to detained prisoners are amongst the "tools of torture" highlighted in the report, From Words to Deeds, which was published on Wednesday. Such activities have continued despite the 2006 introduction of a Europe-wide law banning the international trade of policing and security equipment designed for torture and ill-treatment. The 2006 law also regulates the trade in other equipment widely used in torture around the world.The report will be formally discussed at the meeting of the European Parliament's Sub-Committee on Human Rights in Brussels on Thursday. Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation are calling on the European Commission and EU Member States to close legislative loopholes highlighted in the report, and for EU Member States to adequately implement and enforce the regulation. "The introduction of European controls on the trade in 'tools of torture', after a decade of campaigning by human rights organizations, was a landmark piece of legislation. But three years after these controls came into force, several European states have failed to properly implement or enforce the law," said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International's EU office."Our research shows that despite the new controls, several Member States, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have since 2006 authorized exports of policing weapons and restraints to at least nine countries where Amnesty International has documented the use of such equipment in torture," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's Military Security and Police manager."Moreover, only seven states have fulfilled their legal obligations to publicly report their exports under the Regulation. We fear that some states are not taking their legal obligations seriously.” Loopholes in the legislation also permit law enforcement suppliers to trade equipment which has no other use but for torture or ill-treatment."As part of their commitments to combat torture wherever it occurs, Member States must now turn their words into deeds. They must impose truly effective controls on the European trade in policing and security equipment, and ensure that such goods do not become part of the torturer's toolkit," said Michael Crowley, a researcher for the Omega Research Foundation.The main findings of the report include:• Between 2006 and 2009, the Czech Republic issued export licenses covering shackles, electric shock weapons and chemical sprays to six countries where police and security forces had previously used such equipment for torture and other ill-treatment;• Germany issued similar licenses to three such countries for exports of foot-chains and chemical sprays; • Law enforcement equipment suppliers in Italy and Spain have promoted for sale 50,000V electric shock "cuffs" or "sleeves" for use on prisoners. A legal loophole permits their trade despite essentially similar electric "stun belts" being prohibited for import and export across the EU;• In 2005 one EU Member State – Hungary – declared its intention to introduce electric "stun belts" into its own prisons and police stations, despite the import and export of such belts subsequently being prohibited on the grounds that their use inherently constitutes torture or ill-treatment; • Only seven of 27 EU Member States have publicly reported their export authorizations of policing and security equipment controlled by the Regulation, despite the Regulation legally requiring all Member States to do so. • The report also highlights the extent of the trade across the European Union, and the need for adequate outreach by Member States to inform traders of their obligations. Five Member States have stated that they are unaware of any producers (Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Finland, Malta) or exporters (Belgium, Cyprus, Italy) of equipment covered by the Regulation. Nonetheless the report shows that companies in three of these five countries (Finland, Italy and Belgium) have stated openly in media interviews or on their websites that they supply items which are covered by the Regulation, often manufactured in third countries.