EU must close all loopholes in the torture trade
The European Union (EU) must urgently strengthen its laws to enable member states to immediately ban the trade in new devices and technologies that have no practical use other than to torture, ill-treat or execute individuals, said Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation, as experts meet in Brussels today to strengthen current regulations.
The organizations are also calling on the EU to close current legal loopholes which effectively allow the promotion, brokering and provision of technical training in the use of devices and technologies that can easily be used by law enforcers for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
“The recently reviewed European regulations against the trade in torture tools are ground-breaking and unique in the world but loopholes remain,” said Brian Wood, Arms Control, Security Trade and Human Rights Project Manager at Amnesty International.
“The range of already banned items comprises a veritable chamber of horrors: thumb-cuffs, restraint chairs, metal batons and even injection systems designed to administer lethal injections to name just a few. However, merely expanding the control lists every few years will not by itself enable the EU to immediately outlaw new torture technologies and devices.”
“This is an important first step in a long delayed overhaul of EU trade controls. The EU experts meeting today now have an opportunity to better protect people throughout the world from torture and death penalty technologies by closing specific known loopholes in EU law and ensure European companies are not complicit in the despicable abuses that these tools are used for,” said Dr Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation.
A new legally binding EU regulation adopted on 16 July expands the list of torture tools that must be banned and expands the list of security equipment that must be strictly controlled. This enhances the first EU regulation introduced in June 2005 but EU officials are still discussing further changes to EU trade control mechanisms to prevent businesses in the EU from trading in equipment used for torture or the death penalty. Amongst the expanded range of goods that now cannot be exported by EU businesses or individuals are:
• Devices used for executions, including: gallows and guillotines, electric chairs, airtight vaults for the administration of lethal gas, automatic drug-injection systems for the administration of lethal injections and drugs when intended for such executions;
• Equipment designed for restraint, including: thumb-cuffs, finger-cuffs, thumbscrews and finger-screws, bar fetters, weighted leg restraints, restraint chairs, shackle boards and beds and cage beds;
• Spiked metal batons or shields, whips made of multiple lashes.
The list of goods whose export is strictly controlled includes an expanded range of security equipment that can be legitimately used for law enforcement but which can easily be misused for torture and ill-treatment such as:
• Electroshock stun devices to target a single individual and now also devices that can inflict electric shocks on groups of people;
• Equipment designed for discharging chemical incapacitants or irritants for riot control that target individuals as well as those that disseminate such chemicals over wide areas;
• Shackles and gang chains.
Experts are now further reviewing the trade mechanisms in the regulation, and will issue a proposal to the European Parliament and the European Council for consideration in the next three months.
Specific loopholes identified by Amnesty International and the Omega Foundation potentially allow companies registered in the EU to:
• Broker torture tools to third countries outside the EU as long as the devices don’t touch EU soil;
• Promote torture tools at EU arms fairs and exhibitions;
• Provide technical assistance including training in techniques that can facilitate torture and other ill-treatment;
• Introduce new technologies and devices onto the market and offer them to law enforcers even if there is a strong likelihood those items will be used in the death penalty, torture or other ill-treatment.
On 28-29 July, the Council of the EU Working Party of Trade Questions is meeting to consider, amongst other things, proposed amendments to the existing “Council Regulation (1236/2005) concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
With the introduction of Council Regulation 1236/2005 in June 2005 the EU introduced unprecedented and binding trade controls regulation on a range of equipment which is often used in capital punishment, torture and other ill treatment (‘tools of torture’), but which has not usually been included by EU member states in their military, dual-use or strategic export control lists.
Amnesty International in conjunction with the Omega Research Foundation produced three reports in 2007, 2010 and 2012, which identified specific loopholes in the EU regulation and omissions in the EU two lists of prohibited and controlled items that have allowed the trade in certain death penalty substances and “tools of torture” to continue.
Advocacy at the EU level around the 2010 report led to a decision by the European Commission in 2011 to expand the two lists to include other pieces of equipment, for example drugs used in executions, but it was recognised by experts that this was still insufficient to curb the trade and a comprehensive review of the Regulation was undertaken by the Commission.
On 16th July 2014, the Commission subsequently introduced a Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 775/2014 which further expanded the lists of prohibited and controlled goods covered by the Regulation.