EU turns the screws on providers of torture equipment

The EU wants to confine torture equipment to museums and tourist attractions. [Shutterstock]

The European Parliament has today (4 October) passed legislation designed to strengthen the EU’s ban on the export of torture equipment by preventing the marketing and promotion of items such as spiked batons or restraint chairs.

Items intended to inflict torture on people, including drug injection systems and electric-shock belts, have been banned in the EU since 2005. Since then the list has expanded to include thumb cuffs or chains to anchor a person to a wall or floor.

However, rights group Amnesty International had criticised the existing legislation for still allowing companies to advertise such equipment at military and security trade fairs inside the bloc, notably in London and Paris, and promoting them on the internet.

It highlighted the promotion of banned equipment at a Paris exhibition in November 2015 and the case of a German company which showcased “stun-cuffs”, operated by remote control that can deliver an electric shock of 60,000 volts, on its website.

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The new EU law, likely to apply from the start of 2017, is designed to expand on the export ban to prevent marketing and promoting of torture goods, whether at trade fairs, in catalogues or on the internet, and to end transit of such equipment.

“We want to make it difficult, and to remind countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, China but also the US that we don’t tolerate and we condemn these practices,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told a debate before the vote.

“We should of course continue our fight against capital punishment for all crimes and invite countries to apply similar end-use controls to their exports,” she said.

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The updated legislation will also ban people from acting as brokers for such goods or offering technical support, including repairs or training. The law also aims to make it easier and faster to update the banned list to take into account changing technologies.

“We hope that this can provide a start and we would look to see similar regulations in other parts of the world,” said Amnesty International’s EU foreign policy specialist, David Nichols, who welcomed the strengthened legislation.

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