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Lethal injection drug exports will be controlled but its all going to happen again soon

I’ve just seen this news report saying that the UK government has decided to put export controls in place on sodium thiopental, a drug that is used in executions by lethal injection in the United States. About time too: up until now, when Leigh Day and Reprieve were bringing court proceedings, the UK authorities had maintained that they couldn’t intervene because the drug has a legitimate medical use, and wasn’t on the ‘controlled’ list of equipment/drugs requiring an export licence.

The story initially hit the headlines when it became known that a UK company supplied the drug used as part of the lethal injection in the October execution of Jeffrey Landrigan, a prisoner in the US state of Arizona.

It’s good news, of course, that the exports have been stopped. We don’t want UK companies profiting from executions. But this wouldn’t really be a story at all if we had tighter controls at an EU level.

Sodium Thiopental does have some legitimate uses, and the UK company that exported it, Archimedes Pharma, have reportedly stated that they didn’t know that the exports were for use in executions. If exports were controlled according to their likely end use, not just on whether or not they appear on an export control list, then a licence would’ve been required for any further exports as soon as it became clear that they may be used in torture or executions.

In December 2008, following Amnesty campaigning, the UK government said it would introduce a new end-use control on such equipment within the EU. Exports of goods that were not on the ‘controlled’ list, but were still being used to torture or execute people, could also be stopped.

That commitment has not yet been honoured. If it had been, the government would have been able to control exports of Sodium Thiopental (and all other similar drugs) once it became known that they were being used in executions.

This may sound like nit-picking, but the problem is that we’re already hearing of US states using alternatives to sodium thiopental. If those drugs aren’t on the controlled list, they could be exported by UK companies. And we could find ourselves going through this all over again.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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