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Arms: 'Tools of Torture' trade persists across Europe

A new report released today by Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation reveals that European companies are participating in the global trade in ‘tools of torture’ such as fixed wall restraints, metal ‘thumb cuffs’, and electroshock ‘sleeves’ and ‘cuffs’ delivering 50,000 volt shocks to detained prisoners.    

The report, entitled ‘From Words to Deeds’, shows that these activities have continued despite the 2006 introduction of Europe-wide controls banning the international trade in policing and security equipment designed for torture and ill-treatment, and regulating the trade in other equipment widely used in torture around the world.

The report reveals that several European countries, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have authorised exports of policing weapons and restraints to at least nine countries where Amnesty International has documented the use of such equipment in torture. The report will be formally discussed at the 18 March meeting of the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights in Brussels.

Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director, OIiver Sprague said:

“The EU cannot apply double standards when it comes to torture. It cannot say that it abhors torture in all circumstances and then silently permit the transfer of weapons that are used in acts of torture.”   

The UK is one of only seven of 27 EU countries to have publicly reported their export authorisations of policing and security equipment controlled by the regulation, despite all member states being legally required to do so.  

Oliver Sprague continued:

“To its credit, the UK is one of the forerunners on best practice when it comes to stemming the trade of torture equipment. But two years ago, it promised to push the rest of Europe to strictly enforce these controls, or to set up UK-wide regulations should the EU efforts stall, so far without progress.  

“We can no longer afford to see them dragging their feet on this matter.  We want to ensure that at Thursday's meeting they apply the utmost commitment to ensure that the EU has a robust set of controls on the trade of this equipment."

Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation are urging the European Commission and EU Member States to close legislative loopholes highlighted in the report. The organisations are also calling upon EU member states to adequately implement and enforce the regulation.  

Oliver Sprague continued:

“Given that only seven countries have so far 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.

Researcher for the Omega Research Foundation, Michael Crowley said:

“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.”

The main findings of the report include:

Between 2006 and 2009, the Czech Republic issued export licences covering shackles, electric shock weapons and chemical sprays, and Germany issued licences for foot-chains and chemical sprays to nine countries where police and security forces had previously used such equipment for torture and other ill-treatment.

Law enforcement equipment suppliers in Italy and Spain have promoted for sale 50,000 volt 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 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 the use of these ‘belts’ inherently constitutes torture or ill-treatment.
The report also highlights the extent of the trade across the European Union.

Five countries have stated that they are unaware of any producers (Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Finland and Malta) or exporters (Belgium, Cyprus and 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 that they supply items which are covered by the regulation, often manufactured in third countries.

  • Read the report
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