EU: Torture instruments trade regulations flawed and inadequate

Equipment used for torture – including wall handcuffs and spiked batons known as ‘sting sticks’ – could still be traded out of the EU, said Amnesty International today as a new report condemned new EU regulations as weak and full of loopholes.

The organisation is calling for urgent steps to tighten the loopholes and flaws in the new laws which may result in torture equipment still being traded in EU member states.

Amnesty International’s report, European Union: Stopping the Trade in the Tools of Torture, describes how regulations introduced in 2006 fail to ensure that companies are not able to profit by trade in tools that include electric batons, ‘sting sticks’, and leg irons.

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK's Arms Policy Director said:

“These loopholes must be closed if we are to stop the trade in torture equipment. It’s encouraging that the EU is the first regional body to adopt these kind of rules, but they must be tougher if they are to make a difference.”

Flaws within the report identified how:

  • Items synonymous with torture and executions including the ‘sting stick’ and ‘hanging ropes’ used for executions in India, Sri Lanka and Trinidad & Tobago are absent from the banned list in the regulations
  • EU companies and individuals are still able to broker deals in equipment easily used for torture outside of EU territory
  • Imports or trade of such equipment between EU member states in cases where there is documented evidence of state torture and ill-treatment
  • Only 11 of the 27 EU member states have drafted national laws or implemented penalties in accordance with the regulations
  • Regulations still fail to prevent the transit of torture equipment through the EU by companies from outside the EU

‘Muhammed’ was tortured with an electric baton in a prison in Saudi Arabia. He said:

"For many hours they tortured me on the soles of my feet. Being hit with an electric baton not only made me vomit, but I lost control of everything. I lost control of my bowels, my water; I just could not control anything in my body. I was left in my own vomit and urine all night. That is how they want you to be during a torture."

Amnesty International reported torture in 104 countries in its 2005 global report. Since 1990 electro-shock stun devices have been used to torture or ill-treat people in prisons, detention centres or police stations in at least 87 countries in every region of the world.

Other dubious and dangerous items are missing from the controlled list of the regulations, resulting in their being no mechanism to prevent them from being exported from EU countries despite evidence of their systematic misuse by security services. Examples include handcuffs used to hold prisoners in stress positions during interrogations in Guantánamo Bay and electric batons used against Roma minorities by police in Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg said:

"When I was in Guantánamo Bay, one of the things I pointed out to my lawyer was how it was ironic that these shackles were made in England, just like me and him.

“It was very bizarre. Those shackles would often cut into my arms and legs and make me bleed. It was those very same shackles I saw being used by American soldiers in Bagram airbase to hang a prisoner from the ceiling.

“It said 'Made in England' on there too. If these cuffs are used to shackle people up to the tops of ceilings or cages and then [those people are] beaten, it calls into question what those shackles are actually being used for."

Oliver Sprague said:

“At a time when the EU’s stance against torture has been called into question by its involvement in renditions as part of the ‘war on terror’, it can ill-afford to be seen to tolerate loopholes that still allow EU companies to trade in torture equipment or allow such equipment to transit through its territory."

“If EU countries are serious about stopping the torture trade, they must review and improve these principles. Only tough rules, fully implemented, will stop people profiting from torture.”

  • Read a copy of the report European Union: Stopping the Trade in the Tools of Torture (Word, 1.5 MB)
  • Find out more about our work on Terrorism, Security and Human Rights /li>

Notes to Editors

On 31 July 2006 the European Commission brought into force the “European Trade Regulations No. 1236/2005 concerning trade in goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” this is the first set of regulations of its kind to be adopted anywhere in the world.

Torture, inhuman and degrading treatment is absolutely prohibited under European Human Rights law, as is capital punishment.

*Research for this report was also carried out by the Omega Research Foundation.

    View latest press releases