The UN has taken a significant step towards ending the shameful trade in tools of torture, Amnesty International said today, following the release of an expert report which could pave the way for a legally binding treaty.
There are currently no human rights controls at the global level on the trade in goods used to torture, ill-treat or execute people. In 2021, the UN General Assembly tasked a group of governmental experts (GGE) with exploring new options for regulating the trade, and their proposals are published in today’s report.
This is a major step towards curbing the despicable torture trade, which allows companies to profit from unimaginable pain and suffering
Amnesty International, along with its partners at the Omega Research Foundation and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School (IHRC), have particularly welcomed a proposal for the UN General Assembly to begin negotiations on a legally binding instrument.
“Torture and other ill-treatment were prohibited under international law decades ago, yet there is still no global regulation of the trade in goods used to inflict these abuses. This report is a milestone in the UN’s work to fix this fundamental flaw,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“The report is a major step towards curbing this despicable trade, which undermines the global ban on torture and other ill-treatment and allows companies to profit from unimaginable pain and suffering.”
Proposed ban on inherently abusive equipment
Amnesty International, the Omega Research Foundation and the IHRC are calling for an outright ban on goods whose only practical purpose is torture or other ill-treatment, such as spiked batons, weighted leg chains and electric shock belts. The organizations welcome the report’s recommendation today that any future international standard includes a prohibition on the production and trade in inherently abusive law enforcement equipment. The GGE state that such a ban would be “a proactive measure to prevent human rights violations”.
A legally binding treaty is the only means of ensuring that inherently abusive equipment like electric shock belts and spiked batons can no longer be sold in a global market place.
Dr Michael Crowley of the Omega Research Foundation
Another positive development is the recommendation to develop trade controls on law enforcement goods “where there are reasonable grounds for believing” they will be used for torture or other ill-treatment. This could mean placing controls on standard policing goods like handcuffs, tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons, which can have a legitimate purpose but are routinely misused. Amnesty International, the Omega Research Foundation and the IHRC are calling for strict human rights-based trade controls on these types of goods.
There was a diversity of opinions among the GGE on the feasibility of trade controls on death penalty goods.
Dr Michael Crowley of the Omega Research Foundation said:
“Amnesty and Omega’s previous investigations have uncovered the international nature of this trade. A legally binding international Torture-Free Trade Treaty is the only means of ensuring that companies promoting spiked batons, electric shock belts, and other inherently abusive equipment will no longer be able to sell their products in a global market place.
“Such a treaty would also ensure that companies selling law enforcement equipment, wherever they operate, will be subject to common regulations that prevent them from supplying abusive police and security forces across the globe.”
States now have the opportunity to start working towards a treaty to establish global standards to end this trade.
Anna Crowe, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School
Anna Crowe of the IHRC said:
“The GGE’s report shows why international regulation of the torture trade is so important and urgent. States now have the opportunity to start working towards a treaty to establish global standards to end this trade.”
Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation have worked closely with the EU and the Council of Europe on developing regional regulations on the trade in tools of torture, and also submitted recommendations to the current UN deliberations. Along with the IHRC, they are now calling on states to be bold in their ambition to negotiate a legally binding treaty to tackle the torture trade globally.
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