©Tim Werwie for Amnesty International

Council of Europe takes decisive action to combat torture tools trade

The Council of Europe (CoE) has today taken a vital step towards stemming the trade in torture tools and execution equipment, Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation said, as they called on all CoE member states to live up to commitments made today.  

The CoE Committee of Ministers adopted a formal Recommendation which provides a framework for states to better regulate the trade in goods which could be used for “capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. The Committee of Ministers is the CoE’s decision-making body, composed of government representatives of 47 member states. 

We welcome this decisive action by the Council of Europe – we cannot end torture without stopping the trade in equipment used to inflict it.

Nils Muižnieks, Regional Director for Europe. 

“We welcome this decisive action by the Council of Europe – we cannot end torture without stopping the trade in equipment used to inflict it. All 47 CoE member states must now swiftly implement these recommendations, to ensure none of them is trading in pain and suffering,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Europe. 

“This Recommendation is also essential for reining in abusive police forces all over the world. It sends a clear message to governments that the trade in certain law enforcement equipment is conditional on respect for human rights.”  

“Landmark Action”

The recommendations include a trade ban on inherently abusive equipment – such as spiked batons, weighted leg irons and body worn electric shock weapons – and stringent trade controls on standard law enforcement equipment that can be readily misused to inflict torture or other ill-treatment – such as pepper spray, tear gas and electric shock projectile weapons.  

The Recommendation also provides guidance for regulating the trade in certain pharmaceuticals that can be misused for lethal injection executions. 

We hope this will pave the way for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument to address the trade in torture and death penalty technologies globally

Dr Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation

Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation have been instrumental in the campaign, over many years, to pressure governments to regulate the trade in law enforcement equipment and to ban torture-specific equipment outright. The organizations have been working with states and regional organizations to promote the introduction and subsequent strengthening of regional standards and mechanisms.   

This included 2020’s review of the European Union’s landmark Anti-Torture Regulation, the world’s first legally binding regional instrument for combatting the torture trade, and ongoing efforts supporting development of Africa-wide measures through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

Meanwhile the UN, supported by the Global Alliance on Torture Free Trade bringing together over 60 states from all continents, is now engaged in a formal process exploring common international standards to regulate the trade at a global level.  

“The Council of Europe’s landmark action today provides an important benchmark for states outside Europe, who we hope will be inspired to establish similar controls in their regions,” said Dr Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation.  

“It also gives a much-needed boost to the ongoing UN process. We hope this will pave the way for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument to address the trade in torture and death penalty technologies globally.”  

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