European Parliament Votes to Stop Tools of Torture Trade, but will the Member States follow?

Amnistia Internacional México/Sergio Ortiz Borbolla

The European Parliament has sent a strong message today challenging the inconsistencies within the EU’s approach to stamping out torture. If the EU is serious about leading the charge to eradicate torture and abolish the death penalty, the member states must now follow suit

Amnesty International
Press Release

Brussels – 27 October 2015

The adoption of today’s European Parliament (EP) report on the European Union (EU) ‘Tools of Torture’ Regulation, is a necessary and significant step towards closing the loopholes in the prevention of torture and ill-treatment in Europe, said Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation following the Plenary vote. However, without the EU member states supporting equally robust measures to strengthen the European Commission’s proposal, companies based in the EU will be able to continue marketing, trading in, and profiting from a range of security equipment which can be used to torture and ill-treat people.

“With its endorsement of this report, which calls to close existing loopholes in EU law, the European Parliament has exposed and taken a stand against the sinister trade of Tools of Torture. This would finally put an end to companies profiting from tools and technologies used to torture and execute people,” said Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “However without vital support and action by the EU member states, companies will still be able to profit from human misery.”

Since 2006, the EU has had the world’s only regional mechanism to prohibit or control the trade of equipment which could be used in torture or capital punishment. This includes for example pharmaceuticals used in lethal injections, thumb screws, and spiked batons.

Whilst strongly supporting the Regulation, Amnesty International and Omega have been at the forefront of highlighting the serious loopholes and limitations in the instrument and its patchy implementation by EU states. Such failings have permitted EU companies to support and profit from the torture trade. This continues despite the fact that the prohibition of torture under international law is absolute and that the death penalty is absolutely prohibited in the EU. Furthermore both the EU and member states have committed themselves to combating such practices across the world.

In January 2014, the Commission presented further proposals for strengthening the Regulation, to which the EP responded today. In line with concerns raised by Amnesty International and Omega around gaps in the proposals, outlined in the joint May 2015 report Grasping the nettle: Ending Europe's trade in execution and torture technology, the EP voted to strengthen EU legislation by calling for:

– the prohibition of the promotion of banned torture equipment. EU companies can currently advertise banned equipment at trade fairs and online;
– ‘brokering’ to be effectively covered by the Regulation.  EU companies or individuals can  currently put in motion deals to supply security equipment that can be used in torture to non-EU countries, as long as the deals are made outside the EU and the devices do not touch European soil;
– a targeted ‘end-use’ mechanism allowing EU states to immediately suspend a specific transfer of goods destined for use in torture or the death penalty, even if such goods are not currently listed in the Regulation's annexes. Currently were there to be an imminent transfer of non-listed equipment which is clearly going to be used for torture or the death penalty, the member state has no choice but to allow the transfer to go ahead or risk breaking EU law. The EP’s amendments mean that member states have the ability and the responsibility to halt a transfer of equipment if they know that this equipment is clearly going to be used for torture or the death penalty, irrespective of whether or not the equipment is currently listed.

“Following civil society's lead, the European Parliament has sent a strong message today challenging the inconsistencies within the EU’s approach to stamping out torture. If the EU is serious about leading the charge to eradicate torture and abolish the death penalty, the member states must now follow suit,” said Dr Michael Crowley of the Omega Research Foundation. “If these issues are not now tackled directly by the EU member states, this rare opportunity to comprehensively strengthen the control regime and close loopholes that can be exploited by unscrupulous traders will be missed.”

Background

With the entry into force in 2006 of Council Regulation 1236/2005, the EU introduced unprecedented and binding trade controls on a range of equipment which is often used in capital punishment, torture and other ill-treatment (“tools of torture”), but which has not usually been included by EU member states in their military, dual-use or strategic export control lists.

Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation produced three previous reports in 2007, 2010 and 2012, which identified specific loopholes in the EU regulation and omissions in the EU’s two lists of prohibited and controlled items that have allowed the trade in “tools of torture” to continue.

Advocacy at the EU level around the 2010 report led to a decision by the European Commission the following year to expand the two lists to include other pieces of equipment, for example body worn electric-shock devices, spiked batons and certain drugs used for lethal injections. Experts recognised that this was still insufficient to curb the trade and the Commission undertook a comprehensive review of the Regulation.

On 16 July 2014, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 775/2014 further expanded the lists of prohibited and controlled goods covered by the Regulation. This was an important first step in a wide-ranging overhaul of the Regulation.

The EU Commission, Council and Parliament are now engaged in a substantive review of the 2005 Regulation’s operative mechanisms. In January 2014, the Commission presented proposals to the Council and the European Parliament for strengthening the Regulation.  In today's report, the Parliament has attempted to significantly strengthen the Commission proposals and address a number of crucial weakness and loopholes in the Regulation and its attendant control regime.

The Commission proposals together with the Parliament's recommendations are now being considered by EU Member States. In the Plenary debate of 26 October 2015, the Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom expressed the Commission’s openness to many of the Parliament’s amendments. The Council (member states) has however yet to express support for the Parliament’s position.

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Maeve Patterson on +32 (0)2 548 27 73 or by email at mpatterson@amnesty.eu

Twitter: @amnestyeurope