UN countries launch push to end trade in torture goods

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom speaks at a news conference to present international 'Alliance for Torture-Free Trade', in Brussels, on Sept 7, 2017.
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom speaks at a news conference to present international 'Alliance for Torture-Free Trade', in Brussels, on Sept 7, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - About 60 countries led by the European Union on Monday (Sept 18) will launch a bid at the United Nations to end the trade in goods like electro-shock batons and lethal drugs used to carry out torture and death sentences.

The campaign has in its sights the United States, which makes widespread use of lethal cocktails for capital punishment, and also China, Iran and Saudi Arabia - the world's top executioners.

The United States is under fire for its use of body-worn electric shock devices like stun belts that are widely used by law-enforcement officials, according to the Omega Research Foundation.

"Even when such devices are worn but not activated, they constitute ill-treatment, maintaining the wearer in constant fear of instant pain for as long as they are worn," according to a report by the London-based independent foundation.

Argentina and Mongolia have joined the EU-led campaign that will kick off with the signing of a political declaration at the United Nations on Monday, on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting.

Canada, Mexico as well as several Latin American countries are expected to join the EU-led campaign and sign the non-binding declaration, according to diplomats.

The European Union, which has made combating torture and the death penalty a foreign policy priority, has taken steps since 2005 to outlaw trade of these goods.

Five years ago, it imposed strict controls on exports of drugs that can be used in lethal injects.

 

Last year, it ordered a ban on the transit of torture equipment on the territories of the 27 EU countries and through European ports.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom maintains the measures are having an impact, with a drop in manufacturing of these items in Europe.

A halt in the production of chemicals used in lethal cocktails has led to a price increase, making their use costlier.

"The EU's own laws in this field have had positive results, but producers of these goods try to get around such legislation. The more countries that sign up to cooperate, the more effective we will be," Malmstorm has said.

The countries that join the alliance commit to restricting exports of these goods, to monitor trade routes and share information on new products that turn up on the market.

The ultimate goal is to draft an international convention banning the trade of goods used for torture and for capital punishment.

"These products serve no other purpose than inflicting terrible pain and killing people. We should never permit that they are traded like any other commodity," said Malmstrom.

"It's time for concrete action to shut down this despicable trade."