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Sustainable development | Brussels, 28 June 2019

European Commission welcomes UN resolution on trade in torture tools

The European Commission today welcomed the United Nations General Assembly’s passing of a resolution aimed at abolishing trade in equipment used for torture. As a co-founder of the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade in 2017 and with its own legislation in place since 2005, the EU is at the vanguard of efforts to stop trade in the tools of torture. It sees its work to stop the trade in such goods as a central feature of its broader values-based trade agenda.

“Today’s UN resolution launches the process to establish international rules on abolishing trade in equipment whose only practical use is torture. It is a big step forward towards our goal of ending the production of these abhorrent tools” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. “In the EU we’ve worked hard to put values at the heart of our trade policy. Together with the other members of the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade we are committed to using international trade rules to make a difference in the world.”

The idea of a resolution was proposed in September 2018 at the First Ministerial of the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade in New York. The Alliance, founded a year earlier by the EU, Argentina, and Mongolia, now counts over 65 members, with more in the process of joining. In a joint communiqué at the Ministerial, its members agreed to work to create a UN instrument, such as a binding convention, to end trade in the tools of torture. The resolution is the first stage on that path.

Although torture is forbidden under international law, it remains widespread. The instruments of torture – such as finger-screws, thumb cuffs, leg irons, restraint chairs, spiked batons, and whips embedded with barbs, hooks, or spikes – are still traded freely. These tools have no purpose beyond inflicting pain and suffering on human beings, yet they continue to cross borders just like any other good.

Since 2005, the European Union has strictly regulated trade in certain types of equipment and products – such as gallows, electric chairs, and lethal-injection systems – that can be used for capital punishment, torture, and other inhumane treatment. Goods of this nature may never cross EU borders, even for transit.

Experience shows that banning trade in tools of torture works but bans need to be implemented globally to have the maximum impact. The Alliance for Torture-Free Trade aims explicitly at putting an end to trade in such goods.

Less than a year later since the Alliance issued its communiqué, the vote in the United Nations marks a milestone on the journey to do so. The resolution launches the process of establishing international rules on trade in tools of torture.

International conventions such as the Arms Trade Treaty and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora show that, with broad international commitment, trade such controls can be introduced and trade can be made more responsible and humane. Achieving similar success on trade in the tools of torture will require support from more governments around the world. The EU is committed to upholding its leadership role in international efforts to stop trade in torture equipment. It will continue to work with countries everywhere to secure binding rules on trade in tools of torture and to actively support the Alliance for Torture-free Trade.