13 Jul 2021
IRCT Appointed to UN Expert Group on Torture Trade Ban

The IRCT’s Advocacy Director Asger Kjaerum has been appointed to a UN group of experts to help draft the first set of international rules to ban States and companies buying and selling violent law enforcement equipment, such as police batons with spikes or electric charges, widely used in torture.

In her letter on behalf of the UN Secretary General, Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the group of governmental experts would draft common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In June 2019, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 73/304 which recognised that the absence of international controls on torture goods contributed to their availability.

IRCT Appointed to UN Expert Group on Torture Trade Ban

Recent police abuse of protesters in Belarus highlights the need for a ban on torture tools.

The issue of excessively violent police equipment being lawfully traded at arms fairs around the world, including Paris and London, came to prominence a decade ago after the EU passed a law banning trade in goods “which have no practical use other than for the purpose of capital punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.  The IRCT was also recently appointed to an expert group set up to monitor implementation of the EU’s ban.

As well as medicinal products diverted for use in capital punishment by lethal injection, the EU ban specified electric shock belts and cuffs which security forces attach to prisoners’ waists and which deliver high voltage shocks to the kidneys, causing severe pain. The US, South Africa, China, India and Israel are among the world’s leading suppliers. Spiked batons were also singled out by the EU as illegal, being capable of causing significant pain or suffering while being no more effective at riot control or self-protection than ordinary batons. China is the main manufacturer of such.

In a 2019 report, Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation also identified stun batons as a favoured tool of torture, delivering excruciating electric shocks without permanent physical scars to the individual, with several EU-based arms manufacturers manufacturing and selling them to Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines among others.

“IRCT members hear first-hand the experiences of thousands of torture survivors and the tools that were used in their torture. I will be drawing on this network of information to inform the UN’s work on which tools should be covered by the ban,” said Kjaerum.

“There has been an increase in the production of violent tools for crowd control, some of which, like the spiked baton, are inherently disproportionate. There’s no situation in which its use against protesters or detainees is justifiable, and the same goes for electronic neck restraints. Much of this torture can be prevented if the tools are no longer available.”

For more information

A report in 2020 - the result of years of collaboration between Amnesty and Omega Research Foundation – classified ‘tools of torture’ into those which are inherently abusive, and those which can have a legitimate function, but which are readily misused by law enforcement officials to torture or ill treat people. The report presented an Anti-Torture Trade Framework, and included details of a 2019 operation by Denmark’s Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, to prevent delivery of 5,000 electric shock batons from China to Sudan. To read the whole report, click here.

"The spiked baton is inherently disproportionate. There’s no situation in which its use against protesters or detainees is justifiable."

Asger Kjaerum, Advocacy Director, IRCT

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