Eletro-belts, spiked batons, even a gas chamber – EU seeks ban on trade in torture items

© Reuters. EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom attends an interview with Reuters in Geneva


By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Trade in instruments for torture and execution should be illegal and could one day be banned under an initiative spearheaded by the European Union, Argentina and Mongolia, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told Reuters on Friday.

“Today, you can buy all kinds of things on the Internet. You can buy spiked batons, you can even buy a gas chamber,” Malmstrom said. “You can buy electro-belts, special batons, equipment or products that are only used to harm people. Their only one purpose is to torture.”

Malmstrom said almost 65 countries were backing the initiative and hoped to win a vote at the United Nations later this month to mandate U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to set up an expert study into developing a binding resolution.

Both Guterres and U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet back the project, which Malmstrom compared to previous campaigns to ban trade in endangered species and restrict weapons trading.

“It will not eradicate torture, but it will make it harder to get the products,” she said.

The products available were becoming more advanced, such as electro-shock belts that leave no trace, thereby making it harder to bring their users to justice.

Malmstrom declined to say which countries still allowed the trade, and although the United States and China had not yet signed up to the initiative, she was hopeful they would at least support the planned U.N. study.

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The EU has bans on the death penalty and on trade in torture equipment, but Malmstrom said last year batons subject to a ban were being sold at a security fair in Paris, because the EU had not expressly forbidden marketing of such goods.

The EU has already toughened up its laws to make U.S. executions harder to peform, having banned the export of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic used in lethal injections, in 2011.

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