Success story – European Commission bans torture weapons transfers

In 2003, Amnesty International research with the Omega Foundation uncovered widespread production and transfer of security equipment potentially used in torture from the EU to other countries.

This equipment includes restraints, electro-shock devices, impact devices and disabling chemicals, which were being produced in EU countries for sale abroad.

Following a three-year campaign, the European Commission banned the transfer of some of these items in 2006 and required other potentially dangerous devices to be strictly controlled for export. Amnesty International continues to call for the strengthening of regulations within the EU to control the spread of these tools of torture.

In 2003, Amnesty International found that at least 856 companies in 47 countries were involved in the manufacture or marketing of “less than lethal” weapons that can be used in torture. These include electro-shock devices such as stun weapons, disabling chemical sprays, kinetic impact devices such as batons and truncheons and mechanical restraints such as legcuffs and restraint beds.

Many of these companies were based in Europe, and Amnesty International called on the European Commission to ban the use and trade of all equipment or technology that has no practical use other than for inflicting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, and to require that EU Member States strictly regulate other security equipment used in law enforcement.

The campaign included media work such as press conferences, letters to governments, including those governments holding presidency of the EU, and lobbying of EU members states.

In 2006, the European Commission brought in European Trade Regulation No. 1236/2005 banning the transfer of some of these tools of torture and requiring other potentially dangerous devices to be strictly controlled for export. However, the Regulation did not ban certain items that have no use other than for the purpose of torture or ill-treatment, such as spiked batons, wall handcuffs and hanging ropes, and other dangerous items were left out of the export control list.

Amnesty International continues to monitor the implementation of the Regulation and, after another detailed report on the trade, succeeded in 2010 in getting the European Commission to make proposals for stricter controls on the manufacture, marketing and transfer of equipment used in torture and ill-treatment.

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