Speaking at the European Parliament this week, David voiced his support for a vote to reinforce measures to ensure that the EU is no longer complicit either directly or indirectly in torture or executions beyond its borders.
It’s easy for us to believe that torture is a thing of the past, a medieval practice consigned to the history books. Yet although banned in 1948 by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, torture and ill-treatment persist in many areas of the world, whether openly or in secret.
As for the death penalty, although the overall trend remains towards abolition - Fiji, Suriname and Congo abolished the death penalty last year - there continues to be a number of countries that execute criminals for a range of crimes, even some we wouldn’t consider crimes at all, like blasphemy and adultery. The abolition of the death penalty is a cornerstone of what is called the EU ‘acquis’, ie. the body of laws and norms that a country has to comply with in order to a be a member of the club.
One of the aims of the European Union’s foreign policy is to promote respect for fundamental rights. The prevention and eradication of all forms of torture and ill-treatment worldwide is at the heart of the EU’s human rights policy. While the EU continues to use all its available tools of diplomacy and cooperation assistance to eradicate torture and raises the matter consistently in political and human rights dialogues with countries outside of the EU, these issues persist across the world. We therefore must continue to look at further measures.
Trade policy is one of the areas where we can spread our values using the EU’s economic clout, and this is exactly how this regulation goes about tackling this global problem. The ‘Anti-Torture Regulation’ has been in place for the past decade. Via EU-wide export controls, it bans EU trade in items and services that are designed for, or could be misused for capital punishment and torture. The measures we voted on this week strengthen the original legislation. By closing loopholes, tackling services related to the sales of goods used in torture, such as advertising and promotion, and banning their transit through the EU, the European Parliament has sent an important message to the world: torture and the death penalty have no place in modern society and the EU will not stand by whilst people suffer. The adoption of these measures show that EU values prevail over profits and economic interests and play a crucial role also in EU trade policy.
Labour MEPs fully support this legislation which is designed to prevent the EU being complicit in the death penalty or torture around the world. Unfortunately, the UKIP MEPs didn’t agree, abstaining on the final vote in their typically irresponsible style.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this kind of positive action through trade is possible primarily due to the sheer size of the EU’s economy and the weight of 500 million consumers behind it. As we warned before Brexit, the EU can be much more effective at shaping behaviour abroad than we will be on our own. Post-Brexit Britain should align itself with these policies as closely as possible to maximise their global impact.