David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

No EU trade in instruments of torture and death

The Caithness Courier, June 2015

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. An absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment is enshrined in core United Nations human rights conventions and is reflected at EU level with the statement that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.

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, torture and other ill-treatment persist in all parts of the world. We therefore must continue to look at further measures.

An EU regulation known as 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. This regulation is this month being reviewed by the Parliament’s International Trade committee, (INTA) of which I am a member.
In the review the European Commission's proposal is to update the Regulation to reflect the changing use of certain products.
Rapidly changing circumstances in the use of products and technology means we must be able to react quickly. I therefore welcome the proposal to introduce an ‘urgency procedure’ to help with the more rapid updating of the list of banned goods or controlled items, including medical products used for lethal injection and technical assistance.

One key aspect of this update is also the balance between restricting the trade in goods which may be used for torture, without implementing a widespread ban on certain products, the vast majority of which are not used for torture. We have also recognised the need to look further at prohibiting the ‘brokering’ of banned goods as well as any technical assistance for their use. We need to determine if a supplier knows or suspects the goods may be used for cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and act accordingly.

Labour MEPs fully support this legislation which is designed to prevent the EU being complicit in the death penalty or torture around the world. A requirement of EU membership is the abolition of the death penalty in EU Member States, and in addition the EU advocates abolition throughout the world in its bilateral foreign policy relations.

As a member of the Trade Committee I welcome the opportunity to target human rights abuse in trade negotiations and agreements. But the EU also works closely in other areas. Under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) the EU provides funding to civil society groups working to end torture or rehabilitate torture victims and provides support for the promotion of democracy and human rights in non-EU countries. As of today the EIDHR is funding more than 1200 projects in over 100 countries.

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