David Martin MEP

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

Strengthening anti-torture regulations

The Highland News, September 2015

The European Union condemns the death penalty, and condemns torture wherever it occurs. While it 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 still 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 such as electric chairs, finger-cuffs or cage beds as well as certain chemicals or electric shock devices.

Last month (September) in the Parliament’s International Trade Committee, of which I am a member, we voted to strengthen these anti-torture rules and to widen the ban to include the marketing of prohibited goods in expos or via online catalogues, and also their finance, insurance and transit via the EU.

Rapidly changing circumstances in the use of products and technology means we must be able to react quickly. I therefore welcomed the proposal to introduce an ‘urgency procedure’ to rapidly update the list of banned goods or controlled items.

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 may not be 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.

The Committee also asked the European Commission to set up a regular reporting and reviewing system, to be coordinated by an “Anti-torture Coordination Group” (one representative per EU member state), to monitor the member states’ national licensing decisions.

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, and in addition the EU also advocates abolition throughout the world in its bilateral foreign policy relations.

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.

September’s successful vote in the Trade committee needs to be endorsed by Parliament as a whole in a plenary vote next month. Hopefully then MEPs will start talks with the Council of Ministers to agree on the final text of the law.

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