3 December 2003

Pain Merchants: Security equipment and its use in torture and other ill-treatment

'It's possible to use anything for torture', says a US manufacturer of electro-shock riot shields, 'but it's a little easier to use our devices.' (1)

Amnesty International has campaigned for many years to end the trade in torture equipment. In Arming the Torturers: Electro-Shock Torture and the Spread of Stun Technology(2) and Stopping the torture trade(3), Amnesty International detailed the largely unregulated business of manufacturing and trading electro-shock weaponry and other devices which are ostensibly designed for security, but which in reality lend themselves to serious abuses of human rights.

The prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment extends to all circumstances, even during war.(4) The right to freedom from torture is so absolute that it can never be restricted. Torture is always, in every situation, unacceptable.

Yet torture continues in many countries despite the fact that it is absolutely prohibited under international law. During 2002 Amnesty International reported torture or ill-treatment by security forces, police or other state authorities in 106 countries. (5) A study of Amnesty documentation for the years 1997-2000 showed that torture was reported in more than 150 countries. In more than 70 of them, the reports were widespread or persistent. In more than 80 countries, people reportedly died as a result. Most of the torturers documented by Amnesty International were police officers.(6) In the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA, some US commentators have even argued that law enforcement agents should be allowed to torture suspects: 'torture-lite' is the new entry in the lexicon of abuse.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) which 134 states have ratified, forbids torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Likewise, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which 151 states have ratified, requires that: ''No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment''. The prohibition in Article 7 is complemented by the positive requirements of Article 10 which states that: ''All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.''

Are there specific tools of torture? As the president of Nova Products said, almost anything can be used to inflict pain, including fists and feet. But in this report, Amnesty International is concerned particularly with the misuse of security equipment ostensibly designed or promoted for law enforcement, security or crime control purposes.

This report is not easy reading but it is probably necessary reading. Amnesty's case for prohibiting or regulating this trade is just about unanswerable.

No comments: