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EU launches initiative to ban trade of torture products

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has launched an international alliance calling for a ban on torture products. In an interview with DW, she said she wants to send a signal against torture and capital punishment.

From batons with metal spikes and electric shock belts to chemicals used in executions, tools of death and pain are still traded across the globe. European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom is aiming to end the sale of goods used for torture and the death penalty. More than 50 countries signed on to a joint declaration at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday calling for broader cooperation in restricting the export of these goods, as well as monitoring trade flows and exchange practices.

DW: How did the global "Alliance for Torture-Free Trade" come about?

Cecilia Malmstrom: For a long time, the European Union has already had very thorough legislation. We were interested in broadening that legislation and applying it on a global scale. After a while, this idea turned into a joint effort with Argentina and Mongolia. Argentina had already had legislation in place that was somewhat similar to measures in the EU. Mongolia was very enthusiastic about the alliance, as they recently abolished the death penalty. Today, there are about 57 countries signing up and I am sure further countries might be interested in joining the alliance in the future.

torture instrument (Robin Ballantyne)

Torture instruments like batons with metal spikes are still sold around the globe

What is the personal motivation for a trade commissioner to launch an anti-torture alliance?

During my mandate I have always pushed for trade that reflects the values of the European Union. Trade is good for the economy, for the people and for the companies of the EU, but it can never be done at the expense of fundamental human rights principles. That means we do not respect the death penalty and torture. If you can buy products with the express purpose of killing or torturing people, that is contrary to the principle of human rights.

Why is the European Commission trying to tackle the issue of torture around the world through a trade-based approach?

According to international law, torture is forbidden, but it is quite obvious that many countries are not following the law. The practice of torture continues. If you want to torture somebody, you could simply use a pencil or a lighter. So, our alliance will not be able to completely eradicate torture. It is not the only way, but a very concrete way to limit such inhumane practices. Also, it will be an important political symbol that will show that countries across the world no longer accept torture and the death penalty.

More than 50 countries are joining the alliance. However, global superpowers like the US and China are still carrying out the death penalty. Will they sign on too?

Lethal injection able in Huntsville, Texas (picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Sullivan)

The US has drawn criticism for using untested chemical cocktails in lethal injections

No. The event today is open to anybody. But the US is not taking part in the launch. They cannot sign up to the alliance, as we only accept countries that have outlawed the death penalty. But if representatives of the United States want to come to listen, they are welcome.

Is the launch of an alliance for torture-free trade in line with the principles and values of the European Union?

Yes. It is indeed based on the values of EU laws. We have discovered that many countries across the world share these values and want to work with us. We have to make clear that our alliance goes beyond simply a declaration.

What would be the ultimate goal for the future of the alliance?

After the launch the ultimate goal is to create a UN convention, but that takes several years. That is just the beginning and a lot of work lies in front of us.

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