Torture Free Trade Treaty: APT joins campaign to combat the trade in tools of torture

Saturday, February 4, 2023

The APT, together with more than 30 civil society organisations from all global regions, has signed the Shoreditch Declaration for a Torture-Free Trade Treaty  

The declaration, led by the Amnesty International, Omega Research Foundation and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, recognises that in many cases, the use of law enforcement equipment plays a fundamental role in acts of torture or other ill-treatment, repression and punishment. Internationally-traded law enforcement equipment is routinely used abusively against protesters, human rights defenders and discriminated-against groups, among others, during the policing of protests and in places of detention. To help prevent torture and combat police abuse,   the statement calls for a legally binding-binding prohibition and human rights-focused trade control regime on law enforcement equipment. 

Two kinds of equipment can be distinguished: prohibited goods (equipment that has no other practical use than torture or other ill-treatment) and controlled goods (equipment that could be used for torture or other ill-treatment). Mindful of this distinction, the declaration stresses that some equipment (corresponding with the category of prohibited goods), like body-worn electric shock devices, is cruel and degrading by design and must be banned outright. The declaration calls for prohibitions on the manufacture and trade in such equipment, including inhumane restraints and electric shock batons. Other equipment (corresponding with the category of controlled goods), according to the declaration, can be readily abused and its trade must be strictly regulated. The declaration thus supports effective, human rights-based trade controls on standard law enforcement equipment – such as pepper spray, rubber bullets and handcuffs – which is often used to commit acts of torture or other ill-treatment.  

Developments at the UN 

In June 2019, in its resolution A/RES/73/304, the UNGA requested the Secretary General to seek the views of member states on the feasibility and possible scope of a range of options to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment and for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In July 2020, the Secretary General submitted his report (A/74/969) pursuant to the UNGA's request. It explained that most of the 46 member states that responded to the questionnaire supported the proposal to establish common international standards and a majority were in favour of a legally-binding instrument. 

In the above-mentioned 2019 resolution, the UNGA also requested the Secretary General to establish a group of governmental experts (GGE) to examine the feasibility and scope of the goods to be included, as well as draft parameters for a range of options to establish common international standards. In May 2022, the GGE released its report (A/76/850) which proposed establishing common international standards, in a form of either a legally-binding instrument or non-binding standards.  

In the 2022 anti-torture resolution (A/RES/77/209), the UNGA, taking note of the GGA report, called upon all member states to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent and prohibit the production, trade, export, import and use of equipment that has no practical use other than for the purpose of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

The Alliance for Torture-Free Trade 

The declaration calls on all states to fulfil their positive obligations to prevent and eradicate torture and other ill-treatment by supporting the establishment of a Torture-free Trade Treaty. There is already considerable support for such an instrument. In September 2017, the EU, Argentina and Mongolia launched the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade on the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The Alliance currently comprises over 60 states. 


Staff members