Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Sadly, torture remains rife in many countries. And more than sixty years after torture was outlawed internationally, gruesome torture equipment is still being openly marketed and traded around the world.
At glitzy arms and security fairs, governments can browse stalls selling equipment whose sole purpose is to cause pain and fear. An export ban in the EU has made this trade more difficult in recent years, but there is still no international agreement to ban tools of torture.
This week, governments at the UN General Assembly will vote on passing a resolution aimed at ending the torture trade for good. We are urging states to adopt this resolution, which is long overdue, and tighten up the loose regulations which have let the torture trade thrive.
Here are five tools of torture which need to be banned immediately - and what we know about who’s using them.
What are they?
Stun belts deliver high voltage shocks, via electrodes placed near the prisoner’s kidneys, causing severe pain. They are worn, sometimes for many hours at a time, with the constant threat that they will be activated by remote control. Other physical effects can include muscular weakness, involuntary urination and defecation, heartbeat irregularities, seizures and welts on the skin.
Stun belts and other body worn electric shock devices (cuffs, vests) have been manufactured by companies all over the world. There are known manufacturers of this kind of equipment in the US, South Africa, Singapore and China, and known suppliers in countries including India and Israel.
These devices have been used to control prisoners in certain countries including South Africa and some US states. One inmate in the US whose stun belt was activated described the pain as ‘so intense that I thought that I was actually dying’.
What are they?
Batons which deliver powerful electric shocks. Stun batons and other electric shock weapons like stun guns and shields make it easy for officials to apply extremely painful shocks at the push of a button, including to very sensitive parts of a person’s body, and to repeatedly do this without leaving long-lasting physical traces. This makes them a favoured tool of torture, whose use Amnesty has documented in all regions of the world.
Stun batons are widely manufactured and used in China, but Omega Research has also documented several EU-based companies who make these tools of torture. Omega found that one Russian company lists dealers and representatives in many states including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine. Uzbekistan, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Vietnam.
Recently Amnesty International documented the repeated use of electric shock batons by Italian police against newly arriving refugees and migrants, particularly to forcibly fingerprint people in police stations. One 16-year-old boy from Sudan told us:
“After three days… they took me to the ‘electricity room’....Then they gave me electricity with a stick, many times on the left leg, then on the right leg, chest and belly. I was too weak, I couldn’t resist."
What are they?
Batons or truncheons fitted with hard plastic or metal spikes designed to inflict pain and suffering. Some models have spikes running along their entire length; others have spiked heads.
In the hands of law enforcement officials, these weapons have no practical use other than to inflict torture or other ill-treatment.
China is the main manufacturer of these implements of torture.
The European Union has banned EU countries from importing, exporting or promoting spiked batons, stating that, as well as being designed to cause suffering, they are no more effective for riot control or self-protection than ordinary batons.
Despite the EU ban, in 2017 Amnesty researchers found spiked batons on sale at a Paris arms fair, along with other equipment which is illegal in the EU.
Spiked batons have reportedly been used by police in Cambodia and exported to security forces in Nepal and Thailand. In June 2003, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) documented the case of Ramesh Sharma, who lost his right eye after being hit with an iron-spiked stick by police in Kathmandu.
What are they?
Restraint devices which fasten around the neck, with some models linking the neck and wrists. These are painful, degrading and dangerous. The pressure they exert on the neck could potentially cause suffocation or damage to the throat.
Research by Amnesty International and our partner, Omega Research Foundation. found that neck restraints have been manufactured by at least one Chinese company.
Our research shows these have been marketed to Chinese law enforcement agencies – worrying because allegations of torture by the Chinese authorities are widespread. Ethnic minorities and human rights defenders are particularly at risk.
What are they?
Chairs in which detainees are restrained by multiple cuffs or restraints. Detainees are cuffed to the chair at several points including the wrists, elbow, shoulder, chest, waist, thigh, and/or ankle.
These chairs have no legitimate law enforcement use that cannot be achieved through less harmful means.
Injury or death can occur if the restrained person is left unattended for long periods. Restraint chairs often play a part in other kinds of torture and ill-treatment like force-feeding and beating with implements like stun batons.
Chinese companies have marketed these chairs to law enforcement agencies within China. The US also manufactures these chairs and their use has been documented in the context of abuses in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.
Amnesty has documented the use by Chinese prison and law enforcement officials of a range of degrading and painful restraint techniques involving these chairs.
Tang Jitian, a former prosecutor and lawyer in Beijing, told Amnesty he was tortured by local security officials in March 2014.
“I was strapped to an iron chair, slapped in the face, kicked on my legs and hit so hard over the head with a plastic bottle filled with water that I passed out,” he said.
In 2016 chilling footage emerged of a teenager being hooded and strapped to a restraint chair in Australia’s Northern Territory. After an international outcry, Australia suspended the use of restraint chairs in juvenile detention centres – but they are still permitted in adult prisons.
It’s time to ban the trade in this appalling equipment - no company should profit from pain and suffering. Amnesty is calling for UNGA member states to adopt the resolution, and work towards regulation aimed at ending the torture trade for good. More info here