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Civil Society Organizations Echo UN Special Rapporteur’s Call for Legally Binding Instrument to Regulate and Prohibit Equipment Used for Torture

Published October 11, 2023

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tomorrow, Oct. 12, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Dr. Alice Edwards, will present her annual report to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly. An advanced, unedited version of the report is available here. The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) – along with Amnesty International, Omega Research Foundation and numerous partners from both the global north and global south – welcomes the report, which focusses thematically on a critical issue: the global production of and trade in law enforcement equipment which is used to commit torture or other ill-treatment.

As the Special Rapporteur explains, such equipment includes that which has no other purpose than to commit torture or other ill-treatment – such as “spiked batons, thumb cuffs, electric shock shields and caged beds” – and that which can have a legitimate use, but which is often misused for the same—such as tear gas, pepper spray, handcuffs or regular batons. Building on a series of statements, studies and resolutions in the UN system from the early 2000s; the work of a number of countries specifically on this issue more recently; and repeated calls from civil society, the Special Rapporteur recommends “a legally-binding instrument” to regulate production of and trade in this equipment. 

“It is long past time to strictly regulate goods that are deliberately misused by some security forces to commit torture, and to impose a global ban on goods that have no use other than torture. We need to outlaw this immoral trade in unspeakable human suffering. We need a Torture-Free Trade Treaty,” said Dr. Simon Adams, CVT president and CEO.

The Center for Victims of Torture, the first torture survivor rehabilitation center in the United States and one of the largest organizations of its kind in the world, provides care and healing to survivors of torture, many of whom have been tortured by techniques and equipment mentioned by the Special Rapporteur. We describe this in greater detail here.

Earlier this year, CVT joined more than 30 civil society organizations from across the globe in signing the Shoreditch Declaration, which culminated a civil society summit in that East London town to discuss ways to curb trade in the tools of torture. That civil society coalition has grown significantly since then. All of the organizations agree on the need for a torture-free trade treaty.

The Special Rapporteur’s report closes with a clarion call to governments, civil society organizations and concerned individuals worldwide to join forces to work towards that end, in the pursuit of a safer and more just world: “Imagine a world where all inherently cruel, inhuman or degrading equipment used by law enforcement and other public officials was no longer in the hands of untrained officers or ruthless leaders, because its manufacture and trade had been banned. Consider a world where responsible exporters and government regulators halt the export of certain equipment when there is evidence that said equipment is being misused to torture, harm or repress political opponents or citizens exercising their rights to assemble and express themselves, or against other vulnerable persons including young people in detention, psychiatric patients, or the elderly.”


The Center for Victims of Torture is a nonprofit organization with offices in Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, United States and additional project sites around the world. Visit www.cvt.org

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