The UN Nelson Mandela Rules state that ‘the use of chains, irons or other instruments of restraint which are inherently degrading or painful shall be prohibited’. With no global prohibitions on the manufacture, trade and use of torture equipment however, it is highly important that independent monitoring bodies are able to effectively monitor the use of weapons and restraints in places of detention in order to prevent torture and ill-treatment. In this blog, Dr. Abi Dymond and colleagues at the Omega Research Foundation discuss a new resource, recently launched by Omega, which aims to assist monitors to document weapons and restraints used in places of detention.
The absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is firmly established in international law, so it may be surprising to many that there are no global prohibitions on the manufacture, trade and use of torture equipment. Torture equipment is an ambiguous term but is used here to encompass both equipment that may have a legitimate role to play in places of detention under strictly controlled conditions (such as handcuffs or batons) but which is often used for torture and ill-treatment, and equipment which is inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading (such as weighted leg irons or electric shock batons) and has no role in places of detention at all. Similarly there are no controls on training in techniques (such as neck holds or ‘hog-tying’), which may facilitate or constitute torture or other ill-treatment.
Working towards tighter regulations in this area is a challenging task and one in which torture prevention bodies, such as the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) play an important role. These bodies monitor a wide range of issues and can benefit from specialist resources and capacity building measures to assist them with their work, especially in technical areas, such as the use of weapons and restraints, including firearms and less lethal weapons.
Why monitor weapons and restraints in places of detention?
The benefits from addressing this issue are substantial. When torture monitors increase their knowledge about policing and security equipment, they are better able to recognise inappropriate equipment and call for its removal and prohibition. Increased knowledge in this area will also enable monitors to investigate and identify instances where equipment is used to carry out acts of torture or other ill-treatment, and to effectively gather evidence and corroborate testimony concerning allegations made by detainees. In addition, enhancing the capacity of torture prevention bodies to independently document and research the presence and use of firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints in places of detention can help to further safeguard the independence of monitors, by ensuring that they are not reliant on information provided by the authorities in their enquiries.
When torture monitors increase their knowledge about policing and security equipment, they are better able to recognise inappropriate equipment and call for its removal and prohibition.
The Nelson Mandela Rules (the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners) state that ‘The use of chains, irons or other instruments of restraint which are inherently degrading or painful shall be prohibited’. This work helps monitors to hold states to account to uphold and effectively implement this and various other international human rights obligations and to feed into the work of international bodies such as the UN Committee against Torture.
Torture monitors are paying increasing attention to this issue. For example, the Brazilian National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) – an independent expert body tasked with monitoring places of detention through regular visits – in partnership with the Omega Research Foundation has increased its focus and expertise on weapons and restraints, enabling it to ‘widen the focus and deepen the debate on the disproportionate, illegitimate and torturous use of force’.
Trade and use: two sides of the same coin
The trade in goods used for torture is also now receiving more scrutiny, with many states recognising the need to control the manufacture and trade in law enforcement equipment due to its impact on human rights. The global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, launched in 2017, seeks to establish ‘common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Launched by Argentina, Mongolia and the European Union, it now has over 60 member states and recently held its first Ministerial Meeting during the UN General Assembly in September 2018.
In the same month, the Council of Europe’s senior decision-making body officially stated that it was convinced that the Council of Europe should contribute to strengthening international regulations against trade in goods used for torture and the death penalty and requested that a feasibility study be carried out. This increasing attention was also in evidence at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, where the trade in torture equipment and the associated human rights concerns were discussed for the first time on 12 September 2018.
The Council of Europe’s senior decision-making body has officially stated that the Council…should contribute to strengthening international regulations against trade in goods used for torture.
These initiatives build on existing good practice, particularly European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1236/2005 concerning trade in goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (the EU Torture Trade Regulation). The Torture Trade Regulation bans the import and export of a list of goods which have no practical purpose other than to inflict capital punishment, torture or other ill-treatment, and it subjects goods that could be used legitimately for law enforcement but that are often used for torture to EU-wide export controls. Since its adoption in 2005, subsequent amendments have strengthened the Regulation, with activities such as brokering and promotion of equipment now also covered.
Effective monitoring of the use of weapons and restraints in places of detention can help states to implement controls such as the EU Torture Trade Regulation and their own national controls, by identifying potential human rights abusers and preventing the transfer of weapons and restraints to such abusive end-users who may use them to facilitate torture.
Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention: A Practical Guide for Detention Monitors
The Omega Research Foundation has recently launched a new resource to assist monitors to document weapons and restraints used in places of detention, working closely with torture prevention bodies, including the SPT, the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) and others on its development and dissemination. Available in English, French and Spanish, this resource consists of:
- A Practical Guide – a detailed resource which collates standards around the use of firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints in places of detention, and provides checklists of questions to ask and key areas for monitors to observe.
- A one-page foldable Pocket Book, which summarises key points from the Practical Guide and is designed to be easy for monitors to print out and use in places of detention.
Since its launch at the 35th session of the SPT in June 2018, the resource has been warmly welcomed. The Chair of the SPT, Professor Malcolm Evans, has noted that ‘Having been closely involved in the development of this resource, I am confident that it will be of value not just to the Subcommittee but to a wide range of detention monitors and torture prevention bodies more broadly, and will be an invaluable resource in the fight against torture’.
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Professor Nils Melzer, has stated that ‘The practical guide and pocket book provide an excellent overview and handy checklist of questions to focus on when examining the use of weapons and restraints during monitoring visits to places of detention. I very much welcome these resources and recommend them as valuable tools to anyone professionally engaged in the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.
Producing this resource is just the first step. A range of follow-up activities are planned, including developing training to accompany the resource and additional translations. We would welcome comments and feedback on the resource, which will be periodically revised to keep up to date with the latest developments in this area.
To download the Practical Guide and Pocket Book please click here. To contact the authors directly for queries and further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
For more information on on-going work to control the trade in torture equipment please click here. Omega’s Visual Glossary can also help human rights monitors, researchers, campaigners and journalists recognise the different types of equipment used by law enforcement officers and accurately report on the equipment.
The authors would like to acknowledge the ESRC (grant number ES/N016564/1) and the EU’s European Instrument on Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) for supporting this project.
Image: Omega Research Foundation
PRI and APT’s factsheet, Instruments of restraint: Addressing risk factors to prevent torture and ill-treatment, lists the relevant international standards, identifies types and situations of risk, provides checklists of questions that monitoring bodies can ask for each risk factor and suggests what monitoring bodies can do. The Factsheet is part of PRI/APT’s Detention Monitoring Tool, which aims to provide analysis and practical guidance to help monitoring bodies, including NPMs, to fulfil their preventive mandate as effectively as possible when visiting police facilities or prisons. The Tool seeks to support such bodies in addressing systemic risk factors that contribute to an environment where torture or other ill-treatment occurs.