Monday, October 31, 2011

Torture tools for sale at EU-supported exhibition

I have just learned a new euphemism. Weapons used by police against political demonstrations are now being called “interior protection technology” by some of their traders and manufacturers.

The latest innovations in this technology were displayed at the Milipol exhibition in Paris last month. The fair garnered some coverage in the business press; French paper Les Echos cited estimates that the global “security” market was worth 420 billion euros in 2010, a rise of 5.5% over the previous year. It is scandalous in itself that this blood-stained trade is growing at a time when health and education expenditure are being slashed in many countries. What’s even more scandalous is that the media failed to notice how some of the instruments on display have only one practical application: torture.

On Stand 3J019, the Chinese company Jiangsu Anhua was trying to drum up interest in its catalogue of “police equipment”. This included leg fetters - metal rings that are screwed together and used to shackle a prisoner. The firm appears to have no qualms about selling these items, even though rules approved by the 47-country Council of Europe stipulate that no prisoner should be restrained with irons or chains.

Another Chinese firm Mily Link International was assigned Stand 3G024. Both it and Jiangsu Anhua offered spiked batons, thumb cuffs and combination hand and leg cuffs. Chilling images of the “inquest” chairs they sell can be found on the internet. This metal contraption looks like the most uncomfortable seat ever made; it is impossible to see how it could have any benign purpose.

On Stand 1H135, Israel’s TAR Ideal Concepts was giving customers the possibility to buy its electroshock shield. It found a refuge in Paris that had been previously denied to it in London. In 2005, the firm was kicked out of the UK’s Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition because its brochures solicited orders for stun guns, batons and leg cuffs. TAR founder Tomer Avnon complained at the time that it was hypocritical to single out his firm. “Don't forget we were among booths offering everything from sniper rifles to silencers, cluster bombs and all sorts of nasty stuff,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Nasty stuff

In the unlikely event that some of the Milipol guests in Paris had decided to respect Palestinian calls to boycott Israeli goods, they could instead enquire about buying electroshock shields from Korea’s Dae-Sung Tech at Stand 1D 136. That firm brought some samples of this “nasty stuff” along with it.

As the European Union is nominally opposed to torture wherever it occurs, surely this equipment should be banned. Yet while a law regulating the trade in instruments designed for torture or the death penalty came into effect in 2006, it contains wide loopholes. The equipment I have mentioned, particularly the spiked batons, should be added to the list of items covered by this law without further delay, in order to prohibit their exportation and importation.

Although the law is an important advance for human rights as it is the first of its kind in the world, it does not stop companies from outside the Union travelling here to advertise tools of torture. The loopholes also allowed Britain to export a batch of the drug sodium thiopental to the US last year, knowing full well that it would be used to execute Jeffrey Landrigan in Arizona. By authorising those exports, the UK government became an accomplice to a state-sponsored murder.

This is a classic case of the EU having exemplary policies on paper but not taking proper steps to enforce or strengthen them. One explanation for this reluctance is that the Union is formally committed to nurturing the industry devoted to “interior protection” (also known by the deceptively anodyne term “homeland security”).

Vast market

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the EU’s then commissioner for scientific research Philippe Busquin assembled a “group of personalities” from the arms trade. The fruit of the group’s extensive chin-rubbing was a 2004 report called “Research for a Secure Europe”. It stated that there is a “vast” market for “security products” and recommended that 1 billion euros should be allocated to “security research” each year from 2007 onwards.

Realpolitik meant that the group’s wish wasn’t entirely fulfilled. Rather than grabbing 1 billion euros per annum, it had to make do with 1.4 billion euros stretched out between 2007 and 2013. Yet the introduction of a “security” theme to the Union’s research programme was highly significant. Israeli arms companies have proven especially adept at drawing down funds from this pot of gold (Israel takes part on an equal basis in the programme alongside EU member states). Those firms include Motorola Israel, which has installed the kind of surveillance equipment being financed by the EU’s programme in illegal settlements in the West Bank. Last week, the European Commission claimed (unconvincingly) it had no information about Motorola’s activities in the settlements.

The manufacture and marketing of torture instruments cannot be viewed separately from the broader arms trade. All companies involved in that trade rely on violence and repression to prosper.

It is noteworthy that Europol, the Union’s police office, was an official partner and an exhibitor at the Milipol fair. Europol is legally bound to respect the Union’s human rights policy. Perhaps there should be an investigation, therefore, into why it was giving a veneer of respectability to a bazaar for the torture trade.

●First published by New Europe, 31 October 2011.

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