Keynote Address at the event “Towards Torture-Free Trade: Opportunities and Challenges”

“Towards Torture-Free Trade: Opportunities and Challenges”

EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Keynote address

11 December 2020


Good morning/afternoon everyone.

It is a great honour to be with you all today to discuss torture-free trade, a unique approach in our efforts to combat torture and death penalty globally.

I wish to thank EU Ambassador Skoog, Ambassador Squeff from Argentina and Director Hardeman for organising today’s timely event and for inviting me to speak.

Madame High Commissioner, Excellencies, partners and distinguished guests from all over the world,

The inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are among the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was 72 years ago yesterday.

Protecting and promoting human rights all over the world lies at the heart of the EU’s identity.  It reflects our values and principles.  More human rights means more freedom, prosperity, peace and security for all of us.

The EU is strongly committed to the abolishment of death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Torture and other ill-treatment are among the most abhorrent violations of human rights, human integrity and human dignity. No exceptions are permitted under international law.

Yet, despite this absolute prohibition, torture and other ill-treatment persist all over the world (Belarus is most recent example, among many others, where the situation is deteriorating, with at least 500 cases of torture documented in the last 4 months).

At the same time, tools of death and implements of pain are still traded across the globe – and this is why we are here today.

The eradication of torture is a global challenge; it should be our global ambition. It is not impossible to achieve, but can only be done if we act together, in a coherent manner.

Joint efforts with all of you, the United Nations and the Council of Europe, regional organisations, governments, national partners and civil society can bring about the eradication of torture.

The Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, inspired by the EU successful anti-torture regulation of 2005, is a unique example of how we can work together in this field.

I would like to share with you a couple of elements from our work and efforts to combat torture:

The EU uses all its available political and financial tools to combat torture, in its external action.

This ranges from the protection of victims, including those most vulnerable, to speaking out against abuses, to urging States to comply with their obligations under International law – to investigate allegations of torture and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Both public and discreet diplomacy are crucial.

In the context of the pandemic, the EU has taken action on your call, High Commissioner Bachelet, to reduce the number of people in detentions and examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

I am personally engaged at high political level for the release of individuals or groups of prisoners on humanitarian grounds, together with EU Delegations and Member States Embassies in several countries.

Financial support is also important.   Over the past decade, the European Union has allocated more than €80 million to support civil society actors and human rights defenders at the forefront of the anti-torture work (through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights).

Let me give you a few examples:

We support projects aimed at improving detention conditions, combating abusive pre-trial detention, but also offering legal aid and psychological support to victims of torture.

Let me also give you a couple of examples of our support in the area of torture free trade:

We support torture prevention and victim’s redress through the establishment of effective controls of trade of torture related technology.  We raise awareness amongst law enforcement officials of relevant international standards, such as ‘the Nelson Mandela Rules’ for the treatment of prisoners.

In November, all the EU Member States adopted the new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for (2020-2024).

This is a renewed political roadmap which sets the EU’s priorities for the years to come.

Our new Action Plan has an increased focus on business and human rights, including the need for due diligence in global supply chains.

Protecting people is a major priority of our new Action Plan. It says the following:

“Strive to eradicate torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment globally through prevention, prohibition, accountability and redress for victims, including by promoting the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade. “

The Action Plan will also be backed by the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions regime, which was adopted by all EU Member States last Monday.

This new regime will further strengthen our collective action on human rights and ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses (including those related to torture) have nowhere to hide.

The need for strong, coherent and effective collective action on Torture Free Trade is more vital than ever.

As many of you know, it is now 15 years since the EU first adopted legislation to eradicate trade in certain goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Such legislation sends a clear signal: that it is wrong to sustain such egregious human rights violations through trade.

Batons with metal spikes, electric shock belts, gas chambers have no place in this world. This kind of trade must STOP.

Leading by example, the EU anti-torture Regulation brings us here today.

Further to the adoption of the UNGA Resolution on Torture Free Trade in June last year, our aim, together with Argentina and Mongolia, is to establish international standards in this field with all UN Member States on board.

I would like to mention the financial support, provided by the   Commission, through the Foreign Policy Instrument to the Office of High Commissioner in the important follow up work and implementation of this Resolution.

The recent UN Secretary General report on Torture-Free Trade is an important milestone in recognising that common international standards could ensure more effective regulation in this area.

Today’s event should not only take stock of progress achieved so far but give it further impetus, including for the UN governmental experts’ work.

Today, we renew our support to the Alliance for Torture Free Trade, and we repeat our call on all States to join.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion with all of you on how we can create synergies in the fight for torture free trade, and how we can coordinate our efforts to make these horrendous practices a thing of the past.

We owe it to the victims of torture, and to survivors, to their families and to human civilisation.

The torture of human beings has no place in 21st century.

Thank you!