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A step to advance EU’s efforts to eradicate torture and death penalty worldwide was taken by trade MEPs on Thursday when they approved a text that will strengthen rules to prevent trade in products and supply of services that may contribute to torture, capital punishment or other inhuman or degrading treatment in third countries. In legislative trilogues on ‘Anti-torture regulation’ MEPs managed to widen the application of the EU rules to also ban marketing and transit of the prohibited goods.

"We need to make sure that the EU uses its economic weight to strengthen our values abroad and enforce respect for human rights. Banning the death penalty and torture are key goals of European trade and foreign policy. It is essential to make sure that EU companies do not contribute to these practices", said rapporteur Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL).

"The core of the new legislation is to make it more flexible and stronger. We want to make sure that the EU can react quickly to changes in the world and to the development of new technologies. This proposal broadens the number of controlled products, to include medicines that are used in the United States to carry out the death penalty. Aside from these kinds of regulations, we need to make sure that the EU takes the lead in condemning the use of torture and the death penalty anywhere in the world," she added.

The committee backed the agreed text by 30 votes in favor, none against and 3 abstentions.

To avoid spread of goods and substances that are or may be used for torture or death penalty, MEPs inserted:

  • Marketing and promotion ban. It will be illegal to sell and buy online or offline advertising services for banned goods, such as drugs for use in lethal injections. The ban will also apply for exhibitions and trade fairs, unless proven that the display is not for sale purposes.
  • Transit ban via the EU for prohibited goods. Also brokering and technical assistance services for those goods will be forbidden. In addition, “knowledge-based” transit ban will be in place for multi-purpose goods (controlled goods which may or may not be used for torture or execution).
  • “Anti-torture coordination group” will be established to monitor the application of the rules, with Parliament’s experts attending meetings dedicated to preparation of delegated acts to update annexes.
  • Clause to rapidly ban or control new products - to make the rules future-proof, MEPs expanded the reach of ‘urgency procedure’ which enables the Commission to swiftly add new items to the annexed lists of banned or controlled items.
  • Review clause - to keep the door open for a possible further strengthening, MEPs requested that the EU Commission, when reviewing the rules (by the end of July 2020) assesses if the rules should be extended to also cover the activities of the EU nationals abroad.

Next steps

The new rules will be voted into law by the full House in September (tbc). After publication in the Official Journal, they will enter into force on the third day following the publication, with further 3 months for the member states to enact authorizations for brokering and technical assistance. The Commission has an obligation to come up with a comprehensive implementation and impact assessment report reviewing the implementation by the August 2020.

Background for editors

The new rules come as an update of the EU’s 2005 “Anti-torture” regulation, which lists goods and substances that are either banned for export, such as electric chairs, finger-cuffs or cage beds, or need export clearance at EU borders, such as certain chemicals or electric shock devices.

It will be up to each EU member state to implement the Regulation. Tasks include granting export permits for controlled goods, carrying out border checks and deciding on penalties for those in breach. It would also be up to member states to ensure compliance with the requirement to control online marketing, promotion and other assistance services.