Global Governance Centre
19 June 2019

How to ban the global trade in tools of torture

Reflections on a compelling panel discussion.

In today’s political environment, torture appears to be losing its status as a taboo. And instruments of torture have become commodities on international markets as a result. But how can an international norm be created banning the trade in tools of torture? 

Trade cannot address all social problems, but it can be used to promote specific social values. And the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade and its 60+ signatory states are determined to end the international trade in instruments of torture and capital punishment by tabling a resolution before the UN General Assembly. 

As part of the Graduate Institute’s EU Lecture Series, the Global Governance Centre co-organized a panel event to take stock of the developments leading to the creation of the Alliance and the prospects and challenges of adopting and implementing a global ban on tools of torture.

Cecilia Malmström, European Union Commissioner for Trade, on "Banning the Global Trade in Tools of Torture"

In a keynote address, Cecilia Malmström noted that systematic torture is a crime against humanity. She indicated the need for an international instrument to close the circle on the trade of instruments of torture, supported by technical assistance and the exchange of best practices among states.

Distinguished panellists included: 

  • Cecilia Malmström, European Union Commissioner for Trade,

  • Barbara Bernath, Secretary General, Association for the Prevention of Torture,

  • Michael Crowley, Research Associate, Omega Research Foundation,

  • Gerald Staberock, Secretary General, World Organisation Against Torture, 

  • Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law, the Graduate Institute, Geneva,

  • Nico Krisch, Co-Director, Global Governance Centre, and

  • Ezgi Yildiz, Postdoctoral Researcher, Global Governance Centre.

Nico Krisch and Andrew Clapham noted how such norms can expand gradually, by first building consensus among like-minded states until a critical mass is reached. By doing so, we can avoid lowest common denominator politics and help prevent a diluted and ineffective international instrument. 

While preventing torture outright remains a difficult challenge, this initiative, according to Gerald Staberock, is a “breath of hope” and a step in the right direction.    

Discover more about this topic or watch the full event video below.

A Norm in the Making: Banning the Global Trade in Tools of Torture