• Sheet of paper Report

China’s Trade in Tools of Torture and Repression

September 26, 2014

In recent years China has consolidated its position as a major manufacturer and exporter not only of firearms and related ammunition but also of a growing range of other equipment used in law enforcement – from handcuffs to electric shock stun batons to riot control gear. Chinese companies have been actively promoting their equipment globally, increasing their presence at trade fairs across the world. There are now more than 130 Chinese companies involved in the development, manufacture and trade in these potentially dangerous products, a sharp rise from a decade ago, but the size and scope of this industry in China has barely been researched until now.

This report documents China's manufacture of and trade in law enforcement equipment other than firearms and related ammunition, and considers some examples of how this equipment is used in China and abroad. The rise in Chinese manufacture and export of equipment for use in law enforcement has not been accompanied by adequate domestic regulations or export controls. Some equipment manufactured and openly marketed by Chinese companies – such as electric shock stun batons and weighted leg cuffs – is intrinsically cruel, inhuman and degrading and therefore should be prohibited. The promotion, trade and export of inherently abusive equipment is already prohibited in the EU – a position reinforced by the 2013 UN General Assembly resolution on torture.

Other equipment – for instance ordinary handcuffs or certain types of crowd control equipment – can have a legitimate role in law enforcement, but its trade and use need to be strictly controlled in line with international standards for law enforcement to remove any substantial risk of the equipment being used for violations of human rights. China does not have adequate controls in place and has exported law enforcement equipment to countries where there is a clear risk that the equipment will be misused.

Chapter 1 presents an overview of China's law enforcement equipment manufacturing sector. It looks in detail at four categories of equipment manufactured in China: restraints, electric shock devices, striking weapons and crowd control gear, assessing in each category whether the equipment has a legitimate use and, if so, the necessary controls that should apply to prevent misuse, or whether the use of the device should be prohibited outright or suspended pending further research by independent experts.

Chapter 2 looks at how this equipment has been used by law enforcement officials in China to violate human rights. It describes cases in which law enforcement personnel have used electric shock equipment and restraints to torture detainees held in China's notoriously harsh detention facilities. It also looks at the misuse of riot gear in the policing of public assemblies, including against Tibetan and Uighur protesters.

Chapter 3 pieces together China's opaque international trade in an array of law enforcement equipment using data gathered at trade fairs, company literature, photographic evidence and specific cases of irresponsible transfers. It analyses China's export controls, and concludes that they suffer from inadequate export assessment criteria, weak oversight, lack of transparency and reluctance to enforce existing regulations. As a result, Chinese equipment marketed to law enforcement agencies in other countries risks facilitating serious human rights violations.

Chapter 4 analyses the responsibility of states and companies focusing particularly on responsibilities in relation to the export of law enforcement equipment. States have a legal obligation to co-operate in the realization of human rights within and beyond their borders. The chapter argues that this principle, already explicitly recognized in relation to a wide range of conventional weapons through the Arms Trade Treaty and other international legal agreements, applies to the use and export of law enforcement equipment. It also looks at the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the risk of corporate complicity in human rights violations where companies have failed to act with due diligence to prevent equipment they manufacture or sell being misused.

For many years Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation (Omega) have advocated that states should adopt legally enforceable regulations at the national and international levels to strictly control the production, promotion, trade, transfer and use of policing and other law enforcement equipment. In 2005 Amnesty International and Omega were instrumental in the EU's adoption of regulations that ban the production and export of specific "tools of torture" and strictly control trade in other equipment which, while intended for law enforcement, can easily be misused for torture or other ill-treatment. Amnesty International and Omega continue to campaign for these regulations to be strengthened in the EU and adopted globally.

Amnesty International and Omega are calling on the Chinese authorities to bring China's national regulation of law enforcement equipment into line with this emerging international framework. The Chinese authorities should prohibit the production, use and export of "tools of torture". China must also reform its export licencing system for law enforcement equipment, making the system transparent and publicly accountable. Strict, human rights-based criteria must be applied and met before export licences are issued. More broadly, there must be a greater understanding of the potential problems associated with law enforcement equipment, and the rationale behind the regulation of its design, transfer and use. Concrete steps need to be taken by all states, not only China, to combat the misuse of legitimate law enforcement equipment by law enforcement agencies around the world.