Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Trade in goods used for torture

Delivered in Plenary - 16th June 2010

Mr President

History teaches us that usually countries with the highest standards of human rights are also the most prosperous and peaceful. We should therefore be proud of what the EU has achieved in this respect, but those achievements compel us to redouble our efforts to promote human rights around the world.

We are currently faced with many egregious examples of wanton disregard of human rights. Take the case of Iran, where adulterers, homosexuals, religious minorities, political dissidents and even minors are regularly executed. Look at North Korea, where isolation means we can only surmise what horrific abuses are actually taking place there in their concentration camps, particularly for those attempting to flee that brutal Stalinist nightmare. Consider Burma, where the military junta terrorises the population, and Venezuela, whose leader Hugo Chávez has systematically stifled political dissent and closed down the media.

Closer to home, the award last year of Parliament’s Sakharov Prize to Russian human rights defenders underlines our concerns about that country, where impunity still prevails, particularly in the investigation of murdered journalists. And what exactly does their army get up to in the North Caucasus? We do not really know.

Of course, human rights cannot, and must not, be the sole arbiter of the EU’s relations with third countries. The People’s Republic of China, for example, enjoys a growing economic and strategic relationship with the Union, but continues to brutally suppress fundamental freedoms and even censors the internet. We have similar links to Saudi Arabia, where alcoholics are beheaded, and Pakistan, which bans the Ahmadi Muslims.

We need to be realistic about what we can actually achieve, but we should never stop trying to convince others of the virtues of our democratic values that have served us so well and are the universal sign of a civilised society. Prohibiting the trade in instruments that can be used exclusively for torture is one very useful action that the EU can take in demonstrating that we do take this issue very seriously indeed.