Magazine article New Internationalist

Trading in Shock: Electroshock Weapons Have Become a Favoured Tool of Many of the World's Torturers

Magazine article New Internationalist

Trading in Shock: Electroshock Weapons Have Become a Favoured Tool of Many of the World's Torturers

Article excerpt

'Roberto', a 50-year-old university professor, is arrested by the state security forces. His torture begins. Initially his captors beat him with sticks. But an officer stops them, saying: 'It will leave scars and we will get complaints from Amnesty International.' Instead he orders his men to use an electroshock baton.

Torturers around the world prefer the cold blue sizzle of electroshock equipment precisely because they believe it will not leave permanent marks as evidence on their victims' bodies.

'This time they worked on me again with the electric baton on the nape of the neck and in the genitals and it hurt so much that even now when I speak it is difficult to keep my head still as the back of my neck hurt so much... This type of weapon... I could really call it something really horrible -- immoral -- because those people who make it for torture, they don't test it on their own bodies and they don't know the pain it causes. They do it to make other people suffer, quite simply to make money.'

Roberto was arrested and tortured in Zaire -- now the Democratic Republic of Congo -- in 1991. Yet nearly a decade later, despite international treaties and conventions banning torture, a number of countries throughout the world have failed to prevent the misuse of such modern high-pulse and high-voltage electroshock weapons. Far from it.

Since 1990 electroshock torture and ill-treatment have been reported in the prisons, detention centres or police centres of at least 58 countries including Angola, Algeria, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Yugoslavia and the US. In over 20 countries, hand-held electroshock batons specifically designed for use on humans have been used.

Electroshock stun technology was initially developed in the US during the 1970s and it still continues to lead the way in the trade. Amnesty International research has uncovered 78 US companies that have manufactured, marketed, bought or sold electroshock devices.

They come in many shapes and forms -- shields, batons, stun guns, electroshock belts worn by prisoners, even 'tasers' which fire fishhook darts connected to wires and allow users to administer shocks from a distance. Though manufacturers claim that these high-voltage devices are medically safe, scientists have reported that they are quite capable of killing someone with a heart condition. Furthermore there is growing evidence of their use in electroshock torture.

The immediate effects of shock torture vary, but include severe pain, loss of muscle control, nausea, convulsions, fainting and involuntary defecation and urination. Muscle stiffness and long-term damage to teeth and hair have been documented as well as devastating mental effects such as severe depression and impotence.

A number of US manufacturers have seemingly sold these weapons without a second thought about the human-rights records of the buyers. …

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