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In 2001, Amnesty International released the report "Stopping the Torture Trade." The term torture trade refers to the manufacture, marketing, and export of tools commonly used for torture, like restraints and high-voltage electro-shock weapons.

Global Manufacture of Torture Devices

More than 150 companies worldwide are involved in the manufacturing or marketing of torture devices, almost half of which are in the US.[1]

Selling torture devices is a profitable business. From 1997 to 2000, US companies earned over $13 million exporting stun guns, electro-shock batons and optical sighting devices to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The biggest electro-shock manufacturers are located in the US, China, Taiwan and South Korea.[1]

High-voltage electro-shock weapons were first developed in the US in the 1990s. They include electro-shock batons, stun guns, stun shields, dart-firing stun guns, and stun belts.[1]

The following table includes some of the countries identified by Amnesty International from 1998-2000 as engaged in the manufacture, distribution, supply, or brokerage of stun weapons and restraints.[1]

COUNTRY 1998-2000 Number of manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, or brokers of stun weapons known to Amnesty International Number of manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, or brokers of leg irons, shackles or thumbcuffs known to Amnesty International
Brazil 3
China 9 1
France 6 1
Germany 11 3
Israel 6
Mexico 2
Poland 5
Russia 3
South Korea 8
South Africa 7 2
Taiwan 17 2
United Kingdom 2
USA 42 22

Types of Torture Devices

The Amnesty International campaign focuses on the trade of restraints, pepper sprays[Notes 1] and electroshock weapons.[1][2]

One type of electro-shock weapon is the stun belt. Stun belts send 50,000 volt shocks through the victim using electrodes placed near the kidneys. The shock causes incapacitation and severe pain. The belt is remote-controlled, which means the wearer is in a state of constant fear.[1]

One manufacturer advertised the device as follows:

After all, if you were wearing a contraption around your waist that by the mere push of a button in someone else's hand could make you defecate or urinate yourself, what would you do?[3]

Effects of Electro-Shock Torture

Electo-shock weapons are one of the most common tools of torture. Electro-shock weapons are appealing because they leave no mark, although the physical and psychological effects are crippling. Shocks are often applied to sensitive areas like the soles of feet or genitals. Effects include severe pain, loss of muscle control, nausea, convulsions, fainting, and involuntary defecation and urination.[1]

Internationally, electro-shock torture is used on children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations. A Uigher ethnic minority member was tortured in a detention center in Urumqi, China in 1999. He was restrained in a painful position, shocked in the mouth and on the penis, and beaten with a wooden baton. Interrogators placed a metal helmet on his head to prevent him from bashing his head against the wall in an attempt to kill himself and stop the pain.[1]


Amnesty International has collected testimonies from torture survivors regarding the use of electro-shock weapons as a torture technique.

A female nurse in Turkey was tortured due to her political affiliation by police officers using electro-shocks in 1991:

They thrust the electric truncheon violently into my sexual organs and I felt a pain as if I was being drilled there with an electric drill. They immediately lay me down on some ice. I started to bleed at this stage and fainted...before I had come fully round, they forced me to sign various papers.[1]

The Role of Companies

Companies that produce electro-shock weapons, restraints and sprays say their products are nonlethal if used by security officials with proper training. Nonetheless, Amnesty International has documented cases of companies selling stun belts to countries known to commit human rights abuses, like China and Saudi Arabia, without providing training.

Amnesty International's Campaign to Stop the Torture Trade

Amnesty International has asked companies worldwide to stop the manufacture, marketing, and trade of electro-shock and restraint devices; governments to ban the trade of torture devices; and individuals to write local government representatives and companies asking them to take these steps.[1]

Recent Regulations

One recent change in regulation is the European Commission’s Trade Regulation No. 1236/2005,[4] in effect since 2006, which prohibits trade in goods that have no practical use other than torture. Unfortunately, critics say the regulation contains too many loopholes to be effective.[5][6]

The US has also made regulatory changes to limit torture trade. The Department of Commerce created a separate export commodity code for electro-shock devices to make it easier to track them.[7] All companies are now required to have export licenses, although there are still many loopholes. US companies can use drop shipping or paying an intermediary country with loose regulations to export banned goods to the importing country. In 1997, one US company was caught exporting electro-shock guns and pepper spray without a license by mislabeling them as “Fountain pens, Keychains, Child Sound device, [and] Electrical voltage units.”[1]


  1. According to Amnesty International, chemical spray was used in large quantities to quell a protest in Lusaka, Zambia in July 1997 and the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle. Amnesty International reported that it had been manufactured by the UK company Pains-Wessex. Subsequently, Amnesty called for an export ban when the receiving regime is either not fully trained in the use of chemical spray, or had shown usage "contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions".


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