The political gulf between American policy and European policy on capital punishment widened further today as the European Commission released its decision to tighten export controls for some key materials used in the execution or cruel treatment of prisoners. The new policy applies expressly to the exportation of such goods by European countries to nations that still engage in capital punishment or torture.
Yesterday’s decision by the European Commission is in line with its Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which affirms a universal and unconditional stance against capital punishment. As Catherine Ashton, High Representative for the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission stated:
“[T]he European Union opposes the death penalty under all circumstances. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that no one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed. In this regard, the decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide.”
Sodium thiopental, a chemical commonly used in the three-drug cocktail used in American lethal injection, can now only be exported from E.U. countries with prior authorization by national authorities. The decision will likely increase the difficulty faced by states of procuring the already scarce drug for use in their executions. In addition, the Commission announced that the import and export of electric shock sleeves and cuffs, instrumental in the use of the electric chair, are now wholly prohibited from import and export.
An ACLU statement delivered in September to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) highlighted the grim contrast between the policy on capital punishment in the United States, where hundreds of people are executed each year, and the rest of the OSCE’s member nations, all of which except one have completely abolished the death penalty. The statement also identified grave concerns with the American practice, including arbitrariness, racial inequity, cruelty, and miscarriages of justice.
With this added pressure from the European Commission, we hope that our government will further question its engagement with the archaic practice of capital punishment. To learn more about our fight against the use of capital punishment in the United States, visit us at the Capital Punishment Project and the Human Rights Program. And go here to find out what you can do to end the death penalty in your state.