News and Events



31 March 2021 


Council of Europe takes decisive action to combat torture tools trade

The Council of Europe (CoE) has today taken a vital step towards stemming the trade in torture tools and execution equipment, Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation said, as they called on all CoE member states to live up to commitments made today. 

The CoE Committee of Ministers adopted a formal Recommendation which provides a framework for states to better regulate the trade in goods which could be used for “capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. The Committee of Ministers is the CoE’s decision-making body, composed of government representatives of 47 member states.

“We welcome this decisive action by the Council of Europe - we cannot end torture without stopping the trade in equipment used to inflict it. All 47 CoE member states must now swiftly implement these recommendations, to ensure none of them is trading in pain and suffering,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Europe.

“This Recommendation is also essential for reining in abusive police forces all over the world. It sends a clear message to governments that the trade in certain law enforcement equipment is conditional on respect for human rights.” 

"Landmark Action"

The recommendations include a trade ban on inherently abusive equipment - such as spiked batons, weighted leg irons and body worn electric shock weapons - and stringent trade controls on standard law enforcement equipment that can be readily misused to inflict torture or other ill-treatment - such as pepper spray, tear gas and electric shock projectile weapons. 

The Recommendation also provides guidance for regulating the trade in certain pharmaceuticals that can be misused for lethal injection executions.

Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation have been instrumental in the campaign, over many years, to pressure governments to regulate the trade in law enforcement equipment and to ban torture-specific equipment outright. The organizations have been working with states and regional organizations to promote the introduction and subsequent strengthening of regional standards and mechanisms.  

This included 2020’s review of the European Union’s landmark Anti-Torture Regulation, the world’s first legally binding regional instrument for combatting the torture trade, and ongoing efforts supporting development of Africa-wide measures through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Meanwhile the UN, supported by the Global Alliance on Torture Free Trade bringing together over 60 states from all continents, is now engaged in a formal process exploring common international standards to regulate the trade at a global level. 

“The Council of Europe’s landmark action today provides an important benchmark for states outside Europe, who we hope will be inspired to establish similar controls in their regions,” said Dr Michael Crowley, Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation. 

“It also gives a much-needed boost to the ongoing UN process. We hope this will pave the way for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument to address the trade in torture and death penalty technologies globally.” 

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Professor Christof Heyns

10 January 1959-28 March 2021


The Omega Research Foundation was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Professor Christof Heyns, who passed away on 28th March, 2021.

Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Christof was a founding member of the Omega Research Foundation Network of Experts. All Network members join Omega staff in expressing their sadness at his untimely and sudden death.

A great friend and valued colleague over many years, Professor Heyns’ career and commitment to human rights was hugely impactful. He was a member of United Nations Human Rights Committee, serving as rapporteur for General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly. He was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. He is particularly remembered for his work with the African regional system, and was a member of the Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In 2020, Professor Heyns was instrumental in the creation of two documents of international significance, which are a vital part of Omega’s work on use of force and law enforcement use and misuse of weapons and equipment. General Comment 37 (2020) on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Right of peaceful assembly was published in July 2020. The text is here, and more information, including a webinar recording, here. Outlining governments’ obligations to facilitate peaceful assemblies, protect participants from potential abuse, and to not restrict or prohibit assemblies without appropriate justification, the General Comment addresses both physical and virtual/online meetings.

Professor Heyns also managed the drafting of the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, available here. Omega was honoured to be a member of the Academic Working Group which led discussions. Published in 2020, the Guidance outlines considerations regarding the nature and use of various kinds of equipment, including during arrest, in custodial settings, and in ‘public order management’ settings. Addressing a range of weapons and equipment, including batons, chemical irritants, and water cannon, the document also establishes weapons that are unlawful for use in law enforcement.

At a 2020 UN General Assembly event on public assembly, Professor Heyns, speaking on these documents, said,

‘The goal is to create an environment where member states empower citizens with enough knowledge about what their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to assembly.  Simultaneously, law enforcement agencies are also reminded of their roles.’

Christof Heyns’ friendship, inspiration and willingness to give of his time freely in guidance and support of so many, especially his students, will be sorely missed. The Omega Research Foundation sends our thoughts and condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

The University of Pretoria, Faculty of Law statement on Professor Heyns’ passing is available here.

The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria has established a memorial page, here (on Facebook).